How to Avoid an Airport Pat-Down

Most travelers didn’t expect to kick off their vacation being felt up by a well-meaning TSA agent. While many people consider it another level of security, other fliers are aggravated with the new security procedures that were unleashed just in time for the 2010 travel season. Approximately 78 airports are using new full-body scanners--officially known as Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT)--and, the debate rages on between those who find the revealing scans an invasion of privacy and those who agree it’s all in the name of safety.

You may choose to walk through a scanner or opt instead for a gloved pat-down by a TSA agent. If you have a pacemaker or other medical conditions that prevent you from passing through a metal detector or AIT scanner, your only option is the pat-down. If you do require a full-body search, know your rights. Your searcher should be of the same gender, and you can request to be searched in a private area away from the public eye. You may also request that a traveling companion or witness stay with you at all times. And if you feel you are wrongly treated at any time, you most certainly have the right to complain as described by the TSA's Passenger Civil Rights.

If you’re hoping to avoid getting too close and personal with airport security, check out our tips for navigating security without a pat-down

Expose Yourself With AIT

If all goes well, you can avoid an airport pat-down if you opt for the full-body scan and pass through with no issues. You may expose more of yourself than you wish in the digitized photos of your body; however, the TSA assures the public that images cannot be stored, printed or transmitted. TSA staff is not permitted to bring cell phones or cameras into an AIT viewing room, so you should be protected from your scans showing up on Facebook or beyond. And with the millions of travelers passing through security, it’s safe to assume that TSA staff has little time to review pictures outside of the scope of their work or pick their favorites as they flash on the screen.The TSA continues to finesse the AIT screening to protect travelers’ privacy with updated technology unveiled in February 2011. Airports including Las Vegas McCarran International Airport, Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport are testing new software that shows only a generic outline of a person, not of each individual traveler. The software is able to auto-detect a potential threat and indicates that location on this generic outline, narrowing down possible danger and protecting privacy at the same time.

Empty Your Pockets

It is part of the airport routine to empty your pockets at the security line, but there’s always the risk that a rogue penny or errant house key tucked into a back pocket may sound alarms while you’re passing through a scanner. Simplify the security routine by clearing out your pockets before you get to the airport, keeping any essentials in your carry-on bag to avoid a close encounter with a TSA agent.

Dress the Part

You may already consider your travel clothes for ease and comfort, but now consider the materials, too. Avoid any clothing with a high metal content—we’re not talking a suit of armor, rather trendy tops with built-in necklaces adorning the neckline, metal snaps or studs and even underwire bras that might set off an alarm. You’ll already be expected to take off your belt or skip it altogether (elastic-waist-band pants are more suitable for packing in a holiday feast anyway).

Ditch the Bling

Exercise your right to accessorize once you arrive at your destination and take the “less is more” approach for airport travel. Heavy jewelry, including necklaces, earrings, watches and bracelets, could trigger an alarm in a metal detector or body scanner. Remove these before you proceed through security, or stow them away in your bags.

Bypass the Airport

The only true way to avoid the full-body scan and the pat-down is to hit the open road in a car, bus or train. While not every airport has installed the full-body scanners, the TSA plans to continue expansion through 2011, which means the new travel security procedures aren’t likely to change anytime soon.
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