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TSA Quietly Launches New, ‘More Rigourous’ Pat-Down Procedure

On the continuum of “most hated government entities,” it’s easy to imagine the TSA is somewhere in the top five.

In a move that’s sure to ruffle a few travelers’ feathers, this month, the Transportation Security Administration quietly launched a new pat-down procedure that’s vaguely described as “more rigorous.” That means more thorough, more invasive, and a whole lot more “intimate.” Here’s what you can expect at U.S. airports.

Until now, the administration trained officers to use one of five distinct pat-down types when frisking passengers. Their risk assessment was based on a proprietary method not made available to the public. So, it’s long been impossible to predict who or when any particular pat-down method would be used. Now, those five types have been replaced with a single pat-down deemed the universal pat-down or — because the government loves acronyms — UPD.

The UPD is designed to be simpler and more straightforward. Denver International Airport alerted employees that passengers can expect the new procedure also to be, “more thorough and may involve an officer making more intimate contact than before.” Pat-downs will still be performed by members of the same gender as passengers in question and can be conducted in private on request.

The change comes in the wake of increased criticism of the TSA’s evidently ineffective practices. In 2015, undercover testing of their screening procedures revealed that agents missed handguns and explosives at security checkpoints more than 95% of the time. In addition to these sweeping changes, the agency has decided to slightly pare down their managed inclusion programs (like TSA PreCheck) that allow pre-screened passengers access to a faster and less rigorous security line.

The administration is anticipating an uptick in clashes with the ACLU and complaints from passengers who may be unaware of the new procedure. They’re proactively alerting law enforcement to stave off the inevitable calls from travelers complaining of TSA agents getting a little too handsy. Curiously, however, the administration doesn’t seem to be putting the same effort into making passengers aware of the new procedures in the first place.

The UPD is currently being rolled out nationwide and the TSA does not anticipate any slowdown in the overall flow at security checkpoints.

Mike Richard
Mike Richard has traveled the world since 2008. He's kayaked in Antarctica, tracked endangered African wild dogs in South…
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