Ever since the TSA introduced its new enhanced pat-downs and full-body scanners we’ve received heaps of e-mails from concerned, confused and angry travelers in response to the changes. Some people just want to vent. (And really, we don’t blame them.) Others flooded us with practical questions about the new state of airport security; a selection of the most common inquires is posted below. While one or two of these questions may seem silly to some readers, keep in mind that half-truths and misinformation proliferate on the Web, and the TSA isn’t exactly known for its stellar public relations. When it comes to enhanced pat-downs and full body scanners, here’s the naked truth:
Q: Just how personal do these security people get?
A: If you opt out of the full body screening, then you will be subject to an “enhanced” pat-down that includes a manual examination conducted by a same-gender officer. Screeners may use the front of their hands to touch any part of your body, including private parts. The screener should announce what he or she is going to do before any action takes place. You may choose to have a traveling companion present during the screening, and you may request a private screening if this makes you more comfortable. The alternative to this is the full body screening.
Q: Can I ask the TSA officer who will be performing my enhanced pat-down if he or she is gay?
A: You are not entitled to information about any TSA officer’s sexual orientation. If you do not wish to be touched, you’re better off going through the full body scanner.
Q: I have a prosthesis, a hip replacement or another kind of medical implant. Will this cause problems when I go through airport security? What should I do?
A: The TSA recommends that travelers bring a medical ID card from their doctors to show to the security officer before stepping into the scanner (this is not a requirement). It’s also recommended that you inform the TSA officer of your medical device. However, be prepared for a pat-down just in case. Remember, you’re entitled to a private screening from a same-gender security officer.
Q: Will everyone know about my breast implants when I go through the new full body scanners?
A: Even if your implants show up on the scanner, no one will see the image of your body except the security officer viewing the readouts from the machine. This officer will be in a booth separate from the screening area. If you are chosen for a pat-down, you have a right to request that it be done in private so other passengers will not be able to watch as it happens.
Q: Are Muslim women subject to full body scans and pat-downs?
A: The rumor that Muslim women are permitted to opt out of both body scans and pat-downs is simply not true. All travelers are subject to full body scans and/or pat-downs at the airports where these security measures are in effect. (Some airports do not have the full body scanners yet.) Travelers who choose to opt out of the full body scan will be subject to a pat-down.
— written by Caroline Costello and Sarah Schlichter