50 Shades of Security: US airport checks to get more intimate?

By David Flynn, March 6 2017
50 Shades of Security: US airport checks to get more intimate?

Security checks at many US airports will become more intimate under new procedures rolled out by the Transportation Security Administration this month.

The TSA has adopted what it terms a "standardized pat-down procedure" to replace as many as five different types of pat-down used at the screening line.

And for many travellers, it's going to mean a little extra personal attention from the TSA agents – or, in their own lingo, more "comprehensive" physical screening.

"I would say people who in the past would have gotten a pat-down that wasn’t involved will notice that the [new] pat-down is more involved," TSA spokesman Bruce Anderson told Bloomberg.

Denver International Airport reportedly notified employees and flight crews that the "more rigorous" searches "will be more thorough and may involve an officer making more intimate contact than before."

Responding to the Bloomberg article, TSA spokesperson Michael England said "the new protocol does not mandate the touching of passengers genitals."

The TSA later clarified "the new procedure... does not involve any different areas of the body than were screened in the previous standard pat-down procedure."

However, US travel writer Joel Stratte-McClure has described his experience at a California airport en route to Egypt as being "groin scrutiny," adding that the TSA agent admitted "we don’t like it either" – but explained that "we’ve got to do more extensive vertical and horizontal pat downs" because “bad people conceal weapons in their pants."

An investigation by Homeland Security in 2015, which saw undercover agents smuggle mock explosives and banned weapons through the country’s busiest airports, reported that the TSA failed to detect the dummy kit in 95% of airport security tests.


David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

08 Jun 2016

Total posts 44

yet another reason to avoid transiting via the US whenever possible/feasible.

13 May 2016

Total posts 31

I hate transiting through the USA, I always seem to draw the short straw and have the bad luck with TSA. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

29 Nov 2013

Total posts 477

The bigger issue with the US is the move by Trump's administration to allow their border agents to demand passwords for social sites and also to have access to unlocked mobile devices. 

This raises some really big issues for business travellers...

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer Platinum

07 Feb 2013

Total posts 551

Not if you don't have anything to hide

04 Dec 2013

Total posts 154

As Ben Franklin said, those who give up some of their liberty in order to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty, nor safety. It also seems the TSA has not heard of the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

11 Dec 2015

Total posts 85

Agreed. And as business starts to comprehend the changes I can see a lot of events being moved away from the US due to concerns about some random TSA agent trawling through confidential company documents

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

18 Jun 2015

Total posts 105

More so for me since i dont have facebook, twitter or instagram. Are they really going to believe me when i transit through. I could show them my AusBT account. Does that count?


12 Apr 2013

Total posts 1488

DITTO - I am not registered on single social site either.

04 May 2014

Total posts 13

Witnessed one of these pat downs a few days ago, they touched the guy absolutely everywhere, and it wasn't just the back of the hand either

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

19 Feb 2017

Total posts 4

Security/border control/immigration staff in USA can range from the sublime to the ridiculous. Arriving in New York of QM2, we were greeted with a smile and "welcome to N.Y." at the same time as being fingerprinted. In San Francisco however, the border security wouldn't even allow my partner and I to front up together with our passports. (As we do in every country in the world - including USA)  "We don't recognise de facto here" was his comment. "Get back into line" - then I was given the third degree. We spotted this same officious man giving the same treatment to others. We mentioned it to a second level of security before going into the arrivals section and it was obvious that he knew of his colleagues over zealousness. Gave us a smile and nod of approval.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

13 Jan 2017

Total posts 73


My partner and I were treated the same way at LAX. We were sent to two different queues at opposite ends of the immigration booth area. With arm outstretched and pointing and with a demanding tone of voice "You're not considered related here, you over here, you over there".

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

13 Jan 2017

Total posts 73

Can't imagine it being more "intimate" that the security office in KL airport that grabbed me by the genitals with one hand and moved them around while giving me a real feel up with the other when in the process of boarding an EK flight KUL-DXB 18 months ago. Talk about feeling violated!!

30 Apr 2018

Total posts 3

"Australia's major airports will be expected to pay for the multi-million dollar upgrade themselves."

So what's the bet this cost will be tacked onto the price of an international air ticket? Or is that a no-brainer?

Etihad - Etihad Guest

04 Mar 2018

Total posts 25

Who comes up with these ideas? Still have not been able to be advised how much of a Radiation dose we get each time. SO how many times a day can a person be subjected to this?

Love the ElAl approach where you are questioned before getting on a flight. Much less hastle, and you can see it works by their record.

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