Security screeners at U.S. airports will make a small adjustment to their pat-down searches of passengers after receiving hundreds of complaints that the procedure was invasive...

Share story

WASHINGTON — Security screeners at U.S. airports will make a small adjustment to their pat-down searches of passengers after receiving hundreds of complaints that the procedure was invasive, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) sources said yesterday.

The change allows both male and female passengers to put down their arms after being screened on the upper body, sources said. Many passengers had said that standing in a “spread eagle” position throughout the inspection made them feel like criminals.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

“We want to make the process less uncomfortable,” said one TSA official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

TSA training will begin Monday. The decision comes after agency officials met last week to discuss the large volume of complaints from travelers. Millions of Americans were subjected to pat-downs for the first time over the Thanksgiving holiday. The procedure calls for passengers to stand with arms straight out and legs spread apart while a screener waves a handheld metal detector over their body. The screener then pats down the passengers’ body, including between and below women’s breasts.

“This is such a minor change, it is really not significantly going to improve the situation,” said Lenora Lapidus, director of the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union. “We’ve been getting calls and complaints from women across the country, complaining that their breasts are being poked, prodded and pushed. Just saying passengers don’t have to keep their arms extended is not going to address the invasiveness of these procedures.”

Since the TSA increased the frequency of the pat-downs in September, more than 300 passengers have complained about feeling uncomfortable. Some women said they would choose not to fly on an airline rather than undergo the pat-down. TSA said about 15 percent of the 1.8 million daily passengers are selected for the procedure, either because they set off the walk-through metal detector, were selected by screeners because of their suspicious clothing or were preselected by a computer system that flags passengers who buy one-way tickets or pay with cash.

The agency said pat-downs would continue in light of the threat that passengers could hide explosives underneath their clothing. The TSA does not have sufficient equipment to detect explosives on passengers’ bodies. In August, female terrorists smuggled explosives onto two Russian airliners that then exploded in midair within seconds of each other, killing all on board.

Washington Post researcher Richard Drezen contributed to this report.