After weeks of pressure from pilot unions over new airport-screening measures, the Transportation Security Administration has agreed to exempt pilots from enhanced pat-downs and full body scans, effective immediately.
WASHINGTON — After weeks of pressure from pilot unions over new airport-screening measures, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has agreed to exempt pilots from enhanced pat-downs and full body scans, effective immediately.
The TSA said uniformed pilots for U.S. carriers and those traveling on airline business have only to provide their airline identification and another form of ID to TSA officers at airport checkpoints. The officers will check the credentials against a crew-member database that provides photos and other information to verify the pilots’ employment status.
The move reverses a previous TSA policy that subjected pilots to full-body screening by X-ray or radio-wave scanners or pat-downs as part of a stepped-up effort to thwart terrorism.
A number of pilots’ organizations said the new measures were burdensome, potentially risky, unnecessary and a violation of the long-standing trust between pilots and security personnel.
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Pilots already have been through extensive FBI background checks, and the TSA has deputized thousands of them as federal flight-deck officers. These deputized pilots are authorized to carry weapons and can use deadly force while on duty to protect the cockpit from a terrorist attack, according to the Air Line Pilots Association.
“Pilots are trusted partners who ensure the safety of millions of passengers flying every day,” said John Pistole, head of the TSA. “Allowing these uniformed pilots … to go through expedited screening at the checkpoint just makes for smart security and an efficient use of our resources.”
The policy change comes amid a growing furor over the stepped-up security measures. With some raising concerns about privacy and low-level radiation exposure, TSA is giving passengers the right to opt out of the full-body scanners and walk through a metal detector instead.
But those who decline to submit to the new scanning — and anyone who sets off a metal-detector alarm — will receive what TSA describes as a “thorough” pat-down designed to find the kinds of explosives a Nigerian man hid in his underwear last Christmas in an attempt to blow up a jetliner bound from Amsterdam to Detroit.
New rules call for agents to slide the fronts of their hands (instead of the back) over a passenger’s body, including breast and groin areas. Screeners of the same sex do the pat-downs, and passengers can request that they be done in a private area.
For children younger than 12, TSA says it will do what it describes as a “modified pat-down” in the presence of a parent or guardian
Several lawsuits have been filed over the new policies, and other groups have called for a mass boycott of the machines and pat-downs the day before Thanksgiving, one of the busiest travel days of the year.
While the new security guidelines for pilots won’t help aggrieved passengers, they’ll quiet the growing criticism from pilots.
“We view this as a very welcome policy change,” said Gregg Overman, a spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association, the collective-bargaining agent for American Airlines pilots.
The new system for pilots is modeled after a test program in place at airports in Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Columbia, S.C. Flight-deck crew members will still be subject to random screening and other security measures.
Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot who safely landed his disabled aircraft in the Hudson River off New York City early last year and had earlier criticized the additional security measures for pilots, said he was heartened by the change.
“I am glad that the TSA is working with pilots as the trusted partners they are in this important security effort,” he said.
Material from the Tribune Washington bureau and The Seattle Times archive is included in this report.