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Airport security screening tips from TSA

As holiday travel ramps up, so does controversy over body scanners and pat-downs at the nation's airports.
By Derek Kravitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 23, 2010; 11:34 AM

Here's some information from the Transportation Security Administration on what you can expect at the airports - and how you can make the process a bit smoother:

- TSA's new screening techniques are in place at all domestic airports, even if security is handled by a private company instead of TSA.

- Only passengers who set off a walk-through metal detector or advanced-imaging technology machine, or who opt out of the scanning machine receive a pat-down, TSA says.

- Items that might set off an alarm on the metal detector include: keys; loose change; mobile phones; pagers; heavy jewelry (including pins, necklaces, bracelets, rings, watches, earrings, body piercings, cuff links, lanyards or bolo ties); clothing with metal buttons; snaps or studs; metal hair barrettes or other hair decorations; belt buckles; and underwire bras.

- Travelers are required to remove their shoes and put them through the X-ray machine for inspection. Slip-on shoes make the process easier.

- Prepare for screening by removing everything from your pockets and alert the security officer if you have a hidden medical device. TSA says only a small percentage - less than 3 percent - of passengers end up needing a pat-down.

- Pat-downs will take longer than body scans. According to TSA, body scans take about five seconds, with an extra 15 to 20 seconds for processing. Pat-downs take 1 to 2 minutes.

- Pat-downs are conducted by TSA officers who are the same sex as the person being screened.

- Children 12 years old and younger who require extra screening will receive a "modified" pat-down. TSA has declined to provide specifics of its pat-down procedures.

- Travelers have the right to request that screening be conducted in private.

- Travelers have the right to request that a witness be present for a screening.

- TSA officers are prohibited from bringing electronic devices such as cellphones into the body-scan viewing room. Officers can be fired for violating the policy, TSA says.

- The full-body scanning machines used by TSA at airports cannot store, print or transmit images, TSA says.

- An iPhone app from the TSA, called My TSA, provides wait times for airports and a guide on what you can bring through airport security, or visit tsa.gov/mobile on your smartphone.

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