TSA offers tips for airport screening

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Here's advice from the Transportation Security Administration about what you can expect at airports - and how you can make the process a bit smoother.

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

l 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.

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

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

l Prepare for screening by removing the contents of your pockets and alert the security officer if you have a hidden medical device. Less than 3 percent of passengers end up needing a pat-down, the TSA says.

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

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

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

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

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

l 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, the TSA says.

l The full-body scanning machines the TSA uses at airports cannot store, print or transmit images, the agency says.

l 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.

- Derek Kravitz

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