TSA changes policy on full-body screening of passengers


A TSA officer demonstrates the use of full-body scanners at Ontario International Airport. The TSA can now require passengers to go through the scanner even if the passengers asks for a pat-down search instead.

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Under a new policy for screening airline passengers, Transportation Security Administration officers at the airport can now require that you go through a full-body scanner even if you ask for a pat-down search instead.

The change in policy that began this month means that airline passengers can still ask TSA officers for a pat-down search instead of having to go through a full-body scanner that uses millimeter wave technology to disclose weapons hidden under clothing.

But the TSA officers now have to right to deny your request for a pat-down search “if warranted by security considerations.” If you refuse to go through the full-body scanner, the TSA can keep you from boarding your flight, according to the federal agency.

Join the conversation on Facebook >>


A Dec. 18 memo from the Department of Homeland Security that outlines the change in policy does not give a reason for the change.

In a statement, the TSA said most passengers won’t be affected by the change.

“This will occur in a very limited number of circumstances where enhanced screening is required.”

The full-body scanners that used X-rays to create what look like nude images of passengers were discontinued in 2013 after passengers complained about the potential for privacy violations and exposure to radiation.


The full-body scanners now used at all commercial airports use millimeter-wave technology to create the image of a generic avatar on a screen. If the scanner discovers a lump on the passenger that could represent a weapon, the machine shows a yellow box on the screen avatar, indicating where the lump has been spotted.

On social media sites like Twitter, news of the new TSA policy sparked a debate over whether the change would make air travel safer or lead to racial profiling.

To read more about travel, tourism and the airline industry, follow Hugo Martin on Twitter at @hugomartin.


Worker salaries are poised to climb in 2016

United Airlines makes changes to program for children flying alone

16 things travelers should know before planning their 2016 adventures

Get our weekly Business newsletter

A look back, and ahead, at the latest California business news.

You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.