WASHINGTON – Security guards at Reagan National Airport who directed Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., to drop his trousers after the 75-year-old’s steel hip joint set off a metal detector say they were just following Federal Aviation Administration procedures.
But they may want to recheck their rule book.
Dingell, who reportedly felt violated, joins a long list of passengers – among them a 9-year-old girl and a 70-year-old woman – outraged by what they believed to be unnecessary body searches at security checkpoints.
They, like many travelers, want to know – just what are FAA procedures for proper passenger screening?
Even airline pilots, who must pass through checkpoints, are curious.
Tighter security at checkpoints since Sept. 11 has triggered numerous complaints from pilots about “inappropriate touching and unnecessary confiscation of personal items,” said the Air Line Pilots Association in an advisory sent to members last month.
An offended United Airlines captain, for one, told WorldNetDaily he was recently patted down and searched by a “guy named Mohammed who barely spoke English” before piloting a flight out of Dulles International Airport. (Nearly nine of 10 screeners at Dulles are foreign nationals.)
As a result of such reports, the pilots’ union developed with the help of the FAA’s security office an updated guide to proper security screening, a copy of which was obtained by WorldNetDaily.
Here’s what passengers need to know. If you set off a metal-detector alarm, checkpoint screeners are authorized to:
- Run a metal-detecting wand over your body to find the metal.
- Turn over your belt buckle for inspection (commercially available buckles can conceal small knives and even small pistols).
- Unfasten oversized belt buckles for closer inspection.
- Pat down your neck, arms, shoulders, middle of back, waist, legs, ankles and feet.
- Ask you to stand with your arms outstretched.
- Ask you to remove outer garments such as coats, hats or shoes, and physically inspect them or run them through the x-ray machine.
Screeners also can swab your carry-on bags as part of a random Explosive Trace Detection inspection.
Caveat: Every passenger is subject to a wand and body search if the metal detector is broken.
Screeners are supposed to ask permission to search you with the wand. Saying yes to a wand search, however, means saying yes to a pat-down search.
You have the right to refuse a search. But if you refuse, you are “withdrawing from the screening process” and won’t be allowed to advance into the so-called “sterile area.” Screeners will notify law enforcement officers or National Guardsmen.
In other words, you probably won’t make your flight.
You may request a search performed in a private room, but you are not guaranteed such privacy.
Make it easy on yourself
You can reduce your chances of triggering the alarm and being patted down by placing all metal items in the plastic tray before walking through the metal detector.
Items that commonly set off the detectors include: cell phones, Car alarm transmitters, pagers, large key rings, heavy watchbands, pens, coins, glasses and sunglasses, large metal buckles and foil-wrapped antacid rolls, candy or gum.
Here’s another tip: Take off your coat and place it on the x-ray machine before passing through the detector. Passengers often forget about metallic items, particularly foil gum wrappers, left in their coat pockets.
If you are subjected to a wand search, lift your foot as the screener scans close to the ground in order to prevent a false alarm. Alarms that sound around the feet may be caused by rebar in the floor. (Screeners are looking for knives hidden in shoes.)
Here’s what screeners cannot do:
- Run the hand wand closer than 1 inch from your body.
- Rub the wand on your body or insert it into your clothing.
- Pat you down if you request a screener of the same sex – and that person is available.
- Pat down the breast area of females (if necessary) if the screener is male.
- Physically inspect your hair if it’s not long (and able to conceal a weapon).
- Touch your neck, shoulders, ankles and feet with a clutched hand (it must be open).
- Touch the rest of your body, such as the waist, with the palm of their hand (they must use the back of their hand).
- Inspect your belt area with their fingers (they must use their thumbs, placing them between the belt and the pants, and circling the waist).
- Run their fingers inside your shirt or down your socks.
- Open your pants or ask you to remove them.
- Ask you to take off your shirt or socks.
- Ask you to remove your belt (even if it’s a money belt).
- Ask you to remove your shoes before entering the metal detector.
- Lose possession of anything you remove from your body during the screening.
- Screen you out of view of your x-rayed belongings (unless you request screening take place at a private location).
If you feel you’ve been violated by screeners, you can report inappropriate procedures to the security company’s checkpoint security supervisor or the ground security coordinator assigned to that screening station.
Don’t take it beyond that. Interfering with or assaulting a screener is a federal crime. Assault is broadly defined as any harmful or offensive contact, or an apprehension by the other person that such contact is imminent. Under the new Aviation and Transportation Security Act, it carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison, a fine, or both.
And know that just because you made it through the terminal security checkpoint, doesn’t mean you’re home free.
Since the shoe-bomb incident of Dec. 22, the FAA now requires that the shoes of “selected passengers” be removed and inspected at the boarding gate. (Uniformed airline crewmembers are exempt from the new rule.)
Click here to see a list of approved and prohibited carry-on items.
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