The Transportation Security Administration has the difficult job of making sure all passengers get to their flights safely and in a timely manner. Though most travelers dread going through the security process, it's essential that checks are done on each person to ensure no one is bringing items onto a plane that are prohibited or that could potentially be dangerous to others. ‌One way in which TSA implements these checks is by doing a pat-down of a person's body.‌ Unfortunately, pat-downs make many travelers feel uncomfortable, so if there's a way to avoid one altogether, you'll likely have a more pleasant airport security experience overall.

What Is a Pat-Down?

A pat-down is an additional security precaution used by TSA to determine if a traveler is concealing something prohibited on their person at the security checkpoint.‌ In general, if a traveler sets off the alarm when going through the body scanner, she will be taken aside by a tsa agent for a pat-down. Others may be pulled out of line if they have a certain sticker on their passport or if they happen to be acting suspicious – TSA is trained for profiling to catch strange behavior.

If you're taken out of the TSA security line for a pat-down, don't be alarmed. The first thing to understand is that only a security officer of the same gender will conduct the pat-down along with using a metal detector. Secondly, as part of the pat-down procedure they will gently run their hands over your body to inspect areas such as the neck, head, torso, legs, buttocks, breasts and groin. The sensitive areas of the body will be pat-down with the back of the TSA officer's hands, and the officer should explain the procedure first. Those who want a private pat-down can request one in a private room.

The Issue With Pat-Downs

TSA pat-downs have been debated in the news over the last few years for several reasons. Some people feel they have been pat-down a bit too aggressively and inappropriately; others feel that a pat-down was unnecessary for an elderly travel companion or young children. Overall, TSA officers are trained professionally and do their jobs to ensure everyone's safety. However, they are required to make sure people are not too uncomfortable with the screeners experience.

Avoiding a Pat-Down

No one enjoys getting pat-down at the airport, but there are a few ways to get out of it. ‌The most important thing travelers can do to avoid a pat-down is to follow all TSA requirements and don’t bring any prohibited items‌ or else it will result in additional screening.

  • Take off shoes, belts, sweaters and jackets.
  • Take the 3-1-1 liquid bag out of carry-ons.
  • Take out laptop, phone, tablet and other electronics.
  • Take out food and water bottles.
  • Take off watches or jewelry that could set off the scanner.
  • Don't put any restricted items in carry-ons. The advanced imaging technology will catch it.
  • Avoid wearing clothing with a high metal content when in the full-body scanners.

If travelers carefully do all of these things, the chances of setting off the scanner and requiring a pat-down are minimized.

Sign Up for TSA Precheck

Travelers can often avoid pat-downs by signing up for the TSA Precheck program.‌ TSA Precheck requires an initial personal interview, background check and fingerprinting, but for a fee that's less than $100 and good for five years of air travel, it helps save time when going through security. Travelers with TSA Precheck don't need to take off shoes, jackets or belts, and most electronics can remain in their bags. In general, they receive pat-downs much less frequently than travelers without TSA Precheck, though there will be some circumstances in which pat-downs will be required.

Cooperate With Authorities

At the end of the day, there is no surefire way for travelers to avoid being pat-down by TSA at airport security checkpoints. TSA has strict rules to enforce, and the goal is to get travelers to their flights as smoothly as possible, so the best thing to do is simply to cooperate with what they ask. A pat-down, if necessary, is a relatively quick security screening process and is just more of a nuisance than anything.