TRAVEL ADVISORY: Know Your Rights if Asked to Undergo New TSA 'Enhanced Pat-Downs'

CAIR-Chicago is informing travelers of a new Transportation Authority Administration (TSA) policy to ensure they know their rights if asked to undergo security pat-downs.

CAIR offices have already received complaints, particularly from female travelers who wear hijab, about being subjected to the new pat-down procedure. Two of the nation’s largest pilots’ unions urged commercial pilots to avoid both full-body scanners and public pat-downs. Pilots have compared the new pat-downs to “sexual molestation.” A union for flight attendants has expressed similar concerns.

SEE: Pilots Refusing to Use Full Body Scanners or Submit to Patdown
Flight Attendants Union Upset Over New Pat-Down Procedures
TSA Statement on New Pat-Down
ACLU: TSA Pat-Down Search Abuse

The enhanced pat-down involves a much more intrusive manual search of passengers’ bodies by TSA officers. Passengers who have undergone the new pat-down procedure have reported feeling humiliated by a search they describe as invasive and that has involved TSA officers touching the face and hair, the groin area and buttocks, and in between and underneath breasts.

Many are being referred to secondary screenings even though they do not set off the metal detector, a phenomenon reported frequently to CAIR by female Muslim travelers.

As of August 2010, passengers who opted out of the full-body scanners were subject to the enhanced pat-down.

In light of the growing concerns about the invasiveness of the new standard pat-down procedure and increased air travel during the Thanksgiving holiday, CAIR offers the following updated recommendations to travelers:


The Primary Screening Process

You will be asked to go through a metal detector or AIT machine in the primary screening process. TSA officers have threatened to arrest and/or fine passengers who opt out of the entire screening process after it begins.

SEE: $11,000 Fine, Arrest Possible for Some Who Refuse Airport Scans and Pat Downs

You may opt out of the AIT screening, but you will be given the new standard pat-down, described above, instead. You have the right to request that the standard pat-down be conducted in private and you may have someone accompany you. It is your right to be screened by an officer of the same gender.


The Secondary Screening Process

After the primary screening process, you might be selected for additional secondary screening for alarm resolution, anomaly resolution, at random, or because of bulky clothing.

If you are selected for secondary screening because of an alarm or an anomaly in an AIT, you may receive an even more thorough resolution pat-down than the new standard pat-down. This resolution pat-down should only be done by a trained supervisor or lead officer of the same gender in a private screening area.

If you are selected for secondary screening because of a bulky clothing item, you will receive the new standard pat-down by an officer of the same gender. You may remind the officer to only pat-down the area in question.

 – If you wear the Islamic head scarf and you are selected for secondary screening, ask the TSA officer if the reason you are being selected for secondary is because of your head scarf. If the officer confirms you were referred to secondary because of your head scarf, before you are patted down, you should remind the TSA officer, who should be of the same gender, that they are only supposed to pat down the area in question, in this scenario, your head and neck. They should not subject you to a full-body or partial-body pat-down. You can always request to pat down your own scarf, including head and neck area, and have the officer perform a residue swab of your hands.

You may ask to be taken to a private room for the pat-down procedure and you may have someone accompany you.


Civil Rights Violations

If you encounter any issues, in either the primary or secondary screening process, ask to speak to a supervisor immediately. They are there to assist you. The TSA states in its Head-to-Toe Screening Policies: “It is TSA’s policy that passengers should be screened by an officer of the same gender in a professional, respectful manner.”

Travelers who believe they have been treated differently may contact TSA’s Office of Civil Rights and Liberties by e-mail: or by telephone: (1-877-336-4872) or (800) 877-8339 (TTY) of Civil Rights and Liberties to file a concern.

SEE: Civil Rights for Travelers

If you experience any disturbing incidents, particularly if you feel you have been subjected to religious or racial profiling, harassment or unfair treatment, immediately file a complaint with the TSA and report the incident to CAIR-Chicago at 312-212-1520 or fill out an incident report HERE