How to avoid an airport security pat-down


Each week on’s new Overhead Bin I get to answer a reader’s question. I’m still pondering why one reader wanted to know how much cash is too much cash to travel with, but this week I tackled a classic: how to avoid an airport security pat-down.

Don and Kris Rasmussen of Weston, Wis. have two trips planned for the fall. But they’re starting now to fret about what will happen at the airport security checkpoint.

“We are just plain folks and are very uncomfortable with this ‘body feeling’ and X-ray business. Will we be groped? Is there any way we can get past this? It seems so degrading.”

With news stories about diapered seniors, young children and even former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld getting singled out by the Transportation Security Administration for additional screening, it’s no wonder the Rasmussens are worried.

But according to the TSA, “Less than 3 percent of passengers experience a pat-down.” The majority result from passengers alarming either the metal detector or the full-body scanner.

There’s no guaranteed method for avoiding a pat-down, but there are steps passengers can take to minimize their odds of being singled out.

“Passengers who are prepared for screening and do not alarm for prohibited items are less likely to require additional screening,” said TSA spokesperson Greg Soule.

Every travel expert and road warrior that Overhead Bin consulted agreed with the TSA on this one.

“I can’t say that I know of any tips other than what TSA says about taking everything out of your pockets, including your wallet,” said travel consultant Chris McGinnis.

“Remove any jewelry, spare change, belts or other metal objects that could set off the metal detector before you go through security,” suggests Anne Banas, executive editor of

Roz Schatman, an international business development manager, makes sure to wear a tight-fitted shirt to the airport “so there’s no doubt that only my body is inside.”

“The more it seems like you have your act together, the less likely you’ll stick out and potentially be pulled aside,” said Beth Whitman, founder of and the author of the Wanderlust and Lipstick guides for women travelers.

“Complaining loudly about it or audibly questioning the competence of the TSA workers is a good way to get pulled aside for a more invasive search,” said Jennifer Miner, a mom who’s the co-creator and writer of the Vacation Gals blog. “Keep your opinions to yourself until you’re at least past the security checkpoint.”

Sometimes, there’s just no avoiding the pat down. Tom Stuker, the frequent-flyer recently in the news for flying his 10 millionth butt-in-seat mile, said “TSA does some random screening. So even if you never set the machines off you may be subject to a pat-down. It has happened to me.”

Finally, no matter how often you travel, it’s a good idea to review the TSA’s guide: How to get through the line faster. That way you won’t end up like the passenger recently pulled aside and arrested at the Baltimore airport for trying to take 13 knives through the security checkpoint.

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