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“Reader Questions” are answered three days a week — Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays — by TPG Senior Writer Julian Mark Kheel.
Everyone’s a huge fan of the Transportation Security Administration — or the “TSA” as it’s affectionately known — so perhaps it’s a bit surprising that we received this Facebook question from Denis…
Is there a way to avoid going through the TSA scanners and instead go through an old-school metal detector?TPG Reader Denis
Well, Denis, I’m not sure why you wouldn’t enjoy spending quality time inside a full-body scanner machine that’s beaming radiation directly into your body in order to see underneath your clothing. In any case, whether you’re comfortable with the technology or not, it’s certainly valid to ask if this is your only option in order to get onto an airplane.
The good news is it’s not your only choice. In fact, the TSA does allow you to “opt out” of going through the full-body scanner machines. All you have to do is inform the TSA agent at the checkpoint that you would like to opt out, at which point you will be welcomed into the departure area with a wave and a smile.
OK, maybe it’s not quite that simple. You really do have the option to opt out of the body scan, but that does not excuse you from the security screening procedures, and you cannot choose to go through an old-school metal detector in lieu of the body scanners. Instead, if you opt out, you will be subject to a manual pat-down search of your person. In the past this meant the agent could choose from one of five different possible pat-down procedures, but earlier this month the TSA began implementing new rules that require a more comprehensive pat-down, one that is “more thorough and may involve an officer making more intimate contact than before.”
So opting out is a bit like choosing between the frying pan and the fire, but it is at least an option. However, you should also be aware that if you are selected for “enhanced screening” — also known as the dreaded “SSSS” on your boarding pass — the TSA can still insist that you go through the body scanners. According to the official Frequently Asked Questions at tsa.gov…
“Generally, passengers undergoing screening will have the opportunity to decline AIT [Advanced Imaging Technology] screening in favor of physical screening. However, some passengers will be required to undergo AIT screening if their boarding pass indicates that they have been selected for enhanced screening, in accordance with TSA regulations, prior to their arrival at the security checkpoint. This will occur in a very limited number of circumstances. The vast majority of passengers will not be affected.”
So even if you opt out, there’s a chance you might not actually be able to opt out, although instances like that should theoretically be rare. Certainly if you see the letters “SSSS” on your boarding pass, you can assume you won’t be getting the option to skip the machines. But in most other cases, you’ll probably be able to select the pat-down option if you’d prefer.
Keep in mind that if you have TSA PreCheck, in most cases you’ll be routed to an old-style metal detector anyway instead of the body scanning machines. So even if you do plan to opt out, wait until you’re certain you’ll be subject to the scanners before making your preferences known to the agents.
Thanks for the question, Denis, and if you decide to opt out, let us know how it goes and if you make some new friends at the TSA in the process. And if you’re a TPG reader who’d like us to answer a question of your own, tweet us at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or send us an email to email@example.com.
Featured image courtesy of Ethan Miller/Getty Images.
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