New TSA pat-down procedure, PreCheck policy in effect as spring break travelers take to skies

As spring break travelers head to the airport for trips, they may encounter some new airport security policies started this year on pat-downs and expedited screening. 

 An estimated 75,000 to 80,000 people are expected to pass through Transportation Security Administration checkpoints at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on the busiest days of the spring break travel season -- expected to be March 31, April 1 and 2. 

 Some may notice some changes since the last time they traveled. 

 This month, the Transportation Security Administration standardized its policy on "pat-down" procedures with a "more thorough" standard. For one, pat downs may now involve a TSA officer using the front of his or her hand in certain areas for the pat-down, rather than only the back of the hand. 

Photo: News | WSOC

 The change came after a study in the wake of covert tests by the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General in 2015

 Members of Congress said at the time that mock explosives, weapons and other prohibited items went unnoticed in 67 out of 70 tries at TSA checkpoints. 

 Travelers who opt out of body scanners, who trigger an alarm or a canine team alert, or who are selected through "unpredictable security measures" will get a pat-down, according to TSA. 

 The pat-down procedure now being used "does not involve any different areas of the body than were screened in the previous standard pat-down procedure," TSA said in a statement. 

"Targeted screening"-- involving a pat down of a particular area after a body scanner detects an anomaly -- will also continue.  

Free pass to PreCheck coming to end 

 In another recent change, TSA in February significantly reduced the number of travelers who can go through PreCheck expedited screening if they are not officially enrolled in the program. 

 The agency says it now has more than 12 million travelers registered in PreCheck or similar programs. PreCheck allows travelers a chance to keep their shoes, jackets and belts on, and to keep their laptops and permitted liquids in their bags. The goal has been to eventually get 25 million travelers enrolled. 

MIAMI, FL - JUNE 02: Travelers go through the TSA PreCheck security point at Miami International Airport on June 2, 2016 in Miami, Florida. As the busy summer travel season heats up the Transportation Security Administration is encouraging people to sign up for the TSA PreCheck program to save time going through the airports security lines. Those enrolled in the program can leave their shoes, light outerwear and belt on during the terminal screening process as well as keeping their laptop in the carry-on suitcase without having to remove them at the checkpoint. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Photo: Joe Raedle

 TSA says it recommends that those who fly three or more round-trips per year enroll in trusted traveler programs such as PreCheck or Global Entry. 

 "In the future, we intend to only have enrolled or pre-vetted passengers, or those screened by canines in the expedited screening lanes," TSA said in a written statement.  

Travel tips for vacation-goers 

 To speed the path through security checks, TSA spokesman Mark Howell recommends all travelers check their bags to make sure they don't have prohibited items. The long list of prohibited items includes oversized containers of liquid, weapons, knives and replicas of weapons. 

 About 44 guns have been caught at Hartsfield-Jackson security checkpoints so far this year, Howell said. Overall, the agency collects about 1,500 pounds of prohibited items a month at the airport, not including liquids, he said. 

Some of the items TSA caught at security checkpoints during a two-week period at Hartsfield-Jackson.

 "Each of these causes a hiccup in the line," because the passenger must review options to get rid of the prohibited item and then be re-screened, Howell said. 

 During big vacation periods such as spring break, there’s an increase in new travelers and inexperienced travelers at airports -- meaning even more prohibited items than usual in bags, according to Howell. 

 Travelers headed on golf trips before or after the Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta in April should wipe down their clubs before traveling, Howell said. That's because fertilizers or other chemicals left on the clubs can trigger alarms.

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