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TSA Cavity Search – Does it Really Happen?

We can thank Hollywood, and these days Netflix, for glamorizing even the most mundane tasks. And sometimes there is a very thin line between what actually happens in the real world and what is exaggerated for entertainment purposes. One of those examples is the security checks we see in movie and tv show airport scenes. Do they really conduct cavity searches and if so what actually happens beyond what we see in the movies?

The short answer is yes however it isn’t as common as what we are led to believe. The US Customs Border and Protections can ask individuals to comply with a cavity search, if they believe the individual is a security risk. For the majority of the time, the TSA uses full body scanners or, more commonly, pat downs.

Does it make a difference whether or not you fly domestic or international?

It doesn’t make a difference if you fly domestically or internationally to and from the US as you are subject to the same TSA screenings. However, be mindful that other security measures and restrictions can be in place depending on the airline you fly with and the airport you are departing from and arriving too.

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What is the Procedure for a TSA Pat Down?

airport security pat down
Travelers pass through the ProVision ATD Image-Free Scanner, a new technology used at security checkpoints which can automatically detect concealed objects made of any type of material.

According to the TSA website:

Pat-down procedures are used to determine whether prohibited items or other threats to transportation security are concealed on the person.

A TSA pat down will often occur when the screening technology alarm sounds or there are extenuating circumstances for which an individual cannot go through the security system.

The procedure for a TSA pat down is as follows

TSA officers will conduct pat downs of the same sex. During the procedure the officer that is conducting the pat down will explain the next step, before it is followed through, so you can anticipate what is about to happen next. This can make the receiver of the pat down a little less uncomfortable as there is a bit of pressure applied to ensure nothing of threat is being hidden on the person.

The TSA officer will carry through the pat down with the backs of their hands, and areas may be patted twice to confirm there is nothing to be concerned about.

You can find more detailed information, as well as a video showing the procedure, on the TSA website.

What are TSA Agents Looking for?

TSA officers are looking for prohibited items that passengers are trying to take on board. These may be regular items that are not normally seen as a threat like lighters and cutlery, to more illegal and illicit substances such as drugs or weapons.

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Can you Refuse a TSA Pat Down?

The TSA is there to keep us all secure and safe within the airport and on board an aircraft. If a passenger refuses to go through the full body screening, then the passenger is required to consent to a pat down. If this is then refused, the police can be asked to take the passenger away from the security screening area, as TSA officers cannot enforce the law.

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Hayden Wall

Hayden is the founder of Travel Gear Discounts and tries to vacation as much as possible. He loves finding the latest travel accessories that will make getting out easier and planning the perfect weekend getaway.