The mere mention of the term “Enhanced Pat Down” is enough to send many travelers into an endless rant about the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). One issue a significant group of travelers (women) seems to bring up is that more women are selected for pat downs than men. This is a statistic the TSA has both claimed to not keep records of, as well as claim that it is information it cannot divulge for security reasons.
While no official statistics exist for the ratio of women who are selected for enhanced pat down over men, there are in fact some people keeping track. I recently discussed these allegations by women travelers with a few Supervisors and Managers with the TSA and three of them agreed that women are selected more than man … interestingly none of the others argued any differently.
The three people within the TSA are from geographically different locations, and none know each other, as well they all seem to give similar numbers with different explanations as to why women are selected more frequently than men. Sexual harassment is not a factor in the minds of any of these people, two male, one female, as women handle the pat downs, not men.
Two TSA Supervisory Transportation Security Officers (STSO), one male, one a female, believe that women are selected for additional screening 3-to-1 over men. These STSOs are assigned to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and at Washington’s Reagan National Airport. A Transportation Security Manager, who asked that the Metro New York City airport he worked at not be identifed, stated that women are selected on average 2-to-1 over men at their airport.
The explanations of why women are selected more frequently than men vary widely.
The STSO, a woman based at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport believes women are selected more frequently because “women are bitchier and as a result end up with the pat down.” When asked to clarify this, the STSO responded, “Men go with the flow. Shoes off jacket off, laptop out and keep going forward. Women are more likely to complain when asked to remove a belt, remove jewelry or when challenged on liquids exceeding 100ml. As a result they end far more frequently being sent off for additional screening.”
The STSO based at Reagan National Airport gives a far less insightful view, “I can’t explain it. I find that I send more men than women, but when I look at tallies, it is women 3 to 1. I tried to pay attention to this as I heard complaints with more frequency and there it was in front of me most days. Far more women were being referred for a more thorough screening. I don’t have an answer as to why it happens here at DCA.”
I think the explanation from the Transportation Security Manager (TSM) in New York may be the closest to a likely reason. Their theory is, “Women who are not so randomly selected for additional screening often have on jewelry, or a metal watch that they did not remove when asked to prior to entering the AIT [Advanced Imaging Technology scanner] or WTMD [walk through metal detector]. These items are often hidden under their sleeves. Some of these women wear belts that are not airport safe, which is to say that they go nicely with an outfit, but do not go nicely with our screening equipment. Complaints, at least at our check points are more frequently from women in regard to selecting cabin baggage for a hand search. The reason we end up hand searching more cabin baggage for women than men is that they pack the bags tighter frequently hiding liquids that are in excess of 3-1-1 or other items that catch our attention. Men are far less likely, in my experience, to pack their bags in a manner than requires us to hand search the bags. I am sure someone at the Crystal Palace [TSA’s HQ] has done a study on that that we’re not allowed to see.”
… are these observations by Supervisory Transportation Security Officers and a Transportation Security Manager accurate? That is unknown because the TSA won’t confirm is they have studied this themselves, although I suspect they have.
Have an opinion on this? Weigh in and discuss it.