Does TSA “Randomly” Pat Down Women More Than Men?

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.


Happy Flying!




  1. anectotally, this seems true. my hubby and i travel a lot together (our home airport is LAX), and we always opt for the pat down. But in terms of hand searching luggage, I’ve had that happen a few times and I’ve never seen it happen to him. We do at least 6 domestic round trips together a year. I think it’s because I do pack a lot of junk in my bag and often it looks weird. Most recently, I had a bag with yarn and some gourmet salt in my backpack and they pulled it out to check it.

  2. Never thought I’d have to endure a stranger putting her hand down my pants so I could take a business trip but it has indeed happened. In Fort lauderdale the name of the woman who does this for a living is “Agent Espina.” At IND I did not get their names. It’s about as sickening as can be. A disgrace. And a useless waste of tax payer billions – investigating and harassing the people who are well known to be law-abiding. We are wasting so much money running after 100 percent of the people – when less than .0001 might if even intend us any harm. What a waste and what a huge embarrassment for this nation. Good bye Constitution.

  3. Women also frequently get flagged for additional patdowns because their clothing is harder to fit into standard categories as “jacket/not a jacket”, or because they wear full skirts or scarves that fall into the “bulky clothing” exception. Many women report being asked to remove their shirtdresses and structured tops with buttons, even though the only thing they have on underneath these items is lingerie.

    Also, women in saris or nuns in habits seem to fall into the bulky clothing exception requiring a patdown. This caused an international diplomatic incident when the Indian Ambassador Meera Shankar was patted down in full view of the public in a Mississippi airport after requesting a private room.

    In the final analysis, women get selected for patdowns more often than men because men designed this broken system for their convenience. The men making decisions at TSA don’t really care how women feel about strangers grabbing their breasts and labia. The men making decisions at TSA don’t think it’s a problem to have male screeners flagging which women and girls get sent through machines that send nude images of those girls to their male buddies in the back room. The men making decisions at TSA are not only sexist, they’re clueless and malicious. We need to take our airports back from these thugs. Hey TSA, I’m not your porn star!

  4. It may be an “endless rant” to you but it is a sad day that when somebody assert’s one’s right to not be pawed over by a thug people just dismiss it as a rant. I would agree though, that the person should move beyond the complaint and DO something about their situation.

    Seems like TSA always has the excuse of not releasing information for “security reasons.” Like testing data on the safety of the scanners.

  5. 1) One comment that caught my eye was ““women are bitchier and as a result end up with the pat down.” Eve Primus , a law professor, did a great research paper on why the 4th amendment is being destroyed by “administrative search” doctrine. The basic subtlety is that general dragnet searches have been confused in court decisions with subpopulation searches, and as a result the specific criteria that protects one’s rights (4th amendment and all that…) have been nullified.
    This comment illustrates the fact that this is NOT an administrative search as originally defined in earlier court cases. If there is an administrative process that removes individual initiative, than it is more closely a legal administrative search. As discretion is added, it is no longer a regulated process and the element of chance makes dragnet searches prone to abuse (like this retaliatory remark) and , in the past, become more outlawed.
    Today, many Americans are gutless and willing to give up their rights because “it makes me safer” (no proof on that). The logic is almost like saying if I never bought a gun, and that is pretty convenient since I don’t have to do anything, then we should just pass government restrictions on owning guns. It makes everyone safer as it is harder to kill people with knives and heavy objects, especially from long distances and the non-gun methods are not as quick.

    2) Women are more likely to be searched for some of the reasons below. Also, women have breasts, so mastectomy patients can be singled out, those with false breast prostheses, etc. Big hair is another reason women get touched by strangers as well.

    3) With the nude image machines and the hidden TSA peep rooms, there are reported stories of TSA employees getting large-breasted women into scanners for TSA employees in the hidden peep rooms.

    All Americans, not just women, should get rid of searches that violate your body integrity and privacy. When you have to assume the “surrender” position, that should be all you need to know about the TSA strip search scanners and erosion of American values.

  6. “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.”

    I call bullshit on this one. Two years ago in Atlanta, I was “randomly” chosen to be patted down by two shy, barely-old-enough-to-drive black girls. They went through the whole rigmarole, one timidly doing the job with the back of her hands while the other watched. At the end, they took a swab and told me to sit in a chair nearby. The swab tested negative for explosives, and as I was about to leave, a tall male supervisor came over and told them they needed to re-do the patdown, saying “I need you to do the chest area more thoroughly”. He stood about two feet away, looming over me, barking orders at the female agent to turn her hands over to feel underneath my breasts while other passengers walking by turned their heads to look in horror. This was clearly, not only meant to intimidate passers by, but I have no doubt it would have been considered sexual harassment in any normal situation.

  7. During weekly protests against the TSA at the Anchorage International Airport, our organization logs comments from travelers and regularly gets reports from both men and women that females are selected for invasive pat-downs more often than the men, and NOT because they failed to remove a belt or any other removable part. At least 5 male/female couples who travel together have told us that it is the female who is always selected for the invasive pat-downs, regardless of what they wear, and in each of these cases, the woman has larger than average breasts. The TSA uses travelers like guinea pigs rather than analyzing and testing technologies prior to deployment, and because they are accountable to no one, they could not care less that these ill-conceived, poorly-designed, untested scanners are singling out women for sexual assault pat-downs merely due to their anatomy. In all the cases reported to us, nothing is found during the sexual assault pat-downs – there is never any explanation given by the TSA, yet the women get selected again, every time.

  8. I’ve traveled frequently with a female colleague that always set off the backscatter machines at her lower abdomen – even wearing sweat pants. The only conclusion that we could draw was excessive scar tissue from a hysterectomy. My personal experience as a woman, I’m getting pat downs all the time, I rarely see men being patted down. I travel frequently by plane for work 1-2 roundtrips per month. I’ve only witnessed what I thought was racial profiling once in the past 3 or 4 years. I’ve never been able to determine any rhyme or reason to their systems since TSA agents are consistent even within the same airport let alone across the US. I can guarantee one thing – my checked luggage will ALWAYS be rummaged through and a complete mess after leaving Omaha.

  9. I travel for work, a lot and I am a female who is attractive and well built. I get patted down 4/5 times I go through an airport. I know the rules, wear no belts have my shoes off and make sure nothign I am wearing had metal on it and STILL someone always seems to need to squeeze my breasts anyway. I completely and totally disagree with this, I dont think as a white female fed employee that there is any just cause to pat me down. I am not in a high risk group, I am quiet and make no trouble, I have to fly for work so I dont have the option to not fly or I can lose my job. My 4th amendmet rights to unwarranted search and seisure are violated everytime i fly. Maybe I can sue my employer for forceing me to be subjected to sexual harassment and grouping during the course of my duties or risk losing my job?

  10. So So true. We always check our bags except for laptop/ipad and my wallet. We were in Detroit Michigan when a female TSA agent decided I needed extra screening. I had no change in my pocket, only had on my engagement ring, no belt, and I always wore flip-flops so I didn’t take extra time taking off and putting on shoes. I’m average size 5’10” but I am a 34DDD. This TSA witch did nothing less than molest me. Did she really need to rub and squeeze my breasts? and not only that but grab my crotch? Really? She needed to end up on a sex offenders web site. I had no choice but to keep my mouth shut because I could not miss my flight and really was not in a position to pay out of my pocket for another plane ticket or even worse renting a car to drive the rest of the way.

  11. I’m a 74 yr old woman and every time I get pat down. Last 2 times I asked why, both areas were random this has occurred at least 10 times all different areas or full pat down. It is really getting annoying and would love to see how many women especially seniors who they have found with lethal weapons.
    This is really a constitutional right violation.

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