Will You Encounter A TSA Whole Body Scanner? Statistically No

The uproar surrounding the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) use of whole body image scanners has dominated the travel news at the start of this holiday season.   With all the anger and animosity being brought to the forefront of public attention, one aspect has been largely overlooked … how few passengers will encounter the TSA whole body image scanners.

Presently there are 494 commercial airports in the United States that are served by commercial airlines, and require security under the authority of the TSA (which includes airports with private security firms).  Within these 494 airports there are an estimated 2,210+ security lanes.*

(*Some news outlets have quoted the TSA’s statistics of 2,100 security lanes. My math calculated approximately 2,241 security lanes. Upon review, the TSA confirmed to me that there are 2,210+ security lanes, but won’t confirm a hard number)

The break down of the 494 commercial airports with required passenger screening in the United States include:

29 – Large Airports

26 – Medium Airports

70 – Small Airports

232 – Non-Hub Airports

127 – Non-Primary Airports

The primary location of the TSA’s whole body image scanners are within large and medium airports … and only a total of 68 airports. While these are airports many flyers travel through to connect flights, they are largely not the original departure airport for passengers, so passengers will not cross through airport security at these airports.

So … going strictly by the numbers … with TSA whole body image scanners existing in only 68 of 494 airports, travelers departing from less than 14% of airports in the U.S. will potentially encounter the new scanners.  With only 385 whole body image scanners being deployed among approximately 2,210 security lanes, a passengers has a roughly a 17% chance of encountering a whole body imaging scanner at their departure airport.

For those dead set on not encountering a whole body image scanner, they are presently not hard to avoid.  If you find yourself traveling around Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International (CVG) consider flying to Dayton (DAY). In Southern California? Skip Los Angeles International (LAX) and drive out to Ontario (ONT) or check out Long Beach (LGB). In New York? Drive up to White Plains and Westchester County Airport (HPN) or out East Farmingdale on Long Island and catch a flight from Republic Airport (FRG).

For those traveling from the 426 airports and 1,825 airport security lanes without whole body imagining scanners in the United States … screening procedures have not changed.

The controversial enhanced pat downs for those who opt-out of the whole body imaging scanners are presently only performed at airports with the whole body imaging scanners.

So … pack your bags … remember to have all your liquids and gels of 100ml or less in a Ziploc bag … and enjoy the flight!

EDITED TO ADD at 8:25am EST 24-November-2010: Since writing this post yesterday I have begun to research the validity of the latest TSA statement that enhanced pat downs for those who alarm not being performed at airports without he whole body images scanners. I have now heard from four airports and six TSA TSOs/STSOs that in fact enhanced pat downs may be performed on those who alarm on a walk through metal detector at an airport with no whole body imaging scanners.  This once again highlights the internal communications disconnect within the TSA … I think I just found another post  to write about.

Happy Flying!


  1. From above: “The controversial enhanced pat downs for those who opt-out of the whole body imaging scanners are presently only performed at airports with the whole body imaging scanners.”

    This is confirmed? Per TSA, “Pat-downs are used to resolve alarms at the checkpoint, including those triggered by metal detectors and AIT units.”

    This suggests that pat-downs are not the exclusive domain of airports where AIT units are in use.

  2. Troy,

    I’ll confirm with TSA in the morning. I have an email in front of me, from today, that says that enhanced pat downs are only for those that alarm a WTMD at an airport where AIT is in place.

    With TSA that does not mean the SOP didn’t change 30 seconds after that email was sent.

    Does RIC have an FSD or AFSD who can clarify…although I believe RIC has AIT, does it not?

    Happy Flying!


  3. Oh, so while I’m being molested at one of the 68 airports with an AIT machine and gropings, all a terrorist needs to do is use one of the 426 airports without a scanner or gropings? Yet the TSA swears that these scanners and gropings are so absolutely necessary to protect against an attack that they aren’t even able to pause the new procedures for a few months in order to better address public concerns and work to better train TSOs? That makes perfect sense. /sarcasm

  4. Your point is well taken that with little common sense and a little time, passengers should be able to avoid the AIT scanners (and probably enjoy a better travel experience generally) by beginning their travel at lower volume airports, but you can’t claim that passengers have a “17% chance of encountering a whole body imaging scanner” based on the ratio of scanners to security lines without compensating for traveler volume. What are the grounds for claiming that the 68 airports with AITs are “largely not the original departure airport for passengers” … the TSA has obviously gotten a lot of things wrong, but surely they must think that these 68 airports have a pretty high volume of flight originations, right? Otherwise we’d see some “bridge to nowhere” TIAs in places like Wichita or Peoria as the product of pork barrel politics or shear convenience, wouldn’t we?

  5. FTA: “The controversial enhanced pat downs for those who opt-out of the whole body imaging scanners are presently only performed at airports with the whole body imaging scanners.”

    This wouldn’t appear to be the case at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport (MHT). One report from 10/27/10 here: http://tinyurl.com/23gobya and a newspaper account from earlier this month here: http://tinyurl.com/2ec92p3

    I (half-)grin when I say: Fish, perhaps the TSA SOP only changed in the cubicle of the person who typed that e-mail, and only for the amount of time it took them to type it. I guess we’ll see in the morning!

  6. Since when did you become a shill for the TSA, fish?

    Regardless, your info isn’t current. Dayton has the NoS (they won’t be up for Thanksgiving, but pax are being given the enhanced pat downs). Ontario will have the NoS soon as well. Besides, who in their right mind would even dream of flying out of ONT as an alternative to LAX, unless they lived east of downtown? You’re better off recommending Burbank, Orange County or (like you did) LGB.

  7. As someone who has been patted down (almost always) even when I’ve never set off the metal detector, I don’t believe being subjected to these checks is only a matter of whether the airport has a WBI scanner or not. I’d love to hear from others who’ve always been favourite targets of “randomly selected” screening to hear what the TSOs are doing with these people now. And I’m still wondering what prompted the decision to turn the pat downs (done with the back of the hand) into “enhanced pat downs” with open palms and fingers. The explanation I’m inclined to believe is that it IS a punitive measure to make people submit to the WBI scans.

  8. OF COURSE it’s a punative measure. None of this is about security, it’s about tyranny and getting you to accept it.

  9. Fish, my best means to get some clarification might be via TSA PAO. RIC has had AIT (L3 ProVision) for two years. IRL, high acceptance rate, issues few and far between during that period.

    Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, too!


  10. Regretfully, my airport is one of those that is on the list – and also four of my children who live out of state are too. For that reason, we have decided to forego the holiday reunions, meaning we will not be together for the first time on Thanksgiving nor Christmas until. We are a big family, but we are scared to death of these regulations. We do not want the children scared at the airport – we do not want to worry about the TSA machines nor the TSA employee’s intrusive groping. Nope, we prefer to forego until the regulations change.

  11. Having been through these machines they aren’t quicker. They have to wait around for the guy at the other end to read back and in my case that took over a minute. Nor smarter. I got patted down because the guy couldn’t figure out what a cufflink was.

  12. Flyerman,

    Clearly you aren’t reading my content if you think I am a shill for the TSA. I simply write about these issues from multiple points of view. I choose not get emotionally involved in this debate …but if you read my posts you’ll note I am constantly saying that TSA policy and procedure needs to change.

    Happy Flying!


  13. Fish,

    Statistically, I won’t have my house searched without a cause. But that doesn’t mean it is right for the few who get searched. If 1 out of a million has it done, it doesnt justify the program.

    Also, you should know that TSA no longer uses hand-held metal detectors. If you set off the walk-through twice, they assume you are hiding metal. So do they use a hand-held to look for it? No. They pat you down and never find the reason for the metal detector going off. They say the are looking for a non-metalic explosive, which obviously didn’t set the detector off twice. It makes perfect sense to a TSO and their brilliant bosses.

    So, how do you infiltrate the system?

    1. Ensure the departure airport has no backscatter machines.
    2. Ensure there is absolutely no metal on your body.
    3. Mold the non-metalic explosive to your body.
    4. Walk through the metal detector
    5. Board your flight.

    Meanwhile, the suckers with a metal zipper are being shook-down for a non-metalic explosive.

    As the TSA says, “It just makes good security sense!”

  14. My understanding, too, is that the enhanced pat-down is also for those who alarm the metal detectors.

  15. I agree with “Origin” above. You can’t say that passengers only have a 17% chance of of encountering a whole body imaging scanner at their departure airport by using only # of security lanes and # of scanners. That percentage would have to include an assumption that all originating departure airports have the same number of departing passengers, which is definitely not true. Departures from Peducah, KY (just pulled that out of nowhere) are clearly going to be very miniscule compared to a “medium” or “large” airport in a major city.

  16. I think you have a typo:

    “I have no heard from four airports…”

    I assume you mean “I have now heard from four airports…”

  17. Mike,

    The basis for hub & spoke for many airlines has far few passengers originating in Atlanta for example than flying through Atlanta. Orlando on the other hand does have a high origin rate, for one end of travel due to the attractions, I am aware of this.

    However for someone flying from say Hartford to Houston on Southwest Airlines, via BWI (which has WBI scanners) they’ll never encounter them. There are countless routes, where both origin and destination do not have the scanners, while the layover airports do have them.

    So while the statistics may be skewed, I am open to a better look at this and the reality of how many flyers will actually encounter these new scanners at this time.

    Happy Flying!


  18. Some people say that there’s more likely to be a case of air rage than terrorism. And what is really regrettable is that there are no exceptions made for people with serious medical conditions who are often subjected to painful humiliation.

  19. The enhanced pat downs aren’t just reserved for setting off the metal detector in lines/airports without scanners. I know for a FACT that people are getting the felt up even after not setting off the metal detector. Some of these enhanced pat downs are apparently random, while others are handed out for wearing “loose” clothing (again, this is without setting off any alarms).

  20. Sorry for the double post, but I also forgot to point out that while you have decent odds of escaping the scanners & pat downs now, that won’t be the case if the TSA is allowed to go through with its plans to implement scanners as the main screening method.

  21. I have a pacemaker and I must get the enhanced pat down at airports without the body scanner. I’ve been through it a couple of times and believe me, having a federal agent cup your testicles in order to board a flight makes me avoid air travel, but I must do so for work.

  22. If you want to avoid these invasive scanners, then avoid Denver International Airport after 7:00pm. The only lanes open are the ones with scanners and they are only using the scanners, even when the usual metal detector gateway is available. Your chances of being scanned have now jumped to 100%!

  23. These are not “federal agents” or lawmakers. They are airport STAFF. Call 911 on any one of them who gropes you (make clear you object to it but “have no choice as you are not giving me the option of refusing the pat down or leaving the airport” – thus making it clear you don’t consent), and report a sexual assault. If you see it happening to a child, report a sexual assault of a minor. The police HAVE to respond to these calls, and the call will be recorded. Remember – the police have arrested TSA staff before. Don’t use the airport police – call 911 so there is a written record. Once TSA staff start realising they’re likely to be arrested for sexually assaulting people, they’re likely to think twice about it.

  24. Do you have any updated statistics on this. I was considering using this information for my paper but I don’t know how outdated these stats are.

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