updated 11/2/2011 4:06:05 PM ET 2011-11-02T20:06:05

Testing for a new program aimed at getting certain travelers through airport security with less hassle has gone so well that the Obama administration plans to expand it to another round of airports and travelers, the government said Wednesday.

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The expanded testing will not affect most travelers expected to crowd the airports during this year's busy Thanksgiving travel season. But the government has made other changes in the past year that could make for a less intrusive trip through airport security.

Invasive pat-downs and full-body imaging machines are still a central part of the air traveler's experience in the U.S.

But now children 12-and-under are less likely to be patted down or forced to take off their shoes. And about half of the full-body imaging machines have been upgraded to show an outline of a person instead of a blurry naked image, a feature of all new machines the government purchases, Transportation Security Administrator John Pistole told Congress.

Story: 4 airports to try risk-based security screening

The pre-screening test program and policy changes represent the Obama administration's attempts at a more risk-based, intelligence-driven passenger screening program aimed at responding to complaints that the government is not using common sense when it screens all travelers the same way at airports.

Details of which airports and airlines would be eligible for the next round of testing for the pre-screening program are still being hammered out, Pistole said. Currently about 280,000 frequent fliers from American and Delta airlines — the two airlines eligible for the first round of testing — are participating in the program, according to TSA. The program is being tested at airports in Atlanta, Dallas, Detroit and Miami.

"This new screening system holds great potential to strengthen security while significantly enhancing the travel experience, whenever possible, for passengers," Pistole said in a prepared statement at a hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

But some enhanced security measures put in place at U.S. airports since the 2001 terror attacks continue to be controversial.

Some travelers and privacy advocates object to the intimate pat-down, a measure Pistole called for to give screeners the best chance at catching someone hiding a bomb in his underwear like the man authorities say nearly brought down an airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day in 2009.

Also, not everyone is comfortable going through a full-body imaging machine that produces a blurry image of their naked bodies so that TSA screeners can check for contraband. And there are still complaints about having to take off shoes to go through the machines.

Others are concerned that radiation from the machines is dangerous. Though TSA has said the machines are safe, Pistole told lawmakers he would call for an independent study to evaluate their safety.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: TSA tests ‘trusted traveler’ program

  1. Transcript of: TSA tests ‘trusted traveler’ program

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: Now to the safety of air travel in this country. And after all the backlash over the TSA 's full-body scans and aggressive pat-downs, the agency announced today it's testing a more focused approach to security, just for some passengers at first, giving the most frequent fliers a way to fast-track through TSA checkpoints in airports. What does that mean for the rest of the flying public, however? Our report from NBC 's Tom Costello .

    Unidentified Man #1: How's it going, my man? Remember, you don't have to take your laptops out anymore.

    TOM COSTELLO reporting: At a TSA checkpoint in Atlanta today, a sudden change.

    Unidentified Man #2: No shoes?

    Man #1: No shoes.

    COSTELLO: New security requirements for the most frequent fliers. Shoes, belts and jackets can stay on, laptops can stay zipped up, and a dedicated express screening lane. Mr. CHRISTOPHER McLAUGHLIN ( TSA Assistant Administrator for Security Operations ): We'll scan your boarding pass and if you're eligible on that day, you will be allowed expedited screening processes.

    COSTELLO: The TSA calls it PreCheck , a trial run for domestic travelers in just four cities, only offered to elite frequent fliers on Delta Air Lines at its hubs in Atlanta and Detroit , elite American Airlines passengers in Dallas and Miami , and anyone already in the government's Trusted Traveler programs. In Atlanta , we timed frequent fliers moving through the expedited lane in just 15 seconds, compared to a minute 40 in the regular lane.

    Unidentified Woman: It was fantastic.

    COSTELLO: Really?

    Woman: Oh, my God, it was so easy.

    COSTELLO: Those passengers who participate provide the TSA with full name and date of birth, agree to a full security background check, including their flight history and airline elite status.

    Mr. JOHN PISTOLE (TSA Administrator): And if you've been traveling for 25 years and we -- and you're willing to share that information with us, then we can make a judgment about you to say, 'Yes, it's possible you're a terrorist, but probably not.'

    COSTELLO: If this program works, it could be rolled out to other cities and other airlines in the coming months. You know, the goal here is to try to get away from this one size fits all approach to security and recognize that the TSA and the airlines see some passengers regularly and maybe they should be focusing on those passengers that they don't see all that often. But, Brian , they do insist the elite travelers will still get random inspections and random pat-downs. Back to you.

    WILLIAMS: Well, let's hope we all qualify for the 'probably not a terrorist' flying category. Tom Costello at National Airport in DC tonight. Tom , thanks.


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