March 14, 2012 at 1:51 PM ET
The Transportation Security Administration on Wednesday announced it will begin testing new procedures that could reduce the number of pat-downs for travelers ages 75 and older.
Beginning March 19, modified airport screening procedures for elderly passengers will begin at Chicago's O’Hare International, Denver International, Orlando International and Portland International airports. The percentage of passengers in that age group is higher at those airports, said TSA spokesperson Lisa Farbstein.
The modified procedures being tested will be similar to those recently implemented for children age 12 and under, which means elderly travelers at the selected airports may no longer need to remove their shoes and light outerwear at airport checkpoints and are allowed a "do-over" through the advanced imaging technology to clear any anomalies. However, as with the procedures for young children, TSA reserves the right to ask elderly fliers to remove shoes and undergo a pat-down if any anomalies detected during screening cannot be resolved through other procedures.
Farbstein said there is no defined end to the pilot program, but noted that in August 2011, TSA began its pilot program of expedited screening for kids and went national with it a month later. “But I don’t want to be raising expectations too soon for this program,” she told msnbc.com. “Each airport testing the 75-and-older program is doing so at only one checkpoint.”
At the participating checkpoints, signs will alert travelers to the program. “We think people 75 and older will announce themselves,” said Farbstein. She added that officers will also do visual assessments and direct those who qualify to a special lane for expedited screening.
“We think this will improve security,” said Farbstein. “We know it’s not one-size-fits-all and this will allow us to focus more of our time on passengers we know less about.”
The new procedures, along with greater use of explosives trace detection, could ultimately reduce pat-downs of elderly fliers. The announcement comes after recent high-profile passenger-TSA run-ins:
TSA has implemented several other initiatives in the past year that have reduced and/or changed the screening requirements for many passengers. Those programs include the Known Crew Member program, the use of expanded behavior detection techniques, the PreCheck expedited screening initiative and TSA CARES, a toll-free number (1-855-787-2227) to assist travelers with disabilities and medical conditions and answer questions about screening policies, procedures and what to expect at the airport security checkpoint.
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