* Latest shift by TSA after complaints about screening
* Change comes ahead of busy holiday travel period
* Lawmakers call patdown policy "overly intrusive"
(Adds lawmakers comments)
By Jeremy Pelofsky
WASHINGTON, Nov 19 U.S. airline pilots will be
allowed to bypass new heightened security screening at U.S.
airports, the Transportation Security Administration said on
Friday, relenting after a lawsuit and outcry that pilots
already undergo rigorous background checks.
Pilots have complained bitterly they should not have to go
through new full-body scanners or be subjected to thorough
patdowns when they already go through extensive security checks
and control the airplane.
"Allowing these uniformed pilots, whose identity has been
verified, to go through expedited screening at the checkpoint
just makes for smart security and an efficient use of our
resources," TSA Administrator John Pistole said in a prepared
The TSA, created after the Sept. 11 attacks against the
United States in 2001 by al Qaeda militants using hijacked
passenger planes, has been under fire since introducing more
rigorous screening procedures last month.
The extra security, which comes just before a busy travel
season over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, followed
two plots against the U.S. aviation system in the past year.
A Nigerian man tried to detonate explosives hidden in his
underwear aboard a U.S. flight from Amsterdam to Detroit last
Christmas. Last month, two packages stuffed with explosives
made it aboard two U.S. cargo flights overseas.
The Yemen-based group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula
claimed responsibility for both plots.
Complaints have flooded in that the new measures are too
invasive and violate constitutional and privacy rights.
While Pistole has acknowledged the procedures are more
invasive, he and administration officials have said they are
necessary to prevent someone from smuggling a bomb or weapon
aboard a plane.
'COMMON SENSE, RISK-BASED APPROACH'
Responding to the outcry, the TSA has agreed its screeners
will no longer conduct patdowns of children aged 12 or
Pilots will be able to skip the new screening checks if
they are employed by a U.S. carrier, are on airline business
and in uniform. They will have to show their airline
identification and a second form of identification, which will
be checked against crew databases, the TSA said.
They could still be subject to random screening, the TSA
said. The new rules do not apply to flight attendants.
"Establishing a secure system to positively identify and
verify the employment status of uniformed pilots is a common
sense, risk-based approach that allows TSA to dedicate more
resources to unknown threats," Paul Onorato, president of the
Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations, said in a statement.
Earlier this week, two veteran pilots filed a lawsuit
against the TSA and Department of Homeland Security arguing the
patdowns and full-body scans violated protections against
unwarranted searches afford by the U.S. Constitution.
"This new patdown is significantly more invasive and
intrusive than the former patdown in that, among other things,
the officer literally places his hands inside the traveler's
pants," the lawsuit said.
BUSY HOLIDAY SEASON
A poll released by CBS News earlier this week found 81
percent of respondents believed airports should use the full
But some opposed to the new screening have urged fliers to
protest body scans on Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving,
in hopes of jamming security lines with people requiring
patdowns, which would wreck havoc with the system.
The TSA has defended the full-body scanners as safe despite
concerns about radiation and the agency has said privacy
safeguards have been instituted to ensure the images cannot be
captured or sent.
Passengers now face law enforcement-style patdowns if they
refuse the body scanner, or an anomaly is found on the scan or
if someone sets off the traditional metal detectors where those
machines are used. There are nearly 400 scanners in 68
The two Republicans expected to take the lead on aviation
issues in the House of Representatives next year sent a letter
to Pistole urging that the TSA use patdowns as a secondary
check only if an alarm has sounded.
"The new patdown procedures are overly intrusive especially
if a legitimate reason for the more probing search has not been
established," said Representatives John Mica and Thomas Petri,
senior members of the House Transportation Committee.
Mica, who is expected to chair the panel when Republicans
officially take control of the House on Jan 5., has called for
airports to drop TSA agents in favor of private contractors.
Two Democrats currently responsible for domestic security
issues also asked the TSA to reconsider it policy.
"Coupled with its duty to provide aviation security to the
traveling public, TSA also has a duty to ensure that its
procedures have been reviewed by experts in privacy and civil
rights for constitutionality," wrote representatives Bennie
Thompson of Mississippi and Sheila Jackson-Lee of Texas, who
head the Homeland Security Committee and its Transportation and
Infrastructure Protection Subcommittee, respectively.
(Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky; Editing by Peter Cooney)