WASHINGTON – In response to numerous complaints from women, the government has ordered airport security (search) personnel to avoid touching female passengers between their breasts when performing patdowns.
Security screeners now will keep their hands to the "chest perimeter" of women unless detection equipment picks up the possibility that they are hiding explosives between their breasts.
The new method takes into consideration passenger discomfort while remaining steadfast in mitigating risks, said Transportation Security Administration (search) spokesman Mark Hatfield.
The nation's 45,000 screeners are being told to pat down the perimeter of the chest, backsides and abdomen, effective Thursday.
TSA has made other modifications. Last week it began allowing passengers to lower their arms after the first part of a search so they can be more comfortable.
Women have complained about the intrusiveness of the searches. "This reduces some of the anxiety that some passengers have expressed," Hatfield said, adding that the change does not weaken security efforts.
Roughly 2 million passengers a week are patted down. Some are searched this way after setting off metal detectors twice; others are chosen by computer.
The government has directed airport screeners to carry out more frequent, more thorough searches for explosives. That policy was instituted Sept. 22, after 90 people were killed in two plane crashes in Russia believed to have been caused by Chechen women who carried explosives on board.
For female passengers, screeners would use the back of the hand to pat down the center line of the chest and follow the bra line below the breast.