Searching Passengers

A pat-down search is an additional form of passenger screening performed if a person has set off a metal detector, or if he/she is selected for additional screening because of suspicious appearance/behaviour

Pat-down searches are also sometimes called frisk searches, and because there is physical contact they must be carried by a searcher of the same sex as the person being searched. Consent should first be gained from the person being searched. The searcher should be tactful, courteous and use caution.

Searches should normally be carried out in the open, but searches can be carried out in private if a passenger requests it, or when it is necessary to search more extensively to establish whether a passenger is carrying a prohibited article.

When searches are undertaken in private, two security officers of the same sex as the person being searched should be present. If, at some screening points, it is difficult to remove two security officers of the same gender from the point at the same time, it is acceptable to have a searcher and another person of the same gender present to act as a witness, which can be a member of the airline’s customer service staff for example.

A pat-down search involves visual inspection and applying the hands in a specified way to various parts of the clothed body. It is important to adopt a systematic approach so that no part of the body or items of clothing are overlooked. The only clothing items that may be required to be removed during a pat-down search are outerwear (e.g., coats, jackets, hats) and shoes.

The searcher may feel non-sensitive areas of a passenger’s body with the front of their hands. These areas include the back, abdomen, arms, and the legs from mid-thigh to ankle. When searching sensitive areas such as the upper torso or groin, the searcher must use the back of their hand.

There are many places on the body that can be used to conceal items and which are difficult to search. Items can be concealed in many items of clothing such as jacket linings, padding of shoulders, hats, ceremonial/religious head-dresses, ties, pockets, collars, lapels, waistbands, belts, top of shoes and boots, platform heels/soles of shoes and boots.

Attention should be paid to an article of clothing with metal components (e.g. metal buttons) making sure no metal weapons are hidden between the body and the article of clothing. Items can also be hidden in articles carried by person being searched (e.g. newspapers, books etc.) Any items being carried must be screened by X-ray. When the person is carrying a book, newspaper or other items, these should be X-rayed, set aside, and returned only after the person has been searched.

Hand searches of an individual’s person should be carried out as follows:

The person being searched should initially face the searcher.
The search is to consist of an examination of the body and clothing by running the hands over the body and clothing, in a systematic fashion, back and front and should include:

  1. a physical examination of headgear and a physical or visual examination of hair;
  2. a physical examination of outer clothing (coat, jacket etc) in the order: back, collar, lapels, shoulders, pockets (externally and internally), arms;
  3. a physical examination of tie, waistcoat, blouse/shirt, sweater, cardigan, etc., including pockets;
  4. a physical examination of trousers/skirts in the order: waistband, pockets, turn-ups, hemlines;
  5. a physical examination of shoes and boots, special attention being paid to high heels and platform shoes, which should be tapped together to dislodge any materials inside, and heels should be checked for tightness and hollow sounds. The searcher should also look and feel inside shoes with hand. Shoes can be bent to see if they are flexible and to make sure they don’t have any objects under the inner sole. Finally, they should be screened by X-ray;
  6. a visual examination to detect unusual or suspicious fat, bulges, etc. which should be further examined;

Special attention should be paid to the armpit, breasts, crotch, waistband areas, covered legs, ankles and footwear. When searching a female passenger’s chest area, the female searcher may feel the outer perimeter of the chest, including above and underneath the breasts. In most airports, screening officers only feel in-between a female’s breasts if she sets off a hand-held metal detector in that area.

When Does a Pat-Down Search Become Inappropriate?

A pat-down becomes inappropriate whenever guidelines are not followed. An inappropriate search might include:

These type of violations may constitute sexual assault!

Procedures if the Person Refuses to be Searched by Hand

Any person who refuses to undergo screening before boarding or entering an aircraft must be denied boarding, and not allowed to pass the point of search. Local operating procedures should contain guidance on what further action to take.

Additionally any persons denied passage for refusal to be processed, or for some other security reason, should be referred to policing authority officials. All operators at the airport should be alerted accordingly to cover the situation where the passenger, deterred by additional attention, changes travel plans in a to attempt to travel on another airline.

*The information about Searching Passengers is provided here as a guidance only to compliment and not to replace procedures and guidelines used at your own locality/facility.