Since the 9/11 terror attacks that led to tighter security, air travelers have criticized what they say is a lack of common sense in screening all passengers the same way, including young children and the elderly. That criticism grew louder in 2010 when the government began using a more invasive pat-down that involves screeners feeling a traveler's genital and breast areas through clothing.
"By moving away from a one-size-fits-all approach to security and applying some intelligence-driven and risk-based security models, TSA is looking at how this works for passengers," agency spokesman Jim Fotenos said.
The change in guidelines will be introduced at a limited number of security lanes at Chicago's O'Hare International, Denver International, Orlando International, and Portland International. Those airports were chosen because they have a higher percentage of travelers 75 and older, Fotenos said. He said the rules would be relaxed indefinitely at the four airports with the intention of expanding elsewhere if it is a success.
Two passengers in their 80s traveling separately through New York's Kennedy Airport in November complained that they were effectively strip-searched. One was made to remove a back brace so it could be X-rayed. The other said she was humiliated when two female screeners made her lower her sweat pants so they could examine her colostomy bag. The TSA has disputed parts of their accounts while acknowledging that screeners violated rules by asking to examine their medical devices.
In another incident that sparked outrage, a 6-year-old girl was reduced to tears after screeners frisked her at New Orleans airport in March 2011 - a scene recorded on video and posted on YouTube.
To reduce the number of pat-downs given to children and the elderly, screeners in the test programs are being told to send those passengers through metal detectors or walk-through imaging machines multiple times to capture a clear picture as well as to use more explosive-trace detection tools such as hand swabs, according to the TSA.