The Transportation Security Administration has rolled out changes to pat-downs at airports, which some travelers said resulted in more invasive screenings at airports.
The pat-downs don't involve any additional areas of the body, and will still be performed by agents of the same gender as passengers, the agency said.
Previously, agents used several different types of pat downs to choose from after travelers set off the metal detector or were otherwise flagged for security concerns, but the new rules establish one standardized pat-down procedure that is more comprehensive.
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Nico Melendez, a public affairs manager at the TSA, said the procedure was streamlined to reduce confusion and lessen the cognitive burden of officers after the TSA faced a record number of firearms detection during the week of February 20. Agents found 79 firearms, 21 of which were round chambered, setting a new record from its highest number of 18 firearms in 2014.
Some travelers called the new pat-downs invasive.
Seasoned traveler Joel Stratte-McClure said when he was catching a flight from Redding Municipal Airport to Egypt on Thursday the agent warned him the new procedure "would involve a more intense horizontal and vertical pat down" to look for concealed weapons that people typically hide in their pants.
"This was the most intriguing, intense and invasive pat down I've had by the TSA since they came into existence," Stratte-MCClure said in an email to NBC News. "Usually it's comparatively perfunctory (the gold bracelet on my right wrist sets off every security alarm in the US)."
Stratte-McClure said he is curious why it took the TSA fifteen years to understand that people conceal weapons in their pants, and doubted that the new pat-downs would be much more effective than the old ones, which he said didn't work in the first place.
"Seasoned travelers might take it in stride but infrequent travelers will be embarrassed and shocked," he said.
Some Twitter users criticized the new system, calling it "legalized groping."
— Bullwinkle (@JaneGal00036592) March 4, 2017
Department of Homeland Security spokesman Bruce Anderson said the new pat-downs will continue to use enhanced security measures implemented several months ago.
"TSA continues to adjust and refine our systems and procedures to meet the evolving threat and to achieve the highest levels of transportation security," Anderson said in a statement.
The change comes on the heels of the agency's study of a 2015 report by the Department of Homeland Security's Inspector General that drew headlines. The audit lambasted TSA for not detecting handguns and other weapons and suggested the termination of the "managed inclusion program."