New screening procedures for air travel to begin
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Transportation Security Administration will introduce new screening procedures Thursday at the nation's commercial airports, allowing passengers to take small scissors and tools on planes but increasing random passenger checks and the thoroughness of pat-down searches.
"I am convinced that the time now spent searching bags for small scissors and tools can be better utilized to focus on the far more dangerous threat of explosives," TSA Director Kip Hawley said in announcing the changes in early December.
The changes are going into effect during the busy holiday travel season.
Under the new procedures, which are designed to give screeners more time to focus on detecting explosives, scissors less than four inches long and tools less than seven inches long will now be allowed on aircraft.
"Tools with cutting edges, bludgeons, crowbars, hammers, saws and drills will continue to be prohibited, along with any tool that is more than seven inches long," Hawley said.
In addition, pat-down procedures at checkpoints will be refined. Currently, screeners pat down passengers' backs and abdomens. Under the new system, screeners will also pat-down arms and legs below the mid-thigh, although they will be given discretion to forgo those searches in cases where bare skin or tight clothing make it obvious nothing is being concealed.
The level of random screening will be increased, with procedures varying from airport to airport to keep any would-be terrorists off guard.
Passengers won't be selected for random searches based on their race, age, religion or nationality, according to the TSA. However, screeners will be given some discretion to forgo searches based on age and gender, so that passengers aren't being patted down by screeners of the opposite sex.
TSA officials told the managers they are assessing data from three pilot studies on the impact the new procedures might have on airport operations, but they do not anticipate any increase in waiting times. About 18,000 airport screeners have received more training in explosives detection, according to the TSA.
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