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"Groin Checks" and Long Security Lines at Austin Airport

Passengers traveling through ABIA will encounter "enhanced" pat-downs and longer security lines this holiday season.

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport officials are scrambling to deal with longer security lines brought on by the continued growth in passenger traffic. Meanwhile, the Transportation and Security Administration began implementing more "thorough" pat-down procedures at the beginning of the month.

During the longest waits, people are spending up to an hour to get through security, according to airport spokesman Jim Halbrook. The maximum wait time used to be half that. The volume of passengers between January and September 2010 was up 4.5 percent compared to the same period last year, and more flights are also departing in the early morning hours.

"There's a lot of passengers coming before 8 a.m. That's our morning rush hour," Halbrook told KUT News. He said anyone with a flight before 8 a.m. should be in the terminal at least 2 hours before departure. If you're leaving after 8 a.m., you can arrive 90 minutes beforehand.

Halbrook said the airport is trying to reduce wait times by adding two extra security lines, but construction won't begin until January, and the lines won't be functional until the spring. The The airport currently has three checkpoints with three security lines each. Adding two more lines could reduce wait times by 22 percent.

Once you actually get to the security checkpoint at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, you may encounter more invasive pat-downs. Transportation and Security Administration spokesman Louis Casanova refused to explain the procedures to KUT, citing security concerns. "As I said, it's a thorough pat-down," he said, adding that not everyone would be subjected to a pat-down, only those singled out for additional screening.

But the procedures are no secret, especially after software engineer John Tyner's videotaped refusal to consent to a search went viral online.

"We are going to be doing a groin check," a TSA agent tells Tyner in the video. "That means I am going to place my hand on your hip, my other hand on your inner thigh. Slowly go up and slide down."

"If you touch my junk, I'm going to have you arrested," Tyner responded.

The Los Angeles Times reports on the new pat-down technique.  

Under the new pat-down technique, TSA security officers use their palms and fingers to probe for hidden weapons and other devices. In the past, officers used the backs of their hands to brush past sensitive body parts, including breast and groin areas.

Regulations allow travelers to opt-out of the pat-down and choose a full body scan instead, but Austin-Bergstrom International Airport doesn't have body scanners yet, and there's no word on when they'll get them.

One of the challenges of installing full body scanners at ABIA is the space they take up in screening areas that will become even more cramped when those two additional lanes are added in early 2011.

"Many of these airports were not built with these kinds of machines in mind," Casanova said. "There are now space limitations and infrastructure limitations that have to be corrected before these machines are brought in."

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion-dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on X @KUTnathan.