The hand searches are invasive but are better than the body scans, which peer beneath clothing, U.S. Airline Pilots Association President Mike Cleary says.
Because the hand searches are "a demeaning experience," pilots should ask for the pat-downs to be done in private, American Airlines' Allied Pilots Association President David Bates says.
But the real issue is that pilots should be able to pass airport security checks with no screening because they underwent background checks, the unions argue.
The U.S. Transportation Security Administration, responsible for U.S. air transportation security, has tested such a program but has no money to fund it, the agency says.
The nation's largest pilots' union, the Air Line Pilots Association, called on airlines and the U.S. government to pay for the program, ALPA President John Prater said.
ALPA has not told its 53,000 members to avoid scanners, Prater told USA Today.
The TSA issued a statement saying Administrator John Pistole is discussing alternatives with pilots but said security measures must consider "our enemy is creative and willing to go to great lengths to evade detection."