13 Things TSA Security Won’t Tell You

In 2012, the TSA discovered 1,543 firearms during screenings. But it wasn't accomplished without a lot of stress. Here's how you can speed up that dreaded security line.

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I don’t think it makes sense to confiscate your oversize tube of toothpaste either.

I don’t think it makes sense to confiscate your oversize tube of toothpaste either. Eddie Guy for Reader’s Digest
But everything I do is on camera, so even if I disagree with a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) rule, I must enforce it.

We get frustrated when passengers demand that we justify a policy.

We get frustrated when passengers demand that we justify a policy.Natalie Behring/Getty Images
It’s hard to explain why a senior citizen can’t keep his utility knife with a tiny blade, while a 300-pound man fresh out of prison can hop on board with his scissors, toothbrush, and lighter.

Creating the TSA was largely a political decision.

Creating the TSA was largely a political decision.Tom Pennington/Getty Images
And many terrorism experts still believe that it doesn’t significantly enhance our security. Police catch murderers, the FBI catches bank robbers, but how many terrorists have been caught by screeners? Zero that we know of.

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The TSA operates with your consent, expressed or implied.

The TSA operates with your consent, expressed or implied.Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
If you withhold consent, the screening process stops, and you are usually free to leave the airport. Officers may hold you until the police arrive, but ultimately they can do nothing.

Not all passengers are treated the same.

Not all passengers are treated the same.Digital Vision./Thinkstock
For years, travelers arriving from a secret list of countries were required to have enhanced screenings, usually a bag search and a full-body pat-down. That list is no longer used, but many TSA officers see a passport from a certain country and still automatically call for a search.

Certain foods look like a bomb.

Certain foods look like a bomb.Douglas McFadd/Getty Images
If you’re carrying cheese or sausage in your bag, remove it before putting the bag through the X-ray machine. The signature of these items is indistinguishable from explosives.

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You may be exempt from scanning.

You may be exempt from scanning.Creatas/Thinkstock
If you’re a child under 12 or at least 75 years old, you don’t need a full-body scan, because your age group poses less of a threat.

We get starstruck too.

We get starstruck too.Brandon Thorne/Getty Images
I’ve watched airline executives and even federal security directors scrambling around to impress celebrity fliers with competitive displays of their most expeditious screening.

Want to avoid a pat-down after going through the full-body scanner?

Want to avoid a pat-down after going through the full-body scanner?John Moore/Getty Images
Don’t wear shirts or pants with extraneous pockets, buttons, or zippers, or anything with sequined bling on it. These items tend to appear suspicious on the scanner, which is programmed to flag anything out of the ordinary.

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Please find another way to smuggle your lizards, snakes, and other illegal pets across a border.

Please find another way to smuggle your lizards, snakes, and other illegal pets across a border.Timy Boyle/Getty Images
I once opened a suitcase to find a container of baby vipers hidden in a cosmetics bag.

We used to be able to see a lot on the body scanners.

We used to be able to see a lot on the body scanners.Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Breast implants, hernias, six-pack abs... But new equipment installed over the past year allows us to see only a generic silhouette of a person.

We find the airport security process just as tedious as you do.

We find the airport security process just as tedious as you do.Joe Raedle/Getty Images
The vast majority of us view our job as a stepping-stone to a better position within the Department of Homeland Security or U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

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We see the good side of people, too.

We see the good side of people, too.John Moore/Getty Images
Every so often, a woman explains she can’t have the full-body scan by revealing that she’s pregnant. She and her traveling companions stage a mini celebration right there. We call it a “baby shower opt-out.” It’s one of the few heartwarming things we see happen.

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20 thoughts on “13 Things TSA Security Won’t Tell You

  1. I used to get irritated by the obvious stepping towards an all out totalitarian state that is the current incarnation of the TSA, but why let myself suffer my own irritation? Now I just routinely “opt out” and sing some lucky agent a love song while being felt up. My personal favorite is “Open Arms” by Journey, making sure to falsetto up an octave when sensitive areas are “patted down”… “So now I come to you with open arms, nothing to hide. BeLIEVE what I say…”

  2. Is this supposed to make me feel some degree of sympathy for the TSA? F**k the TSA. You may not like the rules, but you still act like a bunch of wanna be cops pushing people around to make yourselves feel superior. You’re just a security guard, always remember that. And you’re working in TSA probably because you failed at being a cop.

    1. Yes. All TSA staff are failed cops. Well done for working that out. You don’t win a prize but you do get some smug self-satisfaction to go with what is clearly a sparkling personality.

  3. TSA means ‘Touch Sensitive Areas’ They fondle you in the name of security. I suppose its lucky for some that their job is also there hobby….

  4. I heard about TSA agents being sued in a new story a few months ago about mistreating a passenger

  5. 1543 guns and not a single prosecution for attempted air piracy – meaning none, as in zero, of the people caught with guns were a threat to the flight they were about to board .. . meaning TSA accomplished absolutely nothing.

    1. No, they accomplished their mission. You said it yourself “not a single prosecution for attempted air piracy”. TSA disarmed them. If you have to travel with a gun, you need to follow TSA protocol.

      1. I guess you don’t know what ‘attempted’ air piracy means. . . .

        If the person innocently arrived with a gun they ‘forgot’ was in their bag, then they are not a threat to the flight they were about to board. Possession of a gun is not a priori evidence of being a hijacker.

        If they arrive with a gun, a one way ticket, and have other indicia of not wanting to come back . .. then you prosecute someone for attempted air piracy. You don’t just turn them back out on the street . . . .

        1. Wow. How did you get all that extra information from the same sub-headline I read? Because all I understood was that 1543 firearms were discovered. Or do you have a special filter on your screen that adds presumption to the mix?

  6. As a physician who is concerned about cumulative radiation exposure I always opt-out. It has become quite an uneventful experience. If you retain a modicum of humor throughout the experience, the better… Get to the airport early, though…

    1. Have not come across a scanner using ionizing radiation, they are all mm wave length, which has slightly less energy than heat radiation (infrared) . Same energy range as back up obstruction radar detectors in car bummers. Always ask. There is more exposure to much more energetic (penetrating) ionizing radiation at altitude than there is from the backscatter scanners that were used.

  7. That’s weird how my second comment got put on moderation which I deleted the comment knowing it will never go thru.

    Do they flag comments that brings criticism to the TSA on here?

  8. How about a TSA Kids line in airports that have room for the extra line? All the children below the age of 15 goes in the special kids line to speed up the process as a start among many other improvements needed.

    1. Um no ones separating a kid from the parent. That’s a major liability, and there are family lanes.

  9. TSA should scan/screen kids and seniors also. Since terrorist know TSA doesn’t check, they make good recruits.

    1. They do look at seniors with a jaundiced eye. I know, from experience.

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