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.

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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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