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.

By Michelle Crouch | from Reader's Digest magazine
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    Eddie Guy for Reader’s Digest

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

    But everything I do is on camera, so even if I disagree with a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) rule, I must enforce it.

    Natalie Behring/Getty Images

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

    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.

    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    Creating the TSA was largely a political decision.

    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.

    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    The TSA operates with your consent, expressed or implied.

    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.

    Digital Vision./Thinkstock

    Not all passengers are treated the same.

    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.

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    Certain foods look like a bomb.

    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.

    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.

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    We get starstruck too.

    I’ve watched airline executives and even federal security directors scrambling around to impress celebrity fliers with competitive displays of their most expeditious screening.

    John Moore/Getty Images

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

    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.

    Timy Boyle/Getty Images

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

    I once opened a suitcase to find a container of baby vipers hidden in a cosmetics bag.

    Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

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

    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.

    Joe Raedle/Getty Images

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

    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.

    John Moore/Getty Images

    We see the good side of people, too.

    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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    Your Comments

    • DM

      #14. Please hide your iPad and electronics????

    • Mr. Tea

      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…”