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.

    Douglas McFadd/Getty Images

    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.


    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.

    Brandon Thorne/Getty Images

    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

    • aszure42

      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.

      • tomservo

        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.

    • Togger Toucher

      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….

    • Mcallister Randley

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

    • Joe Farrell

      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.

      • rc137

        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.

        • Joe Farrell

          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 . . . .

          • tomservo

            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?

    • seadoc

      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…

      • jb

        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.

    • sidewind69

      they are quite good and professional in my experience!

    • Kyle

      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?

      • tomservo

        No, just yours.

    • Guest

      And also charge people a $2.50 cent for swearing at a TSA official.

    • Kyle

      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.

      • lala

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

    • rc137

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

      • Zoe Jean

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