13 Things Your TSA Security Agent Isn’t Telling You

In 2016, the TSA discovered a record 3,391 firearms during screenings. But it wasn't accomplished without a lot of stress. Here's what officers are really thinking while you wait in the security line.

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

iStock/Izabela Habur

But everything I do is on camera, so even if I disagree with a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) rule, I must enforce it. That includes the new rule that certain state drivers' licenses are no longer valid forms of ID.

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. Plus, your wait in the security line will be much longer if you see these four letters on your boarding pass.

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.

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.

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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. These things drastically increased your chances of getting flagged.

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. (These fliers revealed the strangest things TSA took from them.)

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.

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.

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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.

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. You can see the weird things we confiscate from luggage on the TSA Instagram account.

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.

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. Get through airport security faster with prescreening options like TSA Precheck.

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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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