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13 Airport Mistakes TSA Agents Hate the Most

Trust us: You don't want to get on the TSA's bad side.

U.S. Steps Up Security As Precaution After Bin Laden's DeathKevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Oops, you did it again (and so did everyone else)

It’s tough to be a TSA agent. In fact, one out of every five TSA screeners quits within six months, according to a new report by the Homeland Security Department’s inspector general. In addition to the relatively low pay—the starting salary is $35,000—TSA agents have to tell people to remove their shoes about a million times a day, and the level of respect they receive appears to be awfully low. So, let’s try to make their lives a little easier, shall we? All you have to do is avoid these mistakes that annoy them. In the process, you’ll also likely have a much smoother and faster trip through security.

A Transportation Security Administration officer looks over the identification of a passenger during a security screening November 24, 2010 at LaGuardia airport in the Queens Borough of New York CityChris Hondros/Getty Images

You’re running late, so you blame the TSA

OK, we may have done this once or twice ourselves. You have a flight to catch, and you’re running late. Then you hit the TSA line, and it’s a doozy, so perhaps you’re a little rude to the TSA officers. Can they go faster? Why is this line so loooooong? OMG, this is taking forever. “This is a main pet peeve,” says Devin Smith, a maintenance electrician at the Calgary airport who hears his TSA agent friends complain about it all the time. If you really think you’re going to miss your flight, you can politely ask to jump ahead of the line, but you’re not guaranteed anything, especially if you don’t arrive two hours before your domestic flight or four hours before your international flight. And if you’re really rude, chances are that the TSA agents will take their time with you.

Man Putting Shoes Into Tray For Airport Security Checkmonkeybusinessimages/Getty Images

Making a fuss about taking off your shoes

No one likes to take off their shoes. It’s annoying, you don’t want your socks or bare feet to touch that gross airport floor, and it slows you down when you’re racing for your flight. But making a fuss out of it will just annoy TSA agents, Smith says. They didn’t create this rule: It was put into place after 9/11 because terrorists can put bombs into their shoes, so extra security is needed. The good news? We may not have to take off our shoes much longer. Here’s what airport security could look like in 10 years.

A Transportation Security Administration (TSA) worker screens passengers and airport employees at O'Hare International Airport on January 07, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois.Scott Olson/Getty Images

Arguing with them

Going through the TSA line isn’t fun for anyone. Don’t take it out on the airport employees, who are simply trying to do their jobs, says Richard, a former TSA agent who asked that his last name not be revealed. He tells Reader’s Digest that he’s been yelled at, argued with, and harassed simply for following the rules and trying to get everyone safely through security. “It’s stressful for everyone, but yelling isn’t a good idea,” he adds.

Plus, let’s get real here: Arguing with TSA agents isn’t going to help anything—it’s only going to aggravate them and keep you on that line longer. “When we’re frustrated, we have the power to really take our time when moving that line along,” Richard says. In fact, it could move so slowly that you ultimately miss your flight. And you still wouldn’t have won your argument. Here are a few other things you should never do at the airport.

A traveler undergoes an enhanced pat down by a Transportation Security Administration agent at the Denver International Airport on November 22, 2010 in Denver, Colorado.John Moore/Getty Images

Joking about the pat-down

Getting a pat-down is uncomfortable for everyone involved. Most likely, you don’t want to be standing there, getting touched in odd places by a stranger during the stressful period before a flight. And guess what: The TSA agents don’t want to be touching you, either, but it’s their job. When you make a joke out of it, or say that you’re enjoying being patted down, this can be deemed as sexual harassment, according to Newsweek. The agents have all undergone formal training on how to do this proficiently, and they’re doing their best not to make this uncomfortable—for you or for them. So, they’d really like you to keep the jokes to yourself. You should also know what a TSA agent first notices about you.

Travelers are screened by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) workers at a security check point at O'Hare Airport on June 2, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois.Scott Olson/Getty Images

Not following the rules

The TSA repeats them over and over again. Not listening? There are signs throughout the security area. So clearly, it’s a little upsetting when people don’t remove their laptops or electronics from their carry-on bags when it’s mentioned and requested multiple times, Smith says. The end result is that your bags will have to go through the scanner additional times, which slows down the line, leading more people to yell at the TSA…and none of this makes those agents happy.

Miami International Airport Launches 2 Automated Security Screening LanesJoe Raedle/Getty Images

Waiting until the last minute to do what’s needed

On par with not removing these items at all? Taking your sweet time to do it. The TSA line is slow-moving. That means you have plenty of time to get those electronics out of your bag, take off your shoes, and remove your snacks (they have to go through security on their own, too). Why do some people wait until the very last moment to start unpacking and removing their shoes? Who knows—but cut it out. Not only does this slow down the process, but it’s more likely that you’ll forget to do one of the tasks and have to go through the scanner twice, according to Insider.

A Transportation Security Administration (TSA) worker screens passengers and airport employees at O'Hare International Airport on January 07, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois.Scott Olson/Getty Images

Terrorism humor

You may think it’s funny to joke about bombs or terrorism to the TSA agents or other passengers while you’re in line to go through security, but this is no joke, according to CheatSheet. They are required to take everything you say seriously. Translation: If you jokingly say, “I have a bomb in my bag,” you will be restrained and you will miss your flight. End of story. It will take time out of everyone’s day for no reason.

TSA Demonstrates New Imaging Technology At Reagan National AirportChip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Asking health questions

No, the scanner doesn’t cause cancer. Yes, they’re positive it won’t do any harm. Nope, not even the full-body millimeter-wave scanner, where you hold your hands above your head. So, please don’t ask the TSA if it’ll do any damage to you. If you’re really super nervous, you can opt for a manual pat-down, according to The Points Guy. Just remember not to joke about this manual pat-down. In case you were wondering, this is what airport body scanners really see.

Group Of People Standing In Queue At Boarding GateTashi-Delek/Getty Images

Cutting the line

No one likes waiting in line, but it’s just something you’re going to have to do. And don’t even think about going into the Pre-Check line if you haven’t signed up for Pre-Check. It’s not nice to the people who paid for Pre-Check or signed up for the Pre-Check credit cards. Plus, the last thing that TSA agents want to be bothered with are the line skippers, according to Oyster. This isn’t part of their job description, and quite frankly, they have more important ways to spend their hours at the airport—you know, like finding bad things and catching bad guys. If you really want the line to go faster, apply for a TSA Pre-Check.

Airport Security TSA Agent Finds a Bottle of Waterleezsnow/Getty Images

Being sneaky with your liquids

The rule is 3.4 ounces or 100 milliliters max per liquid. There are also rules about what constitutes a liquid. (I found out recently during a trip that slime is, indeed, a liquid in the TSA’s eyes, for example.) The agents didn’t make up these rules, but they must enforce them, and you must abide by them. If you try sneaking a larger liquid into your bag or if you “forget” to remove your water bottle, they will find it, confiscate it, and have to run your bag through the scanner again. We’re sure you can understand that doing this over and over again, thanks to passengers who want to make their own rules, can be very annoying. Aside from liquids, here are the things that are getting your luggage flagged by the TSA.

Cat in the airline cargo pet carrierhumonia/Getty Images

Bringing a cat

While your cat may be lovely and legally able to fly, it’s not fun for TSA agents to deal with cats, according to the Travel. They hiss, they scratch, they escape, and they are simply scary for strangers to have to deal with in security. Sure, they may be your calming emotional support animal, but they usually have the opposite effect on TSA workers. Here are other things most likely to get you noticed by the TSA—and not in a good way.

A Transportation Security Administration (TSA) worker screens luggage at LaGuardia Airport (LGA) on September 26, 2017 in New York City.Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Asking TSA agents to change gloves

You may have noticed that the TSA agents wear gloves during the pat-downs. As a result, many passengers ask them to change their gloves before they’re subjected to this security task. While you may think it’s a reasonable request—especially if you’re a germaphobe—this is a huge pet peeve for TSA agents, who are sick and tired of changing their gloves all the time, according to the Travel. Maybe if they standardized their glove-changing times, we’d feel better? Like if they had a schedule where they had to change their gloves every seven minutes? But for all we know, the gloves are put on at the beginning of the day and removed at the end—and that’s just gross. That said, while you can certainly make this request, don’t expect your TSA agent to be happy about it.

Mother and daughter pulling together a suitcasedamircudic/Getty Images

Racing ahead of your kids

Children have to go through the checkpoint scanner, and if you’re traveling with a child, of course you have to go through that scanner, too. But—and I’ve never been told this explicitly although I’ve traveled with my children hundreds of times—you’re apparently supposed to go through the scanner after your children, not before them. Oops. It’s annoying to the agents when you go before your kids, according to Insider, because if you go before them, the children are left in the hands of the TSA for that time. The TSA agents are not babysitters. Move the kids in front of you and keep your eyes on them at all times. Here are some more things to keep in mind—and ways to keep your sanity—when flying with children.

Danielle Braff
Danielle Braff regularly covers travel, health and lifestyle for Reader's Digest. Her articles have also been published in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, Boston Globe and other publications. She has a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University, and a master's degree in musicology from Oxford University in England. Danielle is based in Chicago, where she lives with her husband and two children. See her recent articles at You can follow her on Facebook @Danielle.Karpinos, Twitter @daniellebraff, and Instagram at danikarp.