The security checkpoint at an airport can serve as your own personal Ninja Warrior-style gauntlet, with shoe removal maneuvers, body scanners, and mile-long lines. But what about the folks on the other side… the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers on duty? If you think you’re in a pissy mood, imagine having to screen approximately two million frequently attitude-y passengers daily and over 700 million every year.
“Passengers tell us we’re “a waste of tax money and a joke,” says a current TSA officer at the Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, who spoke to us anonymously for this story. Well, that’s a fine how-do-you-do! And let’s just call that one of the nicer comments.
Despite what some travelers may think, “We’re trying to get you through as fast as we can,” says the officer, whose job includes screening passengers according to an ever-changing set of procedures. In order to make the screening process less of a headache for you — and for them — listen, be patient, and don’t commit these common gaffes that drive TSA agents crazy.
1. Leaving crap in your pockets
The officer we spoke with could not stress this point enough. While most travelers will remove metal objects like keys and coins, they should remove everything from their pockets. According to the TSA, those high-tech Automated Image Technology scanners detect both metallic and non-metallic items. That means even items like tissues, driver’s licenses, and passports will raise suspicion and result in a pat-down. Also, “the body scanner is not radioactive,” our officer says, adding that many folks hesitate when stepping into the machines, which can cause line back-ups.
2. Fighting over rules they didn’t make up
“I understand that it’s a bottle of water,” our officer says with sympathy, but the maximum limit for liquids is 3.4 ounces and they all must fit in a one quart-size bag. So your water bottle probably fails that test. You can (and should) bring an empty bottle through the checkpoint to fill up after the screening process though.
3. Forgetting (or refusing) to take off your shoes
In December 2001, failed “shoe bomber” Richard Reid hid wires and explosives in his shoes on a flight from Paris to Miami. Because of that, the TSA began randomly searching passengers’ shoes. In 2006, the agency issued a mandate stating that all shoes be removed when going through security. If you don’t want to show off your socks again, apply for TSA Precheck. If approved, you won’t need to remove your shoes, laptop, liquids, belt, or jacket.
4. Packing something utterly out of bounds
According to the agency, TSA officers collected 1,861 firearms in the first six months of this year, about 20 percent more than were collected in the first six months of 2016. When asked, many passengers say they simply forgot they were carrying a gun. Oops. Other “um, really?!” objects include grenades, swords, and a propane canister.