A TSA Agent Answers Questions From The Community

tsa agent security checkpointIf you are flying this week, you are probably anticipating long security lines, many tiny bottles of liquids, and a lot of time shuffling through a metal detector in your socks. Last night on Reddit, a TSA agent participated in a Q & A (known as an “I Am A…” or “Ask Me Anything” on the site), and the community asked some great questions on security, stereotypes and weird encounters. See below for some of his answers.

On speeding through security checkpoints:

Be nice to officers. Don’t lay it on thick, but being rude or confrontational will get you nowhere. The most often used tactic for officers looking to “win” or “beat” passengers is to slow down.

Pay attention. Especially at bigger checkpoints, look around. Many times there are lanes that have few or no passengers in them, and will not get a lot of business because people assume they are closed. Watch passengers that look like they know what they’re doing and emulate them. We have officers whose job it is to stand around and advise passengers on what they need to do to get through the checkpoint quickly. Pay attention to what they’re saying, they really are just there to help you.

On securing your checked bags:

They’re rollerbags with a hardcase and a lock built in to the side. That is hands down your best option. Anyone with a ballpoint pen can get into a locked piece of luggage and zip it up again without you ever knowing. YouTube it and you’ll see. But still, I’d put a lock on any checked bag. People besides TSA officers handle your luggage, people far less scrupulous than us, and I mean … you don’t want to just invite them to go through your stuff.

On TSA officers stealing:

Officers do steal stuff. Officers are, unfortunately, people, too. Not every person in the world is honest and scrupulous. I know of half a dozen officers who were caught stealing, and it’s usually stupid because it’s a fire-able offense. You get caught and they pull your badge on the spot.

So personally, I don’t get it. Even part timers are making like 400 a paycheck…you try to grab an ipod, or even 40 bucks out of someone’s bin…one paycheck later you’re out way more money than you would have gotten from it. Morality aside…it’s just bad math.

On behind-the-scenes “shenanigans”:

I wouldn’t say there’s really a ‘behind the scenes’ on a passenger checkpoint, but a lot of officers screw around right under passengers noses, and whether or not we get away with it, we believe we do. The sad truth is that in order to maintain staffing to be responsive to rushes there are often times when too many of us around with nothing to do.

We know people say TSA stands for Thousands Standing Around.

At one of my…less professional moments, it was slow and I took a pair of rubber gloves, rolled them into a tight ball and was playing catch with another officer across two lanes. I threw him the ball, and he missed the catch, it bounced off his fingertips and hit an old lady in the head. No one got caught, but that’s what I’m talking about.

Something about Idleness and the devil…

On the stereotypes that agents are useless or have no other career options:

Honestly 99.9% (or more) of the people we interact with on any given day don’t mind or understand that we’re a ‘necessary evil.’ Regular business travelers tolerate us and appreciate when we’re not jerkbags. If you go online and read the complaints about TSA, understand that they really are a vocal minority.
I don’t mind. In fact I went to school for Civil Engineering but once I got into the real world I realized it wasn’t what I wanted to do. Rather than going back to school (and spending a lot more money) I did this. The fact is the pay really is good (I make about 40k a year), with good benefits, and requires little previous experience.

On missing weapons or dangerous items in security checks:

Take a razorblade. Or a long, thin sawblade like what got through security in that Mythbusters. Turn it on end so you’re looking down at the edger of the blade.

Not a lot there to look at.

I hope that helps you imagine how such a thing could be missed..in fact we often catch small pocket knives and the passenger tells us that it has been through half a dozen or more airports without being caught.

On the weirdest items he’s confiscated:

I was around for the liquid scare in 2006. That was pretty crazy. We had these huge garbage bins out by the queues before you even got to the checkpoint, and officers up on the mezzanine with bullhorns just repeating the same things over and over again.

Those bins got filled and emptied countless times during the day…EVERY liquid was thrown in them: expensive perfumes, eye contacts in their little foil packs, baby food. The passengers did it willingly before we even looked in their bags. And very few people complained. Everyone was scared…the threat was real and close.

Other than that…I dunno, there are a ton of things. Some old guy, probably in his 80s, had a sword cane. Said he had it for years, never realized there was a sword in it. He was shocked.

On celebrity pat-downs:

So I don’t get to pat down attractive women. I’ve never woken up in the morning hoping I get to pat down some Abercrombie model. However from a technical standpoint, it is easier to pat down someone who is physically fit rather than someone who is overweight or obese.

On my third day of work, I was brand new, wide eyed stupid, I had to pat down Will Ferrell. It was weird for me…he didn’t seem to mind. I’ve also had to pat down a number of NFL players, because of their size they often wear baggy clothing.

Generally celebrities do their best to remain inconspicuous and when I recognize a passenger as a celebrity, I do my best to remain professional treat them the same as everyone else. In the situation I believe that’s what they prefer.

I did meet Alan Tudyk…and I’m a huge fan. I told him so.

Read the full Q&A here.

[Photo credit: Flickr user TSA Public Affairs]

New PR Push from TSA: Checkpoint Hotties

calendar, bookstore

This winter, you’ll find something new between the super cute kitties and inspiring nature photos that fill the calendar racks at your local bookstore. Sources say the TSA is hard at work on “Checkpoint Hotties: 12 Reasons to Opt Out in 2013,” a calendar featuring their most attractive screeners.

There’s no gender discrimination here. Two versions of the calendar will be released, one featuring men, the other featuring woman. Participants were recruited during a vigorous screening process that included a backscatter image. “We wanted to make sure that those bulges were all original equipment,” said Lorenzo Hermosilla-Schmidt, the stylist for both editions of the calendar.

A TSA PR representative (who asked not to be named) revealed the thinking behind this new project. “We’re constantly accused of invasive procedures at screening checkpoints. Since the TSA has no intention of altering the process, we thought, why not do something fun? Why not make the pat-down something to look forward to?”

The TSA was overwhelmed with internal support for the project. “I was just a part-time office temp in Odessa before I got my checkpoint screening gig at Houston International,” said one pin-up. “Now I’m Mr. November!”

“My night shift schedule is hard on my family,” said Miss July. “I’m also hoping that the additional recognition will earn me a position where every person I meet doesn’t hate me. And a day shift would help.”

Hermosilla-Schmidt says the calendar promises to be racy but not X-rated. The example he was willing to share? Mr. August. He’s wearing boots, a highly abbreviated TSA uniform, and those signature blue latex gloves. Along with the suggestive wink, there’s a caption that says, “I’m just going to use the backs of my hands, okay?”

With that kind of incentive, who wouldn’t want to opt out? The calendar is projected to be in bookstores in November, just in time for pre-Christmas sales.

Echo chainsaw commercial shows TSA at their worst

Echo power tools has a new television ad for their chainsaws that takes some liberties – though some would say not many – with the intimacy of TSA pat downs. The comical commercial features a man passing through airport security being subjected to a fairly aggressive, yet thorough, pat down of his crotch. Meanwhile, inattentive agents allow his chainsaw to pass through the X-ray machine undetected. He comments that, while he’s willing to put up with a lot of things, he requires that his chainsaw be reliable.

Is the commercial an exaggeration of how handsy TSA agents get during pat downs? Some would argue that they’ve seen way more ridiculous things happen at airport security checkpoints. All in all, it’s a pretty funny and topical ad.

What do you think? Is this a parody of what really happens during TSA pat downs or is it close to accurate? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Galley Gossip: Four year-old kid discusses airport security & TSA pat downs


The following video was created for parents traveling with small kids who might be a little nervous about subjecting their children to the new TSA procedures. Regardless of how you may feel about the new enhanced security measures, there’s no need for children to be scared. My son will explain to them what a pat down is and even share a few tips. But first a few things the TSA would like you to know about going through airport security with children…

  • TSA will screen everyone, regardless of age, including babies.
  • NEVER leave babies in an infant carrier while it goes through the X-ray.
  • All children must be removed from strollers and slings when passing through the machine.
  • All children’s items must go through the X-ray; diaper bags, toys, strollers, slings, etc.
  • If any of your items do not fit through the X-ray, a TSA officer will physically and visually inspect it.
  • If your child can walk through the metal detector unassisted, TSA recommends you and your child walk through separately.
  • Do not pass your baby to a TSA officer to hold as you walk through the X-ray machine.
  • If you choose to carry a child through and the alarm sounds, TSA will check both of you.
  • Medication, baby formula, food and breast milk, and juice are allowed in reasonable quantities exceeding 3.4 ounces, and are not required to be in a zip-top bag. Declare these items for inspection at the checkpoint.
  • Children under 12 who require extra screening will be subjected to a “modified” pat down. It’s less intrusive than what an adult might receive.
  • Click the link for information regarding children travelers with special needs or medical conditions.




Photo courtesy of Tatiana Mik

TSA pees on Tom Sawyer

Start with three key ingredients: Detroit, a bag of urine, and the TSA.

Add an agressive pat-down at security and what do you get? A disgruntled man on a plane, soaked in his own warm pee and a national news headline!

On Nov. 7th, a male passenger flying from DTW to Orlando, Florida was selected for additional security screening. A bladder cancer survivor, the passenger carried an urostomy bag under his clothes–a plastic bag attached to his abdomen for collecting urine. Despite repeated requests to exercise caution in their search, the agents broke the seal on the bag, spilling the passenger’s urine all over him.

Adding insult to injury of the American psyche, the poor guy’s name was Tom Sawyer (not making this up), a Michigan special education teacher who is currently learning the true power of the internet. Obviously, this guy is pissed–he’s already taken the issue to the White House and the Department of Homeland Security.

An official response is still unknown, but the current threat advisory level is yellow.