Flying is fraught with numerous hassles, and chief among them is getting through TSA checkpoints, and airport security in general.
The general population does not have to contend with this, but for the unlucky few who seem to alwaysbe targeted at airport security, it is annoying, and gets disheartening after a while.
The TSA is actually allowed to make you miss your flight, and there is a very limited scope of things you can do about it.
Below, is a list of items that are likely to get you “pulled over” for a random screening.
As a bonus, read on to see what you can do to minimize, or even avoid, the chances of being the victim of an additional screening.
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Reasons You’re Getting Stopped at Airport Security
1. You’re Deemed Suspicious Prior to Check-In
This could happen for a varietyof reasons. The TSA, as well as airports around the world, identify certain behaviors as suspicious.
There is an extensive list of about 92 of these behaviors in the U.S., but the most common ones are:
- Paying for any of your tickets in cash
- Booking only a one-way ticket out of the country
- Booking your ticket extremely last-minute
- Traveling to or from a high-risk country
- Irregular or suspicious recent travel patterns
There is a pretty easy way to tell if you have been selected for a random screening pre-check-in. It’s simple: just look at your boarding pass.
When trying to print your boarding pass at home, you may get a message that reads “you can only print your pass at the airport.”
While this could happen for a number of reasons, it is a good indication that you will be pulled aside for additional screenings.
The only way to know is to look at your boarding pass once you’ve gotten it. If it has the letters “SSSS” on it, you have been preselected for secondary screening.
SSSS stands for “Secondary Security Screening Selectee.” If you are a selectee, you will have to go through one or two extra baggage screenings, pat-downs, and a few special x-rays.
Solution: Enroll in Homeland Security’s Redress Program
If you find yourself getting stopped with “SSSS” on your pass very frequently, it may be because your namesake is on a watchlist.
A watchlist is a list of people of interest to the government, through agencies such as the TSA, CIA, NSA, FBI, or DHS.
If your name is John Smith, and there is a John Smith on a watch list somewhere, internal computers will flag you automatically.
Work around this issue by getting yourself into the Department of Homeland Security’s Redress Program, which can be found here.
This program identifies whether you have a namesake on a watchlist, and assigns you a redressal code, which you can input at booking to avoid getting the dreaded SSSS tag.
2. Looking, Acting, or Behaving In a Suspicious Manner
Some of the most mundane things that can get you yanked out of your line are:
- Yawning too much
- Coughing and clearing your throat frequently
- Looking around in a suspicious manner (darting eyes, focusing on odd spots)
- Blinking a lot
- Wearing Improper attire
- Stress and fear factors
- Looking down at the ground most of the time
All of the above points have been taken, verbatim, from a TSA document.
This document has a list of “92 signs to look out for,” and was made for TSA agents. They follow a process called “Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques,” commonly abbreviated as SPOT.
The paper was leaked in 2015 to a publication known as The Intercept.
Solution: Apply for the TSA PreCheck.
This usually exempts you from having to remove shoes, belts, liquids, and light jackets during screenings.
In fact, the TSA claims on its website that “In April 2021, 98% of TSA PreCheck® passengers waited less than 5 min.”
If you have a child who is under 12 years of age, they can also use your PreCheck benefits by joining you in the dedicated PreCheck® lines.
The TSA PreCheck® is currently accepted at over 200 airports and 79 airlines across the USA. The application fee for this program is $85.
An alternative to the TSA PreCheck® for non-U.S. residents is the TSA Global Entry program. Both of these are Trusted Travel Programs (TTPs), managed by the Department of Homeland Security.
The Global Entry costs $15 more than the TSA PreCheck®, but includes all of its benefits. Additional benefits of this program are:
- Reduced wait times with self-service kiosks
- No paperwork to be filled out by passengers upon entry to the United States
These programs are available to frequent travelers who have been identified as low-risk. Both programs are valid for five years from their date of approval (DOA), and both programs renew at the application cost.
If you do opt for either program, start your renewal process a couple of months in advance, just to be on the safe side of things.
3. Additional Reasons
• Having Nail Clippers
You can only carry nail clippers in your checked luggage. If you forget about them in your toiletry kit and toss that in your carryon, your bag will be searched.
Solution: You probably won’t need them, so leave your clippers behind.
• Food Remnants
While not contraband, these are a potential red flag in some cases.
Solution: Finish the leftovers, or throw them away before getting in line.
• Talking Too Much
Being talkative may be interpreted as trying to distract the agents, and may even land you with the SSSS tag that we mentioned before.
Solution: Keep conversation minimal, and avoid any trigger words. That includes vulgarities and words indicating some type of potential emergency.
• Prescription Pills in Generic Bottles
This can be a particular hassle if you’re traveling for an extended time, and are carrying lots of pills.
The TSA requires that all prescription pills be kept in their original bottles with the stickers on. This is done mainly to verify that you have obtained the medicines legally.
Solution: Keep all pills in their bottles, and keep all bottles in a labeled Ziploc bag with any related documents.
• Changing Lines Often
Sometimes it seems like another line is moving way faster than yours. But, if you hop around too much, it will seem like you’re trying to avoid a particular agent or gate, and you will be marked as suspicious.
Solution: Scout out the shortest lines beforehand and join them. Also, make use of the MyTSA app, available for Android and iOS, for the most relevant information.
• Having Too Much Cash on Your Person
If you have too much cash on your person, it will make the agents suspicious.
Solution: If you plan to make an expensive purchase abroad, use your credit card, or exchange money at your destination.
Less cash also makes you safer, as lots of cash makes you a target for thieves.
• It Truly Was Random
Most metal detectors at airports are designed to flag every 10th or 15th person that goes through them.
This is regardless of whether the machine actually saw something or not. Why this is done, we do not know.
Maybe they do this to keep things interesting at those boring lines.
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Always remember that if you are selected for additional screening, be nice. The TSA agents can and will make you miss your flight. Being understanding and patient will help you go through their vigorous process quicker, and save you time.
To allow yourself to travel with less stress, it is highly recommended that you invest in travel insurance or travel medical insurance prior to your trip. If your trip must be delayed or cancelled due a reason covered by the policy, or you encounter an unexpected medical issue requiring treatment abroad, your insurance can provide you with valuable financial protection. It is one way to allow you to enjoy your trip with a bit less anxiety.
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