13 Things Most Likely to Get You Flagged by the TSA (2022)


13 Things Most Likely to Get You Flagged by the TSA (1)anucha-maneechote/Shutterstock

First up, why do we have the TSA?

You already know that TSA stands for Transportation Security Administration (or if you didn’t, now you do), but apart from the obvious—checking for off-limits items—do you know what role they play in the travel industry? Philip Farina, CPP a safety and security advisor at Farina and Associates, Ltd., explains, “While transportation systems are vast, the bulk of TSA’s efforts are focused on aviation. They accomplish their mission using a combination of well-trained technicians who are skilled in customer service, communications, and document fraud, access-control devices such as scanners, signage, metal detectors, CCTV, X-ray machines and chemical/vapor sensing devices, and finally a set of processes and procedures that allows engagement with customers while providing increased levels of security.” In other words, they’re always on the lookout to make sure you get from point A to point B without a scratch or in any danger.


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Red Flag #1: Talking about weapons

You might think it’s A-okay to be chatty with an officer, or you think you’re just being friendly, but asking any questions related to weapons, firearms, explosives, or other dangerous, prohibited items puts you on the TSA’s radar. “While we do have freedom of speech in the United States, any mention of these items while in the airport or security lines can get you pulled and questioned,” Farina says.


13 Things Most Likely to Get You Flagged by the TSA (3)Tatree-Saengmeeanuphab/Shutterstock

Red Flag #2: Traveling with coffee

Some people lug back shot glasses, others magnets or keychains, but if your token souvenir from your travels is a lot of java, travel editor and associate manager at hotwire.com, Geena Marcelia says your coffee addiction could make you a target for TSA. “Apparently, the strong smell of coffee is also used to mask the smell of some illegal substances. I’ve almost always had my bags searched, both checked and carry-on, when bringing back coffee,” she says. Here are the airport mistakes we’re all still making.

(Video) 13 things you're doing that will get you flagged by TSA


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Red Flag #3: Not taking out all liquids

By now you know the 3.4 ounce (or 100 milliliters) rule for bringing liquids on airplanes post 9/11. And most liquids are obvious—shampoo, lotion, mouthwash, but there may be random items buried at the bottom of your purse that you forget about until TSA is holding them up, demanding an answer. Travel journalist Maggie Espinosa says this happened to her on the way back from a trip to Guatemala; she forgot antibacterial gel she purchased at the Antigua Choco Museum. Though the TSA agent let her pour out a bit to get it under the limit, others may ask you to discard your toiletry completely. If that happens, just go with it and follow the rules. These popular travel tips are actually no longer true.


13 Things Most Likely to Get You Flagged by the TSA (5)Monkey-Business-Images/Shutterstock

Red Flag #4: Trying to game the system

There are some parts of getting on an airplane that seems ridiculous: Why are they worried about your gold earrings? Or does it really matter if your laptop is out of your bag? Even if you don’t understand why the rules are in place, just follow them, says Stephen Lloyd, former Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Air Traffic Organization (ATO) Director of Safety and current president of SJL and Associates. “People will try to push the limits of what is allowed and actually game the system,” he says. “There are travelers who will see what they can get away with. If you are trying to see what you can get away with, the penalties can be severe, including imprisonment.”


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Red Flag #5: Not checking your kid’s baggage

Though you might be trying to encourage your budding jet-setter to pack his or her own carry-on full of crayons and snacks before boarding a flight with you to grandma’s, Corinne McDermott, world traveler and founder of havebabywilltravel.com, suggests giving a quick inspection to the backpack before the TSA has a look. “Things like craft scissors and toy guns, no matter how harmless, might get flagged and confiscated,” she adds. These are the things airlines won’t tell you—but you’ll definitely want to know.

(Video) Daily List: Things That Could Get You Flagged in the Airport Security Line


13 Things Most Likely to Get You Flagged by the TSA (7)itakdalee/Shutterstock

Red Flag #6: Having any type of unusual item

So you bought a handmade harmonica for your nephew or a candle holder made out of a gourd. Though totally fine to bring home, managing partner and editor at Airline Weekly, Seth Kaplan, says to be prepared to answer for your possession. “Unusual items, even if they’re perfectly legal and safe, can get their attention,” he says. “For example, I used to travel with a long-arm stapler to staple newsletters on the road. That’s just not something the agents see every day, so it would almost always get flagged. After a while,” he adds, “I learned that when I saw the agent squinting at the screen and trying to figure out what it was, if I would tell them what it was, about half the time they were comfortable confirming it without opening my bag. Other times, they did want to open the bag, which I understood.” Don’t miss the best budget travel destinations of 2019.


13 Things Most Likely to Get You Flagged by the TSA (8)Hanoi-Photography/Shutterstock

Red Flag #7: Getting out of line

Once you pull out your boarding pass and your identification, it takes you a hot second to navigate where you’re supposed to go: the shortest line? The closest one? If a TSA agent directs you to an area, Farina advises going there and staying put, no matter what. “Do not attempt to switch your line, which may include a full-body scanner to a pre-check line with only metal detectors,” he adds. These are the things you should never do once you’re on an airplane.


13 Things Most Likely to Get You Flagged by the TSA (9)Pornsngar-Potibut/Shutterstock

Red Flag #8: Carrying a lot of cash

Before you go on a trip, especially one that cruises over international waters, it’s not unusual to want to exchange your dollars for the new currency before leaving U.S. land for the best rate. Though a travel agent would recommend that, so you can save some hard-earned moolah, Farina warns that carrying anything in bulk, from cash to precious metals, can make you a target. “Be prepared to explain where these items came from and why you have it and/or are traveling with it,” he advises. Here are 9 travel tips you can ignore.

(Video) Airport Security Mistakes You’re Making & How To Avoid Them


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Red Flag #9: Letting your stress show

We’ve all been there: You woke up late, got stuck in traffic, forgot to check-in the night before, and now you’re scrambling to make it to your gate before they close the cabin door. While undeniably a stressful process, Farina says keeping your calm is important for the TSA to trust that you’re a, well, sane human. This means never taking your frustration out on other travelers, and especially not airport personnel. “No matter the reason, always be courteous and respective to the TSA. Being rude, pushy, or loud, not only to the TSA but also other passengers, may get you plucked from the security lines and questioned or searched,” he says. “Realize that the TSA has a very difficult role to perform. In the end, they are there to prevent, to the best of their ability, terrorists and other criminals from entering secure transportation areas so you can have a safe travel experience.” Follow these golden rules for stress-free air travel.


13 Things Most Likely to Get You Flagged by the TSA (11)allstars/Shutterstock

Red Flag #10: Not having proper identification

Think of the last time you visited Europe or went to an all-inclusive resort in Mexico: Between the night before and the commute to the airport, how many times did you double (and triple) check that you had your passport? While it might be a bit of an OCD behavior, Lloyd says making sure you have proof of who you are long before you ever get in line is a solid idea. “TSA is not there to make sure you get on the plane, they are there to make sure you are there to travel safely and not there to harm others,” Lloydsays.


13 Things Most Likely to Get You Flagged by the TSA (12)jannoon028/Shutterstock

Red Flag #11: Not having proof for your medicine

Are you allowed to travel with medicine in your carry-on bag? Yep. But for some medications, do you need a note from your doctor? You could. That’s why McDermott says it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to prescriptions that you need to stay healthy while you’re on your trip. (After all, who wants to be Samantha in Sex & the City 2 when she can’t bring her much-needed menopausal regimen to Abu Dhabi?) Here are the secrets flight attendants won’t tell you.

(Video) Avoid making these TSA - Airport Security Mistakes!


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Red Flag #12: Not complying with rules that vary by country

If you’re going to have a bucket list of dream destinations, you’ll also need to become pretty flexible, not only with flight delays and language barriers but with following the varying rules of those respective countries. “Regulations vary around the world, and sometimes something that’s allowed here will be confiscated elsewhere. A good example is small cosmetic scissors. TSA allows those, but don’t be surprised if screeners in a foreign country confiscate them before your flight back to the U.S.,” Kaplan notes.


13 Things Most Likely to Get You Flagged by the TSA (14)Nataly-Studio/Shutterstock

Red Flag #13: Packing certain types of toothbrushes

If you have a Samsung Galaxy Note 7, then you will need to opt for a new phone before boarding a flight. It’s been known to explode —yep!—so airlines have banned it from the friendly skies, for safety reasons. But did you know that your Sonicare toothbrush could be taken too? According to Marcelia, the spare lithium batteries that come with it have—wait for it—also exploded, so the FAA doesn’t allow you to take them into the cabin. Don’t be that person: Follow this airplane etiquettethe next time you fly.

Originally Published: January 08, 2019

13 Things Most Likely to Get You Flagged by the TSA (15)

Lindsay Tigar

(Video) 25 Surprising Things About Airport Security

Lindsay Aurora Tigar is an experienced digital editor and blogger in NYC. Her blog, Confessions of a Love Addict, has a large following around the world, thousands of subscribers and hundreds of thousands of unique visitors a year. A book project based on her blog is under development and represented by theJames Fitzgerald Agency.The New York Post named her New York City's most eligible single in January 2014. She was also selected as one of New York's most desirable singles by the lifestyle dating website, Rachel & Chris, and has partnered with several popular dating blogs to create viral content. She is part of the HerCampus Blogger Network and spoke at their summer conference in New York on "How to Be a Powerhouse Blogger." She's a social media and digital media guru with big followings on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.She freelances for several sites, including Shape.com, eHarmony.com,AskMen.com, Engagement 101 and more. She's also the resident dater forWomen'sHealthMag.com, writing weekly about her dating adventures in her 'Dater Diary' column.


What gets flagged in TSA? ›

6 Things That Can Get Your Luggage Flagged By TSA
  • The liquids, gels and paste you don't think of. ...
  • “Intimate” items. ...
  • Not telling them about your meds. ...
  • Coffee beans. ...
  • Wrapped presents. ...
  • Carrying a load of cash.
May 13, 2021

What looks suspicious for TSA? ›

Beware of men with pale, shaved faces, says the TSA. It might not be the worst thing to remove people who make "excessive complaints about the screening process" from the TSA line.

What do TSA agents look for? ›

Even passengers who normally receive expedited screening, such as TSA PreCheck™ passengers, may at times receive a pat-down. A pat-down may include inspection of the head, neck, arms, torso, legs, and feet. This includes head coverings and sensitive areas such as breasts, groin, and the buttocks.

What does TSA see when they scan you? ›

Airport body scanners alert the TSO to threats—mainly weapons such as knives, guns and explosives. They are designed to detect “metallic and nonmetallic threat items,” according to the TSA. Those are things like explosives or knives made out of materials other than metal, like ceramics, says Malvini Redden.

Why does TSA check your phone? ›

TSA said the screening “is solely intended to verify that there has been no physical tampering or hidden threat placed within the electronic device.”

Are random TSA checks random? ›

The security personnel at the gate do not use a random number generator to select passengers to check. Rather, they stand by the gate and approach people. Now, the last couple of occasions they have chosen me, I've asked them what criteria they used, and both times I was told it was random.

What is suspicious behavior in an airport? ›

Activity or sightings of aircraft at night or unused airstrips. Strangers trying to hire your aircraft - or those belonging to other club members. Strangers using, or seeking permission to use, your airstrip. Evidence of adaptation of aircraft for concealment purposes.

Can TSA touch your private area? ›

For those who haven't experienced or witnessed it, here's the deal: The TSA agent touches every part of your body, in public. You can request a screening in private, but in my case that would not have lessened the injury to my sense of personal dignity.

Do drugs show up on airport scanners? ›

Do airport scanners detect drugs? Technically, modern Millimeter-Wave and Backscatter airport security scanners do not detect drugs. However, they make them very easy to spot, and the chances of someone getting caught depends entirely on how attentive the airport security crew is.

What can you not say at an airport? ›

#1 Do not say the word bomb, explore, bang or “in my shoe.” This would probably be at the top of the list of things you should not do in an airport. This would definitely get you kicked off the plane faster than you can say the word “bomb” ever again. No one wants to hear the word bomb, especially in an airport.

Do they scan checked bags for drugs? ›

It may surprise you to learn that the TSA does not actively check for drugs. TSA agents are far more concerned with items that can put passengers' safety at immediate risk, like explosives.

What is TSA Code Blue? ›

A Code Blue announcement provides an immediate security awareness alert to all airport workers that a security concern is perceived by another airport worker and the report is being investigated.

Can TSA see your junk? ›

"A TSA agent in another room will see an image of your body that could include a revealing look at your entire body, including breasts, genitals, buttocks, and external medical devices."

Can TSA scanner See tampon? ›

The good news is that the airport scanners which passengers walk through as they go through airport security are unable to see inside the body, so airport scanners are unable to see tampons.

Can TSA see inside your body? ›

Scanners can detect steel and non-metallic objects on the exterior of the body. Contrary to popular belief they cannot see inside body cavities or diagnose disease. New ATI scanners have been designed to provide passengers with more privacy by showing only a generic outline, which cannot indicate gender or body type.

Can airlines tell if your phone is on? ›

Does the flight attendant really know that your phone is still on? As a rule, no. There's no device that's regularly installed on airplanes that can figure out how many phones, tablets, e-readers or other kinds of device are on in the cabin.

Why did they wipe my hands at airport security? ›

As CNN explained, the Transportation Security Administration randomly swabs passengers' hands at checkpoints and airport gates to test them for traces of explosives. This was an expansion from simply swabbing luggage and other items.

What does it mean when TSA wipe your hands? ›

TSA officers swab your hands with a cotton cloth to collect explosives residue for testing in an Ion-Mobility Spectrometer (IMS), the machine they put the cloth in that determines if you go to your gate or to a private security screening.

How do you know if you are flagged by customs? ›

There are signs that will indicate you have been flagged for additional screenings: You were not able to print a boarding pass from an airline ticketing kiosk or from the internet. You were denied or delayed boarding. A ticket agent “called someone” before handing you a boarding pass.

Why does TSA always stop me? ›

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.

Why do I always get swabbed at the airport? ›

As CNN explained, the Transportation Security Administration randomly swabs passengers' hands at checkpoints and airport gates to test them for traces of explosives. This was an expansion from simply swabbing luggage and other items.

What are the things found in an airport? ›

  • Check-in facilities, including a baggage drop-off.
  • Security clearance gates.
  • Passport control (for some international flights)
  • Gates.
  • Waiting areas.


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