TSA agents secure and protect more than 848 million people traveling in airports and planes in the United States each year. The TSA, or Transportation Security Administration, is run by the Department of Homeland Security and is a federally operated branch of the government.
Passengers often get annoyed with the TSA’s policies. People refer to TSA agents as “rude” or “invasive” and rarely discuss them in a positive light. The TSA often gets bad press in the media, with people blaming them for their seemingly ever-changing set of procedures.
There are a lot of things that the TSA agents do not want the public to know. These things are kept on the down low to preserve the integrity of the TSA as well as allow the agency to prosper financially. The TSA wants to keep passengers complying with their rules to keep them safe, which may not happen if everyone knew what they know, like the fact that airport security may not be as secure as they want the public to think.
Former TSA security workers admitted to some of the things that go on behind-the-scenes at the airport that you had no idea about, like the fact that the agency pockets peoples’ loose change and sells your confiscated contraband. Did you know that TSA workers come into dangerous contact with traveler’s cats more often than they do with dangerous passengers? From surprising, to rude, to disturbing, here are 15 things that TSA agents would never tell the public about.
15 TSA Agents Have A "Code" For Attractive And Annoying People
TSA agents’ shifts can often be long and boring so they entertain themselves with people watching. They speak in code around the passengers if they want to shout out a good looking or annoying person coming their way. Former TSA agents revealed that "code for attractive females was the most common." One worker might say something like "hotel papa" to alert the others, with the "h" standing for "hot."
These passengers may be prolonged during their screenings if a certain code is called out. Other TSA agents recalled using certain numbers as code for different types of passengers they would encounter at the airport. Either way, the TSA created the code so that they can speak freely about the people right in front of them without the passengers being aware.
14 Airport Security Isn’t As Safe As You Think
TSA agents probably do not want the public to know that despite all of the security they have at the airport, it is not actually that safe. Yes, people have to go through metal detectors, walk through body scanners, and submit to pay-downs but a lot of dangerous things can still get through security.
A few years ago, the Department of Homeland Security, which basically manages the TSA, went undercover to the busiest airports in America and pretended to be travellers with weapons and fake explosives. They were shocked to find that 95 percent of their agents were let through security and the TSA agents missed the majority of the smuggled items. Homeland Security determined that the TSA did not have “a process for systematically evaluating the root causes of these screening errors.”
13 TSA Agents Won’t Necessarily Confiscate Your Drugs
TSA agents might confiscate your stash of marijuana but they probably will not. It is probably not a great idea to try and smuggle drugs on an airplane but TSA security officers are actually instructed not to look for illicit substances. They are more concerned with searching for more dangerous items like weapons and explosives. Their government website says that “TSA security officers do not search for marijuana or other drugs.”
A TSA agent could still refer the matter to law enforcement if they found drugs in your bag and wanted to prosecute you but it is less likely than the majority of people think. The TSA does not want to advertise this fact and get an increase of passengers attempting to bring drugs on planes.
12 The TSA Cashes In On Your Lost Change
The TSA will not broadcast this openly but they actually make a lot of money off of passengers’ lost pocket change. If they remind people to take their money with them, they would not make as much, which is probably why most of the public does not know about this.
In 2015, the TSA cashed in $765,759. According to the agency, “receipts of unclaimed money are deposited into a Special Fund account so that the resources can be tracked easily and subsequently expended.” The amount of loose change found in airports and on planes seems to be growing too, because in 2013, the TSA only deposited $383,413. So next time you bring cash onto your flight, make sure you remember to take it with you when you leave!
11 Your Confiscated Stuff Might Get Sold
Have you ever wondered what happens to people’s stuff when it is taken away at security? Most people are completely unaware of where their belongings end up after they are taken by the TSA. Of course, there are toiletries and food that just gets thrown out before passengers are allowed to board the plane. There are also dangerous items like knives, spears, and even guns that are confiscated by the TSA screeners every day.
These items are often shipped to states looking to make money and are sold through local government surplus stores or online. An estimated 425 pounds of dangerous items are confiscated per month. Over the last nine years or so, the TSA has made around $900,000 off of the items they have taken from passengers.
10 TSA Agents Do Not Always Check Your Belongings Gently
The TSA goes through around five percent of checked luggage in a detailed matter and a note is left in the passenger’s bag saying they had been searched. While most bags typically look undisturbed after a search, sometimes people will get their belongings back looking rather disheveled.
Not all TSA officers are as delicate as they should be when searching through bags with items with fragile items like bottles and gifts. They may tear apart your bag of clothes if they don’t feel like taking the time and care to sort through your stuff. If you’re flying with a delicate gift, make sure it is well-cushioned but wait until you get there to wrap it because the TSA might just tear all the wrapping off!
9 TSA Agents Hate Your Cat
TSA agents are taught to look for dangerous items in passengers’ bags but you probably would not have guessed that one of the most dangerous things they encounter is cats. Former TSA agents have described one of the worst things they had to do one the job as searching through cat carriers.
The TSA has to search through everything that is brought on planes, including peoples’ pets. Cats will scratch, hiss, and bite the security officers. When they open the cage doors to pat down the cats and search their carriers, the cats will often jump out and try to run away! If the animal makes it past security before being searched, it could be considered a serious security threat that could result in the entire terminal being shut down.
8 "Credible Threats" Are Stressful
There is apparently a high turnover rate among TSA workers. Former TSA agents have said that this may be due to the fact that their jobs have them feeling perpetually stressed. They are also always preparing for hazardous situations and can never let their guard down.
Active shooter trainings are to be completed by TSA workers on a regular basis, as well as other preparations for dangerous situations. Sometimes, the workers at the airport are even threatened with actual credible threats. One former agent recalled a time when they could not go to work in their TSA uniforms because there had been a threat against the airport. With constant fear instilled in the workers, individuals are more likely not to stay at their jobs for as long.
7 Security Screeners Don’t Need A High-School Diploma Or GED
The people that screen your belongings at airport security do not even need to have a high school diploma or a GED to get their job. TSA officers do have to go through a lot of training before they are able to work in airports but they are not required to have graduated high school.
However, this is not a widely known fact and it is not one that the TSA is looking to make publicly known. Most people think of TSA officers as law enforcement. The TSA chief John Pistole and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano categorized the TSA as a “first-class line of defence in the war on terror.” They failed to mention the lack of education that these “first class” defenders needed to have to do their esteemed jobs.
6 TSA Agents Hate When Passengers Ask Them To Change Gloves
TSA agents are asked to do a lot throughout their days working with countless passengers coming in and out of the airport. However, it seems like most former TSA workers agree that the most annoying thing was when people would ask them to change their gloves.
TSA workers are constantly changing their gloves and almost always have a new pair on that has been worn for less than an hour. There are always those passengers who will insist that the officer replace their gloves with a fresh pair before searching them even if they let the passenger know that the gloves are clean. Doing this just slows down the entire search process and is completely unnecessary because they will only be patting you down for a few seconds.
5 A Block Of Cheese Looks No Different Than A C4 Explosive
Former TSA agents have revealed that a block of cheese looks “no different” than a C4 explosive on the security screen. If a passenger is traveling with a big block of cheese or even a casing of meat, it can scare the heck out of the security screener, who will have to check to make sure it is not an explosive.
Anything that is organic will appear on the x-ray machine screen as orange, which is similar to how explosives show up, making “a block of cheese indistinguishable from C4.” Think twice before you bring a large piece of food onto the plane or you might end up being detained if the TSA gets spooked and think you’ve brought a bomb in your bag.
4 A Lot Of TSA Agents Lie About Where They Work
TSA agents actually do not like to tell a lot of people where they work. The TSA has always been a victim of public criticisms and the workers often take the blame. Some TSA workers have even admitted to stretching the truth and saying that they worked for the Department of Homeland Security if someone is really pressing to know what they do for a living.
Technically, the Department of Homeland Security oversees the TSA, so they are not wrong, but it is not quite the same as working for them. However, dealing with the negative press is not worth it for most people so they would rather just tell a little white lie about where they work. A lot of TSA officers also write that they work at Homeland Security on Facebook to avoid scrutiny.
3 Refusing The Full Body Scan Is Annoying For TSA Agents
Former security checkpoint officers have said that they also have a code word for passengers who have “opted out” or refused to walk through the full-body scanners. These people were not only annoying but they also stood out as a potential security risk.
The full-body scanners used to allow security scanners to see peoples’ bodies in more detail than they do now. Today, the full-body scanners operate off of millimeter radio waves and it is completely non-invasive. When people still refuse to walk through the body scanner, the TSA agents get extremely frustrated with them. Some people cannot walk through because of medical reasons, which is fine but others are just being a pain. If you want to stay on the TSA’s good side, just walk through the body scanning machine.
2 It’s Pretty Much Impossible For A TSA Agent To Get Fired
TSA workers are vetted and trained to the point where it is pretty much impossible for them to get fired. Because there is also a high turnover rate among TSA agents, they are not looking to fire people and lose more workers. The only thing someone could really do to lose their job as a TSA worker would be to commit a serious crime.
One former TSA agent recalled a coworker who would not come to work for weeks at a time. When he finally came back to work, he apparently asked his boss for another week off. When they told him no, he took the week off anyway. When he returned to the airport to work a week later, he still had a job to come back to. There aren’t many other careers where people could say the same.
1 TSA Agents Are Not Cops
TSA agents are not actually cops and have none of the rights that police officers do. As such, if the TSA is trying to question a passenger or not let them through security, they can technically have you wait for the police to arrive, but you are generally free to leave the airport without being arrested. The TSA will also try to intimidate passengers who bring on contraband like a small pocket knife and make them feel as though they could potentially be arrested but they have no ability to do so.
The only thing the TSA can do is attempt to hold a person in custody until the police can get there to take over. The TSA obviously does not want to make this fact widely known around the airport because they could lose credibility.