Hello! I'm a former TSA supervisor who worked at TSA in a mid-sized airport from 2006–2012. Before being a supervisor, I was a TSO, a lead, and a behavior detection officer, and I was part of a national employee council, so my knowledge of TSA policies is pretty decent. AMA!

Caveat: There are certain questions (involving "sensitive security information") that I can't answer, since I signed a document saying I could be sued for doing so. Most of my answers on procedure will involve publicly-available sources, when possible. That being said, questions about my experiences and crazy things I've found are fair game.

edit: Almost 3000 comments! I can't keep up! I've got some work to do, but I'll be back tomorrow and I'll be playing catch-up throughout the night. Thanks!

edit 2: So, thanks for all the questions. I think I'm done with being accused of protecting the decisions of an organization I no longer work for and had no part in formulating, as well as the various, witty comments that I should go kill/fuck/shame myself. Hopefully, everybody got a chance to let out all their pent-up rage and frustration for a bit, and I'm happy to have been a part of that. Time to get a new reddit account.

Comments: 5294 • Responses: 41  • Date: 

smooochy1093 karma

Do you see many good-meaning passengers forget about weapons or any other dangerous things they normally keep in their bags?

redmage3111801 karma

All the time. One guy forgot that he had left his pistol in his bag and ended up going to jail for 6 months or so.

forte2669 karma

Nine times out of ten it's an electric razor, but every once in a while...

redmage311501 karma

Coincidentally, I've picked up more than a couple bags that have started to vibrate. It was always a bit surprising for a second.

forte2917 karma

I have a beard, brown skin and a nervous disposition, how likely is it the something 'random' will happen to me on arrival?

redmage311819 karma

Depends on what you mean by random. Without going into detail, random checks at the checkpoint usually actually are random (e.g., the equipment prompts a random check). Keep in mind that the average TSO is extremely lazy and has other things to do. The last thing they generally want to do is go through your things or whatever.

However, being extremely nervous may prompt additional search from the behavior detection officers (the people whose job it is to stare at everybody). See here for a better explanation.

looloopklopm741 karma

What's the most ridiculous thing someone tried to take on a plane that they were actually allowed to take? Thanks for the AMA by the way!

redmage3111270 karma

Somebody took a golf club through the checkpoint and said it was their cane. We weren't allowed to question him.

Arunatic5674 karma

What was the weirdest thing you had to flag at an security check? Please tell full story behind it, if you can.

redmage3111801 karma

I once had a request for private screening, which we usually took to mean that we were about to see something weird. The bag was incredibly heavy.

After we go behind a curtained-off area, the passengers show me 6 blocks of mixed metal, 4 huge bags of random pieces of gold, and 2 bags of human teeth. Apparently, the couple made a killing off of buying teeth from a crematorium, melting out the fillings, and selling the resulting metal.

It smelled bad.

loco4123644 karma

What type of vacuum you use?

redmage3111008 karma

My wife bought a stupidly overpriced Kirby from a door-to-door salesman a few years ago. It generally smells like burning.

ANewGuy21527 karma

What is the procedure if a security agent broke my phone/other electronics?

redmage311678 karma

File a claim here.

That being said, you really need to be sure that it was someone from TSA who broke your item. In checked baggage, TSA generally doesn't even touch 90% of the bags that get screened (conveyor belts get the bags through the x-rays). The airlines' baggage people, on the other hand, tend to be incredibly rough on bags.

LindyLove372 karma

What happens to confiscated items like pocket knives and other items that are accidentally forgotten and brought through TSA?

redmage311555 karma

They go into storage rooms, and TSA eventually pays somebody to take them away. At my airport, we had a couple of oil drums full of random knives and tools. Our airport paid some guy 3 states away to take the items away; he'd put them on eBay.

coaliscool42367 karma

What is the craziest thing somebody has ever tried to take onto a plane?

redmage311764 karma

A bag full of fireworks.

borack311 karma

what's the weirdest thing you found in someones luggage??

redmage311614 karma

During checked baggage screening, one of my officers opened a bag that has maggots crawling all over the inside.

iCue713310 karma

How often did you guys actually find something prohibited trying to be brought through security?

Edit: fixed punctuation

redmage311495 karma

Depends on what you mean by "prohibited." We'd find an oversize liquid item once every 6 people or so. We usually caught about a dozen knives per day, and maybe one gun a month.

ct7787226 karma

Im In the ARMY as an EOD tech. I'm about to get out, and was wondering what you look for when you hire a bomb appraisal officer? I would love to do that job when i get out.

redmage311337 karma

You'll probably fit in great. Most of the BAOs were former military/law enforcement from EOD backgrounds. The ones in my airport were retired E-6s from the Army. The government also adds 5 points to your interview score (out of 100) for having military experience.

ct778789 karma

Do you know what they do day to day?

redmage31121 karma

They're there for assessing potential bombs, of course. Their main job is training, though—showing screeners what initiators look like, stuff like that.

The BAOs once took a group of us out to a test range to watch them blow stuff up, which was kind of awesome.

cat_tamer219 karma

Are you worried they will see you doing this?

redmage311390 karma

Yes. Mostly, I'm just worried that I'll accidentally say something about procedures I'm not supposed to.

LovesEatingPussy219 karma

I was in an airport bathroom stall yesterday, getting some deodorant out of my bag, when some dude walks up and just stands in front of the door. I open the door and a blonde dude in his mid-twenties is standing there and quickly sizes me up, peers into the stall, then walks over to a urinal and pretends to pee. As I leave the restroom there's an obvious agent standing near the entrance. Do TSA agents do shady stuff like that? If so, why? I'm 21 and don't look suspicious whatsoever.

redmage311101 karma

Only in Minneapolis, apparently.

TheBauhausCure213 karma

A TSA agent once made me take my parrot out of his carrier so he could inspect the inside. I was terribly embarrassed, and especially afraid of him flying away (which he didnt, luckily). My husband is active duty in the military, so I will have to fly with him again. Is there anything I can do to prevent this from happening?

EDIT: originally I was looking for an alternative to taking him out, like maybe paperwork or an alternative scan, but I love everyone's creative suggestions!

redmage311177 karma

The problem is that you weren't able to send the carrier through the x-ray, so there's no way of knowing that, for example, you hadn't rigged your carrier up as a bomb. If your parrot will stay on your shoulder/arm, you could try to take it with you through the metal detector and send the carrier through the x-ray.

jvreeland212 karma

Why does the policies change based off the airport or even TSA person?

redmage311310 karma

The basic SOP that most officers have to know is several hundred pages long; few of them have actually read the whole thing and are essentially relying on word of mouth. Taken alone, the individual restrictions make some sense, but combined, they're a mess for anybody to figure out. For example, bowling balls are presumably allowed because they're not weapons, but bludgeoning items (baseball bats, clubs) aren't because they can be used as weapons. When it's all put together, it's a mess.

soil_con198 karma

What's the best way to make your case when the screener thinks an item isn't permitted, even though the regulations explicitly allow it.

redmage311196 karma

Ask them to call a supervisor and check the SOP.

Dontleave172 karma

I recently discovered that you can bring nips in your liquids bag, this was a game changer for me, instead of paying $8 on the plane I can bring my own in for $1-2 a piece. What other little known tips do you have for flying or getting through security?

redmage311145 karma

It's actually illegal to drink alcohol that you've brought onto a plane and hasn't been served by a flight attendant; it's in the small print of most in-flight magazines.

If you want to save $25 on checking a bag (assuming there are no liquids greater than 3.4 oz in it), take it with you through the checkpoint and to the plane; then, ask the airline to gate-check it.

less_than_nick139 karma

What has been your most frightening moment on the job? Thanks for the AMA!

redmage311582 karma

You're welcome! I once opened a checked bag and saw what looked like a PVC tube with lights and wires sticking out under some clothes. I promptly flipped out and thought I was looking at a pipe bomb.

Then, I moved some clothes out of the way and saw that it was a prosthetic hand.

BBBBBonz135 karma

What was the craziest thing you have dealt with while on duty?

redmage311311 karma

I'm not sure if it's the craziest thing, but Dennis Hof of Cathouse fame once yelled at me because the x-ray "crushed" his $10,000 hat.

herpderpherpderp120 karma

We see a lot of anti-TSA material on reddit.

What was the average level of TSA hate amongst passengers? Like was it 0.01, 1 , 5 or 20% who actively hated the TSA and let you know about it?

redmage311231 karma

Most of the frequent travelers were fine with us, or at least they knew not to take it out on us. I'd guess that about 15–20% actively complained throughout the screening process or were otherwise not happy campers.

The people who hated us the most tended not to be frequent flyers. We'd get a ton of old women who heard on the news that we were out to grope them. If I had a dollar for every time I heard "This is why I don't fly!", well...I'd have enough for a nice dinner.

altdecay114 karma

Thanks for doing this!

How would you change the security system if you had free reign to do so (from basic steps/regulations to complete redesigns)?

redmage311342 karma

TSA likes to solve problems with new "stuff." You'll notice that things like the backscatter machines and "puffers" didn't last long, but cost hundreds of millions. Also, the average screener is very good at finding dangerous items; they're not very good at finding dangerous people. I'd scale back much of the newer technology, add better training on warning signs when dealing with people, and pour more money into law enforcement and intel.

Rbeattie98112 karma

One time the TSA found a snowglobe in my sisters bag and i believe it had to be shipped back home to us because it wasn't allowed on the flight. That being said, has there ever been a time when something wasn't allowed to go through the line and you think it's a bit excessive?

redmage311181 karma

For the longest time, snow globes weren't allowed because there was no way to test whether the liquid inside was explosive (no lid to unscrew, etc.). They allow small snow globes now, thankfully.

I once had to call law enforcement and write a huge report because some kid left a toy gun in a bag (granted, it was metal, and the x-ray image was extremely scary-looking). My manager called it a "realistic replica," even though it clearly had an orange cap on it and everything.

Ireallylikebacon42096 karma

Okay, sex toys. How often did you find those in luggage? Anything really kinky?

redmage311210 karma

All the time. I once found a two-foot long, black double-header surrounded by dirty thongs and a huge bottle of anal lube.

Captain_Chicago50 karma

What's the worst or most desperate thing anyone has done to get a prohibited item past check.

redmage31196 karma

You would not imagine the tears and drama people will go through to try to keep a $10 bottle of hair spray. Generally, it wasn't worth my job to let prohibited items go.

slimtotheshady30 karma


redmage31135 karma



What is the biggest thing that passengers do that, if they didn't, would make the lines move much quicker?

redmage31130 karma

Forget to take their liquids and laptops out of their luggage. It was seriously on 8 signs leading up to our checkpoints, but nobody actually reads signs on their way to a 6 AM flight.

r2m213 karma

What are your thoughts on this video "Terminal Insecurity" by VICE News? http://www.vice.com/vice-news/terminal-insecurity

Essentially it depicts how many weapons can be made from items readily available at the Hudson News just past security.

redmage31132 karma

I thought it was pretty awesome. Systems that don't get challenged don't grow or evolve. Vice News is incredible.

nothingemo7 karma

Why are you the way that you are?

redmage31173 karma

Psychology would say a mix between nature and nurture, although the exact mix has been debated for decades.

evilash057 karma

Why is the hiring process so difficult? I applied for close to 10 jobs, passed the xray tests, passed security clearance, did everything on the lists online. Then I got one email about an airport 10 states away for a part time job.

redmage31120 karma

The process took about 6–12 months for almost everybody I worked with; I was lucky, in that it only took 4 months or so. Frankly, the hiring qualifications are pretty low. There's a lot of competition to get government benefits and an okay salary.

finikki1 karma

Are TSA agents more or less likely to get away with things in security when they're flying for a personal trip?

I'd love a story about one of them getting caught trying to take something on the plane when they know better. Any stories?

redmage3111 karma

I used to always get my stuff searched when I flew for forgetting a bottle of water or something trivial.