Why you should be kind to TSA agents
Though arriving in a new destination is exciting, the process of getting there isn’t so rosy. No one enjoys the tedious process of going through security—taking off their sneakers, pulling out their laptops, and waiting in line—but it’s a necessary evil for travelers. Being respectful of TSA agents is always essential, but in the age of COVID-19, it’s even more so. Everyone is under higher levels of stress, and that makes their jobs even harder than they were before. With this mind, you should probably never say a few things to a TSA agent. According to travel experts, these phrases raise red flags unnecessarily, could make you miss your flight, or even get you arrested! For a smoother airport experience, skip them, and also be aware of the new rules you’ll have to follow the next time you fly.
“I need to skip the line—I’m in a hurry”
Regardless of how innocent it seems to try to skip the line because you’re running late for your flight, don’t do it, says travel expert Sean McClenahan, president of Blue Desert Cabo. There’s a reason all travelers are asked to arrive at the airport two hours before their flights: Lines can be long, and you never know what can happen. “Asking the TSA agent to skip the line of people is rude to the agent and the rest of the line,” notes McClenahan. “By trying to rush through the line and the standard protocols, you could raise a few red flags, and you could bring more suspicion to yourself by trying to avoid getting screened and rushing through.” Translation: Your “simple” request could backfire and end up costing you even more time. FYI, these are the 10 worst airports if you’re running late.
“I totally don’t have COVID-19” (wink, wink)
Everyone is on edge flying during COVID-19. There are many shared surfaces, crowds that congregate in security, and plenty of times when social distancing just doesn’t happen. TSA agents have essential jobs, and they’re putting themselves at risk to keep travelers safe; in fact, reports the Washington Post, more than 1,000 have tested positive for COVID as of early July. So, you really don’t want to strike fear into them by suggesting you have COVID-19, even if it’s just a joke. (It’s not funny.) This is also one of the things you should never say to flight attendants, who have been trained to take this matter seriously and could even boot you from your flight if there’s a question as to whether you’re actually infected. Masks are required throughout many airports, and while a TSA agent may ask you to pull yours down to confirm your identity, you should keep it secure at all other times.
“You just want to pat me down, don’t you?”
Being picked for a random body search is a prize no one wants, but it’s likely everyone will experience it at some point. TSA agents aren’t exactly thrilled about patting down strangers they don’t know either, but it’s part of their responsibility. That’s why you shouldn’t make the experience even more uncomfortable by making a sexual joke about the ordeal. TSA agents have all completed extensive training on how to search respectfully, so you shouldn’t make light of it. Don’t make these mistakes that TSA agents hate the most.
“I don’t want to take off my shoes”
Unless you have TSA pre-check, which releases some of the security requirements like removing shoes or your laptop, all passengers must follow protocols when going through security. Does anyone really want to bend down, unlace their sneaks, and walk in their socks—or bare feet—through an airport? Nope. But if you want to catch your flight, you need to. Don’t try and fight TSA in the process. “Never take your frustration out on the TSA agents,” McClenahan advises. “Remember that they are people who are just trying to do their jobs, while also protecting you and the rest of the passengers.” Here are another 13 things that will get you flagged by TSA.
“The scanner will give me cancer—I’m not getting in it”
In a world full of conspiracy theories, you may be tempted to believe one or two (or all of them). One that’s circulated recently is tied to the full-body scanners at airport security. In part, it has some truth, since the first backscatter X-ray scanner did expose passengers to radiation and also gave TSA agents a peep show. However, these were banned in 2013, and now the millimeter-wave scanner is perfectly safe and respectful. Here’s what airport body scanners really see. Plus, there is no scientific evidence that it causes cancer. Refusing to go through it, however, may result in a private pat-down or other issues and delays.
“Why are you taking so long?”
Your Uber was delayed by 15 minutes. There was traffic on the freeway. Check-in took longer than expected. And now you’re in a big ol’ mood. The closer you get to the front of the security line, the more annoyed you become. Though perfectly normal, McClenahan says to get a grip before you reach the TSA agent. “By approaching a TSA agent in a panic, even if it’s just over making it to your gate on time, you’re indicating to them that you’re not stable,” he explains. “The more you panic, raise your voice, and argue, the more likely you are to get pulled from the line altogether for further questioning.” Find out the 12 things your TSA security agent isn’t telling you—but is definitely thinking.
“Are you looking for a bomb in there?”
Jet-setter and travel blogger Lisa Niver reminds travelers that a TSA agent’s number one priority is safety. It’s a job that most people take seriously and definitely one that should be respected. So while it’s annoying when your bag is searched, remember why it’s being done—and never joke about anything that could put others in danger, like insinuating you have a bomb or a gun. Niver explains that TSA agents have to take every comment into consideration, and since they don’t know you, your “joking” comment may prompt them to investigate to make sure you’re not actually a terrorist. Learn more about why you’re getting stopped at security—from a TSA agent.
“I’m feeling a little bit tipsy!”
Sure, we’ve all had vacations where we savored every last minute—and, ahem, every alcoholic beverage until the last minute. But even if you are a tad tipsy, you should never reveal this fact to a TSA agent. You should also do your best to sober up before going through security since they have every right to deny you entry if they feel you’re too intoxicated to handle yourself appropriately in the terminal and on the plane. Make sure you know these 10 strange things that could get you banned from a plane.
“Will a twenty help me get through this line faster?”
When you have only ten minutes to board your flight and the next one isn’t until tomorrow morning, thanks to augmented schedules during the pandemic, you may feel desperate to make it. But winking at a TSA agent and slipping him or her a twenty? Niver says that tactic won’t be effective—and it could land you in mega trouble. Much like police officers, TSA agents can’t take any cash in exchange for leniency, and they raise an eyebrow at those who think they could be so easily persuaded. In fact, if you try to bribe them, you could end up getting arrested! Once you get through security, these are 22 things you should never do on an airplane.
“Can I pet your dog?”
If you’ve flown recently and spotted the TSA pups, you may have noticed that something’s different: Many German Shepherds have been swapped out for floppy-eared Beagles and Labrador Retrievers. Though their sniffing skills matter the most when it comes to being chosen as top dog at the airport, the reason for the move was to make passengers—specifically, children—less afraid. No matter how sweet the canine looks, though, don’t ask to pet it. They are on the clock and on the lookout for drugs, explosives, and more, and they shouldn’t be approached.
The curse word of your choice
No matter how many laps around the sun we take, it’s important to remember the golden rule our parents taught us from the start: Treat others as you want to be treated. All too often, frustrated or exhausted passengers will curse at TSA agents when the line is moving too slowly, which is obviously disrespectful. Niver says any type of aggression, even verbal, can send you packing and cause you to miss your flight—or even be put in a holding room for questioning.
“Will you take a selfie with me?”
Technically speaking, you’re allowed to take a photo in the screening area. That being said, if you start recording or snapping away, a TSA agent also has the right to inquire about your purpose—especially if you want them in it. This could raise a red flag and create an uncomfortable situation that is unnecessary. Think about it this way: How would you feel if someone you didn’t know took your picture? Now add in the layer of security, which TSA agents are responsible for maintaining, and you can see the myriad problems you’re suddenly creating. They have every right to question you about your intentions. Plus, it’s unlikely they’d want to take a selfie with you, since hey, they’re trying to get a job done. By the way, here are 10 things TSA agents aren’t allowed to do.
“This is ridiculous!”
What would you do if someone told you that your job was ridiculous? You’d probably be offended, right? And if you ever suggest that you could outsmart a TSA agent, they won’t take it well. That’s why Niver urges passengers to put themselves in the agent’s shoes and to try to have patience during the screening process. “They are paid to make sure that you are safe, that they are safe, and that all the passengers in the terminal or on the plane are safe,” she says. “And that may take longer than we would like.” Your outbursts won’t help the situation—and could delay things even further. Next, learn what airport security could look like in 10 years.
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