TSA Explains the Complete Passenger Screening Process at Airports

Get Screened

••• A passenger enters the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) pre-check line towards a security check point at Salt Lake City International Airport. Photographer: George Frey/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has a set of rules and regulations to vet and screen passengers. Security screening for air travel has evolved since the agency was created in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, going from one-size-fits-all security screening to more of a risk-based, intelligence-driven strategy. This method is designed to provide expedited screening for trusted travelers via TSA PreCheck, allowing officers to focus on high-risk and unknown passengers at security checkpoints.

Under the TSA's program, officers may use risk-based security measures to identify, mitigate and resolve potential threats at security checkpoints, including asking questions about travel to include identity, travel itinerary and property. It will also use different processes including random screening to emphasize unpredictable security measures throughout the airport so that no individual is guaranteed expedited screening.

TSA's Secure Flight Program

Secure Flight is a risk-based passenger prescreening program used by TSA to identify low- and high-risk travelers before their flight to match their names against trusted traveler lists and watchlists. It only collects full name, date of birth, and gender for accurate matching.

TSA then sends screening instructions to the airlines to choose passengers eligible for TSA PreCheck, those who need enhanced screening and those who will receive regular screening.

Secure Flight also stops travelers on the No Fly List and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Do Not Board List from boarding an aircraft. 

For those who experience difficulty during the travel screening process, the Department of Homeland Security offers the Traveler Redress Inquiry Program (DHS TRIP) for those with questions or need resolution when traveling.

After review from a DHS officer, travelers are assigned a Redress Control Number that must be used to look up complaint status online and to book airline tickets after a complaint is resolved.

  • What is the Secure Flight program supposed to do?
    Identify known and suspected terrorists
    Prevent passengers on the No Fly List from boarding a plane
    Ensure that passengers on the Selectee List are subjected to extra screening to determine if they should be permitted to fly
     

Screening Technology

Passengers at the airport will be screened via millimeter wave advanced imaging technology and walk-through metal detectors. Millimeter wave technology can screen travelers without physical contact for metallic and non-metallic threats. Travelers can decline using that technology and request a physical screening. But some will still have to go through traditional screening if their boarding pass indicates that they have been selected for enhanced screening. 

 

Pat-down Screening

Travelers who decline to be screened by advanced imaging technology or a walk-through metal detector will undergo a pat-down by a same-gender TSA officer. They may also get a pat-down by an officer if they set off the checkpoint alarm or are chosen at random.

You can ask to have a pat-down in private and be accompanied by a companion of your choice. You may bring your carry-on baggage to the private screening area and request a chair to sit if needed. A second TSA officer will always be present during a private pat-down screening.