Five Transportation Security Administration Facts You Need to Know

Understand your rights and responsibilities at the TSA checkpoint

Do you know how the TSA works? Before you fly, you should.
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Whether travelers like it or not, the Transportation Security Administration is an unavoidable part of the American travel experience. Created in the wake of the September 11th attacks, the mission of the TSA is to: "Protect the Nation's transportation systems to ensure freedom of movement for people and commerce." Although the goal may be to keep commercial aircraft safe, other travelers see the federal organization as a major hurdle to clear before going on vacation.

No matter how people feel, interacting with Transportation Security Administration agents are a regular part of everyday life. However, those who arm themselves with information ahead of their flight can make their next adventures go much smoother. Here are five facts every traveler needs to know about the TSA.

At certain airports, travelers do not engage with the Transportation Security Administration

Every traveler knows the Transportation Security Administration is primarily in charge of security at airports across the United States. However, at 18 American airports, the TSA contracts passenger screening to private companies.

The largest contract security team is located at San Francisco International Airport, where Covenant Aviation Security manages all passenger screening operations. A number of smaller airports, including those in Kansas City, Key West, Rochester, and Tupelo also contract their TSA services out to a private company.

Travelers who discover lost or stolen items from their luggage, or have other unpleasant interactions with security agents, can file a complaint with the agency responsible for passenger screening and security. The TSA provides a list of contact information for each of the companies on their website.

In the worst case scenario, every traveler can contact the airport's transportation security manager or assistant federal security director with their grievance. Both persons are employees of the Transportation Security Administration.

Government-Issued photo ID is preferred by the Transportation Security Administration - but there are other methods

Regular travelers know that getting through the Transportation Security Administration checkpoint requires an accepted government-issued photo ID and a valid boarding pass. Currently, the TSA accepts 14 different photo ID types for passing through the checkpoint, including drivers licenses, passports, trusted traveler cards, and permanent resident cards.

Even the most organized travelers can lose their photo ID while traveling, or have their ID card stolen. In this case, travelers may still be able to pass through the TSA checkpoint. Travelers who have a valid boarding pass and can fill out an identification form and provide additional personal information to be cleared to fly. Those travelers who are cleared through this alternate method may be subject to additional screening at the checkpoint. If a traveler's identity can't be confirmed, they will not get past the checkpoint.

Yes, you can opt out of the body scanners

One of the biggest frustrations that travelers often run into is passing through the body scanners. Across the United States, the Transportation Security Administration now uses advanced imaging technology to screen 99 percent of travelers across the country every day. Despite this, many travelers are still highly uncomfortable with the body scanning machines found at airports across the country.

Instead of passing through body scanning machines, travelers may request to opt-out for an alternate screening options. This does not allow travelers to bypass screening altogether. Instead, travelers will be manually screened by a security agent, usually through a full-body pat down.

In addition, travelers can sign up for a trusted travel program, such as TSA PreCheck or Global Entry, to gain a trusted traveler number and walk through 

TSA agents can't arrest you, but they can stop you

Due to the nature of their job, Transportation Security Administration agents are not law enforcement officers. As a result, TSA agents have no authority to arrest passengers at a security checkpoint. Instead, those who are found in possession of prohibited items or considered a threat must be arrested by sworn law enforcement officers, which can range from airport police to FBI agents.

Although Transportation Security Administration agents at airport checkpoints do not have arrest powers, they do have some rights available at their disposal. Therefore, a TSA agent can ask travelers to stop and wait for a law enforcement officer to take action in a situation. In addition, the TSA has the authority to conduct other searches within the secure area of airports, including random baggage checks while boarding an airplane and testing liquids within the secure area. 

Shoulder stripes on uniforms equate to agent position

The epaulet stripes on Transportation Security Administration uniforms are not just decorative. Unbeknownst to many, the stripes equate to the agent's rank. One stripe on a shoulder denotes a Transportation Security Officer (or TSO), two stripes denotes a TSO lead, and three stripes denote a TSO supervisor.

Should a traveler have a problem during the screening process, they may be referred to either the lead TSO, or the supervisory TSO. There are additional resources to address if an answer is not satisfactory. At every airport in the United States, a traveler can appeal their situation to the Transportation Security Manager or Assistant Federal Security Director.

By understanding the inner workings of the Transportation Security Administration, travelers can best ensure smooth travels through every step of their airport experience. These five unique aspects of travel security can help everyone deal with the TSA in a professional and efficient manner.