Home Travel The 2 TSA Rules That Travelers Overlook

The 2 TSA Rules That Travelers Overlook

by SharonKurheg

The TSA was developed in the days after 9/11, to prevent another attack that was along the same lines of that tragedy. Some of the hoops we, as passengers, need to jump through admittedly seem more like security theater than anything else. But others, such as having to put us and our stuff through X-rays, have, for example, stopped tens of thousands of people from flying with free access to firearms, knives, explosives, etc. while on the plane (not that every person flying with a gun, knife, etc. is going to do something bad with it on the plane. But obviously, as 9/11 has shown us, some would).

The TSA’s rules have changed over time. For example, in the earliest months of the agency, no sharp objects were allowed in carry on (I distinctly remember my travel scissors and nail clippers being confiscated before 2 separate flights), but that was eventually eased to allow certain items such as scissors with blades less than 4 inches in length. Starting in summer of 2006, you had to take your shoes off because a passenger had attempted to detonate explosives hidden in his sneakers on an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami. Following the transatlantic aircraft plot in August 2006, you couldn’t bring any liquids in your carry on (save for baby formula and prescription medications in the name of the ticket holder), but that was eased the following month to what is currently known in the U.S. as 3-1-1 (3.4 ounce containers in a 1 quart bag, 1 bag per passenger). And even THAT changed in March, 2020 – Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, TSA announced that one liquid hand sanitizer container up to 12 ounces per passenger, is allowed in carry-on bags until further notice.

The advent of TSA PreCheck didn’t happen until over a decade after the TSA began, in December 2011.  Applicants pay a non-refundable $85 fee to cover the cost of background checks. If approved, applicants receive their Known Traveler Number (KTN) in 3-5 days and are deemed to be safe, “known travelers.” When they have TSA PreCheck, travelers are able to go on a separate, usually much shorter, “members only” queue where they don’t have to go through all the rigamarole that non-Precheck people do (i.e. remove shoes, belt and light jackets, or take electronics and 3-1-1 bag out of their carry-on or personal bag).

There are more than 10 million TSA PreCheck members in the U.S. For the full year of January through December 2019 (the last “normal” year of flight, pre-COVID), over a billion people traveled through U.S. airports according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Of course, some of those were from international flights that traveled into the U.S. and TSA PreCheck wouldn’t have been an option anyway. But there were 811 million domestic U.S. passengers. True, some were PreCheck members who were frequent flyers. But even taking that into consideration, suffice to say that there are many more flyers who do NOT have PreCheck than who do.

It would make sense that those who don’t fly very often don’t necessarily pay a whole lot of attention to every new rule the TSA comes up with. Granted, some newer rules (i.e. since 2012 or so,  leaving on your shoes and a light jacket during screening) are specific to passengers aged 75+. But others are for all “regular queue” passengers and those are the ones that may get overlooked by Chris Q. Public who only flies once every year or two. Here are 2 rules that get overlooked or forgotten quite a bit – the links to each explain them:

Remove snacks and food from your carry-on/personal bag before X-ray

This one has been around since 2018. It’s especially confusing because TSA only “may or may not” ask you to remove your snacks and food. If passengers want to get through the TSA security line faster, it makes sense to remove the snacks before the possibility of being asked, or, at worst, having them in a place where they’re easily accessible.

Have no more than 12 ounces of unidentifiable powder in your carry-on/personal bag

This new rule came about on the heels of the snacks/food rule and it’s even more confusing because (A) it’s only for international flights entering the U.S. and (B) it’s based on whether or not the powder is identifiable.

Incidentally, I remember when this rule first came out, people were jokingly asking how much talcum powder would one person want to bring? LOL But something like protein powder is included, so…

If you have TSA PreCheck, you normally don’t have to worry about the snack/food rule (although Joe and I flew one day where they asked everyone in the Pre-Check line to take their shoes off. So never say never). The TSA has never really clarified the powder rule.

Feature Photo: TSA/ Twitter

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ROBERT CROCKER February 19, 2022 - 4:14 am

TSA RULES. WATER THAT IS FROZEN is allowed. The rule prohibits liquids. I regularly take a partially filled one liter bottle of frozen water thru. Later I add liquid., water, soda, etc. ADVICE put frozen in a separate TUB. Everything in the frozen tub will get hand checked

Ivelisse Iazzetta February 26, 2022 - 6:40 pm

Actually, TSA officers make an average of $50,000 a year. Security is no consistent. Why you ask. To confuse the bad guy. You know the terrorists.

Bobby Pope February 19, 2022 - 9:00 am

Not sure how much you fly but apparently not much. TSA is free to so many people thru credit cards and other promotions that people that fly once in their lifetime has Precheck now and it’s a quagmire of idiots. Those of us that travel weekly need our own line. Going to and from any city with a cruise port is a cluster of confused old people and frustrated TSA agents.

SharonKurheg February 19, 2022 - 2:06 pm

It’s possible this article wasn’t for you. If I hadn’t written it, it wouldn’t have been for me, either – like you, I know what can and can’t be brought onto a plane, have CCs to get free luggage, plus Pre-Check, CLEAR and Global Entry. That being said, there are lots of people who don’t know all of the rules – especially the one about powders. It was written for them 😉

Al February 19, 2022 - 2:53 pm

The TSA is a joke. Security theatrics put on by low wage earners to make people think they are making it safer.

SharonKurheg February 19, 2022 - 4:47 pm

For some of it, you may be right. Considering how many guns they’ve found in carry on bags, it may have offered some degree of protection.

Kenneth L Kaftan February 20, 2022 - 2:33 pm

Billions of dollars later and ZERO hijacks stopped. ALL the firearms found in luggage belonged to law abiding citizens who just failed to remove them before traveling. Meanwhile dozens of TSA employees have been arrested for trafficking firearms and drugs. The facade they put up is just for a false sense of security. Our last trip through they seized my corkscrew because I am going to cause harm with a dull 1/2″ blade used to remove wine bottle wrappers and my wife’s gift set of hot sauce from Mexico still sealed. That was after they forced her to get out of her wheelchair for an “Advanced Patdown” just because she is a black woman who doesn’t put up with schit from anyone? It is all a waste of time and money what they had before 9/11 worked just fine until that intelligence failure.

Heidi Reinert February 28, 2022 - 9:09 pm

People do not go in an x-ray. Learn more about the equipment at tsa.gov. I am sorry to those that beleave tsa is a waste of money. You can always travel with a price company that has no security and I hope you make it safely. Sorry that they don’t advertise all the dangerous items they have stopped from happening. If you don’t have any ideas you have a gun in your bag and get caught with it. Maybe know what is in your bag before going through security. Everyday TSA stops dangerous things from making it through security. If you want to continue to try and bring dangerous items through security, what do you think is going to happen? The only people that get upset from going through security are the ones who don’t know how to listen and do what is told. I did my research before going through security to understand it better. If you have problems with listening and do what is told to make it easier you can sign up for the TSA Cares to help you get through with less problems.

SharonKurheg February 28, 2022 - 9:18 pm

Thank-you for the clarification, Heidi. It’s true that some people do know the difference between X-ray and non-ionizing radio waves. However our blog is written for both experts like yourself, as well as John Q. Public. The latter, for the most part, as well as those of us who simply want to use less syllables, usually call it X-ray. 😉

SharonKurheg February 28, 2022 - 9:19 pm

Also, BTW, re: “Sorry that they don’t advertise all the dangerous items they have stopped from happening.” Actually, they do. It’s on their Twitter account.

marcia bottrel February 20, 2022 - 2:58 pm

Can I take a french coffee glass maker on my carry on?

SharonKurheg February 20, 2022 - 6:34 pm

Hi! My hunch would say yes, as long as it doesn’t have any liquid coffee in it. That being said, to be 100% sure, check out the TSA link in this post and you should have the tools to find out 🙂 https://yourmileagemayvary.net/2018/09/18/these-have-got-to-be-the-best-travel-related-twitter-accounts-ever/

L Boggan February 19, 2022 - 5:58 pm

My spouse works for TSA and is quite conscientious, and has stopped multiple guns in carry-on bags from getting onto flights. She tells me of coworkers who have repeatedly missed fake bombs when tests are run on them and is frustrated when staff are not diligent. Hope that your flight has officers like her and not the ones who are just earning a paycheck and don’t give a damn. TSA is there for a reason, not just to add inconvenience to your trip. For those who have forgotten 9-1-1.

Kathy Lynn Atwood February 19, 2022 - 5:58 pm

As a 70 year old grandmother I have signaled as an alert twice within a 6month time frame. What’s significant is the area of my body causing the alert, the pubic & groin regions. Due to this I was made to submit to what the TSA referred to as a “pat down”. As the recipient, it was more of a “grope” of my private areas. Embarrassing, uncomfortable & frightening .. theatrics or not .. these “low wage earners” hold the trump card & they know it.

Helen Zee February 19, 2022 - 7:26 pm

I’m a woman and will be 70 soon. I signaled an alert in December 2021 and received pat downs by 2 female agents in the pubic and groin areas. The pat downs were very invasive. The agents seemed concerned that they couldn’t find a reason for the alert. Good thing that I arrived in plenty of time for my flight because this took quite a while.

Cooper February 19, 2022 - 7:51 pm

No size blade is allowed. This is false.

SharonKurheg February 19, 2022 - 11:04 pm Reply
SJR March 12, 2022 - 4:11 pm

Sharon… Of course what you say about the allowable scissors is correct, but I’ve never understood the logic — ooops, my mistake, looking for logic — in it. Simply remove the screw from the scissors and it looks to me like two four-inch knives. It really defies logic. Oh heck, there I go again.

Rich February 20, 2022 - 11:43 pm

Why cant disabled people get pre tsa passes at no charge? Its really difficult to get thru normaly

SharonKurheg February 28, 2022 - 9:17 pm

It’s true that there’s a lot of back and forth and back and forth, but the TSA queues are 100% accessible, as per ADA guidelines. The cost is to cover the vetting – no everyday citizens get that for free. Sorry.

Cooper February 19, 2022 - 7:58 pm

Passengers do not go through x rays. Only bags. Passengers go through non ionizing radio waves. Those do not enter the body at all. It’s about what’s in your pockets and strapped to your body not in your body. . . It’s 2022. If you think The Department of Homeland Security has not updated technology since 2001 you are wrong.

SharonKurheg February 19, 2022 - 11:03 pm

Thank-you for the clarification, Cooper. I do know the difference between X-ray and non-ionizing radio waves. However our blog is written for both experts like yourself, as well as John Q. Public. The latter, for the most part, as well as those of us who simply want to use less syllables, usually call it X-ray. 😉

Cooper February 19, 2022 - 8:12 pm

Your entire bag can be unidentifiable powder if you like. Just when they test it, it better not register as explosive. Bring eight roller bags that are powder only if you so desire. As much as you like. If it doesn’t pop up explosive. Enjoy.

Frederic February 20, 2022 - 11:06 am

I travel frequently enough that I finally decided to break down and get the TSA PreCheck, after years of standing in line. While the TSA website says 3-5 days, it also says it can take as long as 60 days to process. I’m a retired Soldier, held a TS/SCI security clearance, have never been arrested or even received so much as a speeding ticket, and yet it took the full 60 days to receive my KTN.

Also, TSA rules are not consistent at every airport. My last flight from Boise to Raleigh-Durham was uneventful; on the trip home, TSA agents confiscated my nail clippers, which were normal-sized and did not have the nail file attached.

jsn55 February 23, 2022 - 9:32 pm

TSA regularly changes their protocols for a specific reason. They want the ‘bad guys’ to never know exactly what to expect. As far as ‘being older’ and getting pat-downs, I got my first hip replacement years ago. I have to ask to go through the ‘magic machine’ and get a pat-down for every flight. My shoulders and natural hip are often inflamed, so they show on the screen. Other than one exception at Dulles, I have never encountered a TSA agent who wasn’t professional and often friendly. I think people arrive at security in a sour mood, so every little injustice is magnified. PreChek is so cheap that there’s no reason not to sign up; it makes a great deal of difference. And for the scoffers about TSA’s usefulness … I don’t recall hearing about any terrorist attacks on the US since 9/11.

Angela M Garcia-Johnson February 20, 2022 - 3:03 pm

What about titanium plates and screws from bone fracture repairs?

SharonKurheg February 20, 2022 - 6:44 pm

Hi Angela – check out the TSA link in this post and you should have the tools to find out 🙂 https://yourmileagemayvary.net/2018/09/18/these-have-got-to-be-the-best-travel-related-twitter-accounts-ever/

Victor M. Esposito February 20, 2022 - 3:07 pm

I am Retired US Army and Retired from DHS after 16 years of service. In both agencies I have a TSC, with a background investigation. It’s anyway to get my PreCkeck information into the database at TSA?

SharonKurheg February 20, 2022 - 6:42 pm

Hi Victor – if you’re active service or civilian DoD, this might help: https://yourmileagemayvary.net/2019/09/02/heres-a-nice-thing-the-tsa-does-for-military-personnel/ However veterans are not eligible because they don’t go through periodic investigations – they have to apply for PreCheck like anybody else.

Doug DeNunzio February 20, 2022 - 7:42 pm

A great way to go through security.

Lance Marvin Hiemstra February 23, 2022 - 11:24 am

I know the last time i went to CA , i had a bag of Peanut M&Ms and a family pack of oreos and they pulled it over for a in person check, this was before they told people to take snacks out of your bags.

Kenneth Bush February 28, 2022 - 9:21 pm

I fly using smaller airports, and the Pre-Check rules are applied so inconsistently. On one round-trip, the TSA staff at one airport said that I didn’t have to remove my shoes, take my notebook computer out of its bag, or take liquids, like toothpaste, out of my carry-on bag. At the airport where I began my return home, I had to remove my shoes, remove my computer from the bag, and take my liquid toiletries out of my carry-on bag. When I pointed out the inconsistency, the TSA staff got quite hostile. It’s no wonder why TSA staff are not held in high regard.

There’s the story about why the TSA confiscated an old lady’s knitting needles. The TSA staff thought that she might knit an afghan.


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