Airport Security FAQ
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Below is a list of FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) about airporty security checks. Most of the questions have been heard and answered by the authors of this site, and some have been submitted to this site, and answered by email.
This page will be updated if more relevant questions come in.
– How do I find out if there are new regulations in effect or if my airport have extended, local regulations that I need to adhere to?
Get in touch with the airport, either by email or telephone. If you call, ask for the security supervisor or a shift supervisor. They will be able to update you on what you have to do. Or not do.
At the security checkpoint
– What should I put on the conveyor and in the little box?
All luggage, belt, watch, jewellery, shoes, hairpins, hats, caps, gloves and jacket.
– What if I have something…embarrassing in my carry-on?
Security personnel have seen it all before. Whatever’s in your bag or backpack, they’ve seen it and they won’t even bother with a second look unless its something dangerous or illegal.
– What if I change my mind and decide to go back out?
That is in most cases not allowed. US and other countries’ statutes and legal trials / legal precedence have resulted in the decision that once you have entered the security checkpoint you have in fact committed yourself to the full check, and can only exit once it is finished. Security officers can detain you if you decide to refuse any part of the check, and if you are percieved as a threat, you’ll be treated as such.
– What kind of rights do the security people actually have over me?
Security officers in most countries have quite a few rights in their designated areas and/or facilities. Should you decide to ignore or deny a direction from them, they are perfectly within their rights to detain you, deny you entrance or ban you from the premises. At an airport, security and police work very tight, and should you decide to not comply with security, the police will very rapidly be involved.
In most cases where passengers or visitors are viewed as any kind of risk, their luggage will be held separate until the situation is resolved, so don’t be surprised if it is removed from you while the situation is dealt with.
– Why do they let uneducated kids handle security at airports?
– What kind of training do airport security personnel have?
Security personnel at airports have strict training. In the EU, personell are first of all selected carefully from already experienced security personnel, if available. They are then given theoretical training over at least a week, usually two, and that includes training and lectures with police and customs agents. Then comes 100 – 150 hours of x-ray operator training with testing, and then a month of on-site training with experienced security training personnel always attending.
– What do I do if I have a complaint?
If you have a complaint against a security officer or a procedure, get in touch with a shift supervisor right away, if time allows it. Explain the situation calmly. Calmly. And then ask the shift supervisor if there is a recommended procedure when lodging a complaint. There usually is. Follow it.
Note that if you fail to remain calm with the shift supervisor (or the officers, for that matter) you might be seen as a threat, and will be treated as such. Any complaints you have will usually be void at that point…
– Can security officers cancel my airline ticket?
Not by themselves. However, if they feel that you are not fit to travel, they may deny you entrance to the secure zone, and in doing so stop you from boarding. They might also ban you from the airport, which is a tad more serious. Furthermore, they may contact airlines, informing them of your name and booking number, thus having your ticket cancelled that way and possibly getting you blacklisted with that airline.
– Is there any way to avoid the security check?
Yes. Take the train.
– Can I take a lava lamp in my carry-on bag?
No you can’t. It contains too much liquid for it to pass through security these days. Wrap it up nicely, remembering how they treat your checked-in luggage and hope for the best. Or send it with UPS. At least UPS’ll pay for it if they break it – the airline won’t.
– Will Scotch tape set off the metal detector?
It might – it depends on the amount. A whole roll of it (the silvery one) will, and if you have enough of it wrapped around something, it might go off then too. Remember though, that anything you wrap in tape, they can demand that you open and your efforts are wasted. Better send whatever it is in your checked in luggage.
– Can I get my cell-phone through the metal detector?
It’s possible, but we don’t recommend trying it. It takes practice and a little luck, but it is possible to get a small cellphone through the detector portal using a little bit of technique. Hold it in your hand, close to your body, shielding it as much as possible from the portal. When walking through, make sure you move closest to the side of the portal where you’re not holding the phone.
Try to make the phone move as quickly as possible through the portal. You’ll have to figure out the rest by practice, we’re afraid… we can’t just give it all away. Suffice to say, it’s definately possible, but it’s going to look strange no matter which way you turn it, and the move is probably going to earn you a pat-down, or “wanding”.
– Can my pants button set off the detector or an alarm at airport security?
It depends on the button of course, but a normal metal button on say a pair of jeans will not set off the metal detector or any other alarm. It just doesn’t contain enough metal. This also goes for pants that have buttons instead of the zipper. There’s just not enough metal in buttons alone, as long as there’s just the normal number of such, that is.
– Will my pants zippers set off the metal detector alarm?
Not normally. If you’ve got a normal sized zipper, the metal in that alone will not be sufficient to set off the metal detector. See also the bullet on buttons directly above.
– Can ceramic knives go through airport security metal detectors?
Yes they can. Ceramic blades / knives will not set off metal detectors, provided they are fully ceramic without metal inserts or parts. ‘Nuff said.
– Is it possible to hide a blade / knife in your shoe?
Yes it most certainly is. Check out our dedicated page(s) on the issue. There are some nice pictures there too. That said, hiding a blade or knife in your shoe is risky – in many places, shoes have to go through the x-ray machine, in which case the operator will most definitely see it, and you’ll be in a world of trouble.
– Is checked-in luggage searched?
Both yes and no. In most modern airports, checked-in luggage will be sent through an automatic x-ray machine that detects patterns of content, including but not limited to set object definitions, densities and so on, and if the machine, comparing with its algorithm detects something unusual, then that bag may be sent for re-check by a human operator. If that operator decides that the bag must be searched, it will be. In most EU / EEC countries, this means that the owner will be present, in the US, not so much. So checked-in luggage can be searched.
– Will the metal detector go off on a can of pepper spray?
Yes it most likely will. In addition, if the x-ray operator spots it in your bag, you’ll be searched and fined for trying to take it on board the aircraft.
– Can the security officer see my can of pepper spray / mace on the x-ray machine image?
Yes, he or she can. It will show up as a blueish (metal), can shaped object with an orange or green-tinted (plastic) top, and filled with an orange substance (organic matter / liquid). It will be quite distinguishable.
– Can I send my medical/dental x-ray images through the x-ray machine or will they be damaged?
Yes you can, and no they won’t. After the film is developed, it’s just a piece of plastic with a black and white image on it. Nothing will happn to it in the security x-ray machine.
– Can airport security x-ray machines damage digital cameras or memory card / images on a memory card?
No they can’t. There’s no need to remove anything or take any kind of precautions. They simply can’t damage your equipment.
– Can I go through the security checkpoint / scanner with safety pins on my clothing?
Yes you can. Again depending on the amount of course, and also the size of the pins, but normal to slightly oversized safetypins that actually serve a purpose – say, hold your clothes together, should never be a problem. You can’t do any damage to anything with a safety pin (what, are you going to safety pin someone to death?) and the amount of metal in 1-5 safety pins is not enough to set off the metal detector.
– Which metals will set off a security metal detector?
This is one that we actually get quite a lot. There’s an easy answer; all. All metals will set off a metal detector – that’s basically what it does – it detects metals. Gold, silver, platinum, iron, steel or alloys – it doesn’t matter. The metal detector will detect the metal. Surprisingly.
– Can I bring my Coca-Cola or other beverage through airport security?
With the state of regulations today, you can not bring liquids through the security checkpoints, unless the container meets the requirements (3.4oz). So…no.
– Will gold jewellery show up on airport x-ray scanners?
Yes they will. Same as any metal, gold is very dense and the shape of the jewellery will show up in black, making it highly visible on the operator’s screen. Click here for some examples of this.
– Can Saran Wrap set off an airport security metal detector?
Saran Wrap is plastic, and since plastic isn’t metal, the metal detector won’t react to it at all. Aluminium foil is different. Saran Wrap, no. Aluminium foil, yes.
– Will the airport security x-ray machine detect gold?
Well, that depends on your definition. Yes, the operator will see the gold, in the form of a black spot. All metal shows up as black shapes on the screen, and must be interpreted from its shape. If you transport a large amount of gold, your bag will be searched to make sure nothing is “hiding” behind the metal mass. So in short; yes.
– Why do I have to take off my belt at TSA/Airport security checkpoints?
Well, we’ve written about that here. In short, it’s because millimeter wave scanners (a.k.a. body scanners, naked scanners, AIT, etc… ) can’t see through thick materials, like belts, and something might be hidden underneath the belt / behind the belt. The TSA (in the US) has decided that the rule should apply even for checkpoints that don’t have the body scanners, in an effort to “keep the procedure uniform across the board”. Which is silly, but them’s the rules right now.
– Can security see marijuana in my bag on the x-ray machine?
Well, both yes and no. It will look like an orange mass, like natural fibers of any sort, or foodstuff in general. It might trigger a secondary search, in which case you’re busted, of course.
– Can security officers see the money in my bag on the x-ray machine?
Again, it’s both yes and no. Most money arent’ made of regular paper, it’s made of other organic matter. In both cases, the money can be seen on the screen, but as you can see from the tutorial on how to read a security x-ray image, it will merely show up as an orange mass. An experienced officers might deduce that it’s money, and that might warrant a secondary check of you bag, in which case the money will be discovered. Take a look at our tutorial if you’d like to learn ways to disguise certain objects within your carry-on.
– I’m under 18, and I have cigarettes/tobacco with me. Will the security officers confiscate them/it?
No. In most cases, security won’t try to do your parents’ job, and taking someone’s tobacco away is apt to do much more harm than good. You might get a few questions, but even that is unlikely. Make sure you only have a single pack, though. They won’t think twice about giving the customs guys a little nod if you’re carrying more than you should.
Do you have a question about airport security? Did we miss something? Have an article idea or would like to guest post? Leave a comment or send us an email – everything you need to know about guest posting is on our about-page!