Join 3,513 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Fucking airport security, how does it work?
November 23, 2010 1:49 PM   Subscribe

Flying into the US from another country: what's going on with security?

I'll be flying international into the US. I plan to opt-out from the body scanner while going through security in my own country, but I'm reading here that you have to go through security again when you get off the flight onto American soil.

So I'm asking - is this standard operating procedure? How does this work - do you have to carry your checked luggage with you, or do you go through customs post-security? Am I allowed to opt-out then?

I'll also be traveling with a person who's got several medical issues, one of them being type II diabetic that's controlled via diet, the other having to do with wearing a medical brace underneath their clothing - this person is also going to opt-out. Is this person allowed to carry some sort of granola bar or snack on their person in case the wait for a pat-down is long and their blood sugar starts to drop? Will this person be allowed to wear the brace while going through security or while getting patted-down? What about flying out of the US - is the security pretty invasive then too?

I know this is a whole lot of questions, but I'm looking for personal anecdotes from people who've flown internationally into the US recently - I'm somewhat anxious about what my companion might have to go through, and while I have no problem in waiting around, my companion's blood sugar levels don't have that luxury. (Please note: going through the body scanner isn't an option: my companion's history includes a fairly vicious fight with cancer along with a family history of cancer, and regardless of the current opinion regarding the safety of these scanners, our collective choice is to not go through them.)
posted by anonymous to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
This new line led to a TSA security checkpoint. You see, it is official TSA policy that people (both citizens and non-citizens alike) from international flights are screened as they enter the airport, despite the fact that they have already flown.

This may be specific to the Cincinatti airport, or it is a new policy within the last year, because I was not "screened" as I entered a US airport from an international flight in 2009.

You will be subject to security screening when you exit the US. This involves an X-Ray machine and potentially a backscatter or mm wave machine or the alternate pat-down. This is not mandatory for all passengers in all airports at this time.

How does TSA work? Who knows? Their policies are private until they are leaked, and even then vary widely from agent to agent.
posted by muddgirl at 1:57 PM on November 23, 2010


It may depend what airport you're flying into and whether you're transiting. I can say, that as of Saturday, if you're flying into Houston's IAH and that is your final destination, you'll go immigration, customs, outside. No backscattering or groping.
posted by IanMorr at 2:00 PM on November 23, 2010


FlyerTalk is your friend.

There was a post by a businessman who refused both the pat-down and the back scatter machine when he arrived at his destination--not all airports require it. He argued (politely) and eventually he was let through. But he had plenty of time to debate the issue.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 2:00 PM on November 23, 2010


There was a post by a businessman who refused both the pat-down and the back scatter machine when he arrived at his destination--not all airports require it. He argued (politely) and eventually he was let through. But he had plenty of time to debate the issue.

Vitally important to that story was that the person in question was a US citizen. It's almost inconceivable that the same level of resistance still result in admission to the country for a non-US citizen. They'd simply be turned around and sent back if they refused both kinds of screening in the same manner.
posted by Brockles at 2:08 PM on November 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


It depends on which airport you are flying into. Cincinnati and Atlanta (I think) are two airports that have the configuration which requires incoming international passengers to be screened; others, like JFK, do not, and international passengers proceed directly to immigration and customs with no additional screening.

So, your question is fairly difficult to answer without knowing which airport you are flying into.
posted by bedhead at 2:11 PM on November 23, 2010


It may also depend on what airport you're flying out of. For example, I just flew into the US (SFO) from Toronto. To do so, you go through immigration, customs and security in Toronto but not at SFO (just get off the plane in a domestic terminal at that point). This was last Wednesday and there was no backscatter or grope at the security in Toronto. So it could also vary based on where you do your immigration/customs entry.
posted by marylynn at 2:26 PM on November 23, 2010


The only reason you wouldn't have to collect your bags and clear customs with them when you land in the US is if you already cleared customs in your departure city. Typically on arrival in the US, you land at the airport, stand in line to clear immigration, then get your bags, then clear customs. If you aren't connecting anywhere else, then you are done and you leave the airport.

If you have a connecting flight, then you go to the aiport counter and check back in. If your bags have been checked through to your final city, life is easier, and you put your bags on the belt--or you check them in again. And then you go through regular security, as if you just came from outside of the airport (that you've flown already is meaningless).

This is how it worked for me for the past few years when I was an expat, typically flying into JFK. I don't believe anything has changed this fall with regards to international flights.

Sometimes you can pass through customs and immigrations at the international airport--for example, some large Canadian terminals have US customs folks there. This is also true at Shannon airport, I believe.

Most TSA staff should be professional and sensitive to disability and health issues. The most important thing is to have a good attitude about it, ask questions, don't make jokes, and communicate your traveling companion's needs. You can ask to be screened in private with your friend, so as to better deal with any health concerns, and you will have your things with you.

Again, just communicate with them. You guys will be fine.
posted by bluedaisy at 2:58 PM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I flew home (Portland, Oregon) from Bangalore, India last Saturday (Nov 20th). My route was Bangalore->Frankfurt->Washington/Dulles->PDX.

In India, in order to get on the plane, I had to go through an x-ray machine, then have an uniformed-person-of-the-same-gender check me over in a curtained-off area. To be honest, I don't remember if she touched me or just wanded me. (It was a very long trip!).

I went through security again in Frankfurt. There, I went through another x-ray machine. Same-gender-uniformed-personnel were wanding some passengers off to the side of the line, but I didn't get the treatment for whatever reason.

When I landed in Dulles, I wen through immigration, customs, re-checked my bag, and was re-checked by TSA security.

Finally, when I arrived in Portland, I just exited the restricted area without any one checking me for anything. I've traveled a fair bit internationally and while I often have to go through security to get ON the plane, I have never had to go through any security check/xray machine to get OFF the plane.
posted by elmay at 3:30 PM on November 23, 2010


If you do not have a connecting flight, you generally do not have to go through 'security' again. The only exceptions are those few airports (e.g., Cincinnati, Atlanta) which are, by reason of architectural constraints, configured to have their customs/immigration areas exit into the secure side of the terminal.

If you do have a connecting flight in the USA, then you will invariably go through 'security' after customs.
posted by Dimpy at 7:42 PM on November 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


you have to go through security again when you get off the flight onto American soil.

I suppose it could have changed since this past summer, and of course not all airports are created equal, but that was NOT the case flying home to JFK from Peru (via Colombia) in June. In line with what elmay says, I've never had to go through security to exit an airport, in the USA or any other country.

I am not an expert on this, but if you're entering the US at one international airport and then transferring onto a domestic flight to a different ultimate destination, bluedaisy has it right - you would exit and re-enter the airport as if the previous flight had not occurred. Which would require going through security again.

There are also a few airports that require you to go through security again when traveling between terminals within the airport - Dulles airport in DC does this. Regardless of whether you are dealing with customs and such or not.

Is this person allowed to carry some sort of granola bar or snack on their person in case the wait for a pat-down is long and their blood sugar starts to drop?

This sounds like a really great reason not to opt out. I did the backscatter machine today - it's really not a big deal, at all. I expected to feel violated in some way. It felt pretty much exactly like walking through they usual metal detector. The TSA folks were polite and helpful. I did not see people removing medical apparatuses, though there was a special "lane" of the security theatre process for people in wheelchairs or with pacemakers. Maybe they rate an automatic patdown?
posted by Sara C. at 10:35 PM on November 23, 2010


« Older Help on lost love How to ge...   |  I'm in a new relationship that... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.