Does TSA ever just wave people through?
March 23, 2014 5:20 PM   Subscribe

I flew home through a major US airport a couple of days ago. I'd just put my carry-on stuff on the conveyor and lined up with several others for the dreaded bodyscanner when the TSA agent waved four of us around the machine and over to pick up our stuff. I was delighted not to have to go through the scanner, but I've never seen anyone just waved on through before. How often do they let people bypass the scan?

I'm not Pre-Check. The three others appeared to be solo travelers as well.
posted by mochapickle to Travel & Transportation (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Did you go through any kind of scanner (e.g. standard metal detector)? I've been waved past the backscatter body scanner many times -- usually when security is crowded -- but that just means getting bypassed to the metal detector.

I suppose I wouldn't hugely care if I didn't get scanned, but if I saw anyone else go through security without being scanned, I would report it to another TSA agent.
posted by telegraph at 5:28 PM on March 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

If anecdotes help, my wife and I - along with most of the maybe 5-10 people in line at the time - got waved into the Pre-Check line at Jacksonville International just last Tuesday afternoon. Regular metal scanner but no bodyscanner, and we got to keep our shoes and jackets on; it was unexpectedly nice. A few people still had to go through the full-on check, but I sure couldn't tell what their criteria were and nobody explained why we were waved through (I wasn't going to ask lest they decided to shunt me back to the regular line!).

Apparently it does happen sometimes, though.
posted by DingoMutt at 5:28 PM on March 23, 2014

The millimeter-wave body scanner is often set up in parallel with a good old walk-through metal detector (magnetometer). If the body-scanner is backed up, or for TSA's own secret-sauce reasons, passengers are sometimes shunted from the body-scanner to the magnetometer. I have never seen or heard of both being bypassed, except for "VIPs".

If you walked through something that looked like a stand-alone door-frame, you probably went through a magnetometer.
posted by Dimpy at 5:34 PM on March 23, 2014

Yeah, they've started sending certain people through the pre-check line at some airports - it's happened to me twice at Midway. They first swiped my hands with that stuff that tests for bomb residue, then sent me (and a handful of others) through. I read something that said it was also based on "behavioral profiling", but probably in real life it's based on other kinds of profiling.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 5:34 PM on March 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

A few weeks ago in Boston I was allowed to keep my shoes and jacket on and I didn't have to go through the body scanner---just the regular metal detector. It was like the old pre-9/11 days. I have no idea why I was allowed to do that.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 5:34 PM on March 23, 2014

Did you go through any kind of scanner (e.g. standard metal detector)?

Hmmm... It was just an arc around the scanner, marked off by those seatbelt ropes, the route that the agents usually take to get back and forth around the machine. No metal detector doorway.
posted by mochapickle at 5:42 PM on March 23, 2014

This happened to me in Toronto a few months ago and as far as I could tell, it wasn't based on my specific identity, just that one line was waved through. They did the bomb rubbing thing, if that matters.

In quite a few airports (Boston, Heathrow) i only randomly have to take off shoes and take out electronics, which is great but it's definitely not consistent at all.
posted by raeka at 5:56 PM on March 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

On a recent trip with my parents through Chicago-Midway, my mom was pre-checked even though she never signed up for it. We asked about it and they said it was random. My dad was chosen to have his suitcase searched. Again, they said it was random. I went through normally.
posted by parakeetdog at 6:47 PM on March 23, 2014

We're thinking about rotating adoptions so we can permanently travel with a 1 year old. The level of services and shortcuts we got on the last couple of flights were amazing. We were waved through lines and scanners without any hassle.
posted by blue_beetle at 6:58 PM on March 23, 2014

I've seen it happen a few times, usually when there was some kind of problem. One time I recall in particular it looked like the TSA was severely understaffed for the amount of passengers that were in the security line.

Theater, man. Pure theater.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 8:11 PM on March 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

I won't say which airport, but for the past couple years, one of my main airports doesn't make us take off shoes, take off coats or take laptops out of bags. But then when I fly in other airports, they still require all these things.

It would be strange if they didn't have you at least go through a metal detector though. Never had that.
posted by AppleTurnover at 8:56 PM on March 23, 2014

DIA recently had a dogs-only security checkpoint running (late January, I think?) one afternoon, with no one going through the millimeter wave scan. They said they were "testing a new program."
posted by deludingmyself at 9:00 PM on March 23, 2014

Yes, this also happened to me for no apparent reason last year at a major American airport. It really made my day! I don't expect it to ever happen again, so I tried to savor that amazing VIP feeling.
posted by oxisos at 9:09 PM on March 23, 2014

Happened to me recently, too. There were people there, but not especially busy. Short line, moving quickly. At the point of deciding which empty-your-pockets line to get in, a TSA person just waved at me from a bypass route and invited me through. I left the scene on the other side very cautiously expecting to get tackled at any moment. I figured at the time it was because I was using a red passport, maybe? But now I guess it's not that unusual.

They probably love doing that to make someone's day, but also because then they get to watch the confusion on our faces.
posted by ctmf at 9:19 PM on March 23, 2014

Last week I went through an 'express' line that was also marked Pre(Check) but there were no PC pax in line. Doorway only, shoes on, pockets full. I was wearing a puffy down coat which I offered to remove.
posted by a halcyon day at 10:34 PM on March 23, 2014

Families with young children always bypass.
posted by Dansaman at 12:08 AM on March 24, 2014

In my flights last week I also lucked into the precheck line (got to leave my shoes on, and laptop in bag). On the way back, SAN was doing the same thing but was using a computer screen that picked the lucky random passenger, so I'd guess the official line, at least, is that it is completely random.
posted by susanvance at 7:41 AM on March 24, 2014

I saw this, too, when I traveled last week. It seems to be one of the less publicized aspects of the TSA's shift from "treat everyone as a suspect" to a "risk-based" review of travelers. You can voluntarily share more personal information and get cleared through a "pre-screening" check, or you can pay $85 a year and get a background check to speed you through the lines. There's another pay-program called Clear or Clear Me that also provides an expedited process. The random bypass might also be some sort of good-will gesture to fliers who don't offer up their personal information and/or pay extra money.

And as said above, anyone with a baby in their arms gets routed through the metal detector instead of the full-body scan, and this often extends to the full traveling family.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:30 AM on March 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Recently in SeaTac I was waived around the pornoscanner and metal detector to instead walk through a new scanner that purportedly just sniffs for explosive residue. I didn't have to remove shoes, coat, etc. from my body nor laptop, liquids, etc. from my bag. It wasn't a very big contraption so is it possible you walked through one of those new scanners without realizing it?
posted by Jacqueline at 8:30 AM on March 24, 2014

I had a similar experience at FLL recently. They had an iPad on a post that showed "TSA Randomizer" on the screen, and when the TSA agent at the start of the line tapped it, it just popped up an arrow pointing either left or right to the normal line or the pre-check line (because using an iPad to flip a coin is highly cost effective...). I got sent to pre-check and so got swabbed for explosives but then didn't have to scan, take off shoes/coat, etc.
posted by Rallon at 8:47 AM on March 24, 2014

[Question is not about ipads folks.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:51 PM on March 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

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