Why are my jeans setting off airport security?
May 29, 2015 3:46 PM   Subscribe

I have a pair of American Eagle (women's) jeans that I tend to wear while traveling because they're comfortable. I think they're setting off the TSA scanners and metal detectors -- I've been pulled aside and patted down every time I wear them, and not much when I don't. My pockets are clear, and there's no egregious metal on the jeans besides the zipper and buttons. Any idea what might be happening?
posted by redlines to Grab Bag (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It's obviously metal that's setting off the metal detectors. What makes you think the zipper and buttons don't meet the threshold of detectability?
posted by cmoj at 3:50 PM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

I often wear American Eagle women's jeans and I frequently (although not always) need a hand scanner, and the issue seems to center around my groin, so I assume it's the zipper, but I always helpfully tell the TSA agent that I have a bunch of genital piercings and they give me the gas face and say those wouldn't set off the scanner. Not sure how they know that to be true, but whatever. Anyway, ask next time. I've had a new pair of jeans set of scanners apparently because they had on them some substance that was misread as gunpowder residue. Or so I was told.
posted by janey47 at 4:09 PM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Well, one way to find out whether it's metal setting them off is to head to your local courthouse (or ballpark) and see if the metal detectors there set them off. In the courthouses I visit (don't judge) they have indicators that show where on the body from head to toe the detector is being set off. That will tell you whether its on the legs somewhere, or the waist, et cetera.

However, if I recall, the TSA doesn't use "metal" detectors anymore; they use "imaging technology" or something to see through your clothes, and maybe part of the fabric is obfuscating the image, causing the second pat down. If that's what's happening, I don't really have a suggestion.....
posted by China Grover at 4:23 PM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's obviously metal that's setting off the metal detectors.

Well, no, it could be the body scanners.

Are they setting off the metal detectors (which would immediately beep) or the body scanners? The fact that you only think the jeans are setting them off sounds like maybe the latter.
posted by R a c h e l at 4:25 PM on May 29, 2015

Is it after going through the metal detector or the millimeter wave scanner? If it's the scanner, you can often catch a glance at the screen when you're being patted down after passing through it and see which areas on the figure are highlighted for a manual check. I have long, curly hair and often wear a kilt, both of which almost always show up on the screen (the scanners are known to have trouble seeing through pleated or folded fabric). This might give you an idea of which area of the pants to look into.
posted by JiBB at 4:52 PM on May 29, 2015

Sometimes clothing has anti theft tags sewn in it. They're intended to be removed but sometimes you don't see them or don't realize they're there. Sometimes it's a sticky little piece of flexible metal attached to a regular tag. Sometimes it's encased in its own little fabric tag. You can see pictures here.

Check your pants for anything like that that may still be sewn into them. If you don't see anything like that, then I'd guess that it's just the hardware on the pants as cmoj suggests.
posted by phunniemee at 5:07 PM on May 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Just to clarify, I don't seem to have the same problem with my other jeans (which have zippers as well). Also, I've had this issue with the American body scanners as well as regular metal detectors in international airports.
posted by redlines at 5:10 PM on May 29, 2015

Are they baggy or crease around the knees? I've gotten a pat down after going through a scanner on my leg where my jeans were bunched a bit. Also had my hair tied up in a bun once and the security person had to pat it. I assumed it can't read well through multiple layers
posted by brilliantine at 5:15 PM on May 29, 2015

"I always helpfully tell the TSA agent that I have a bunch of genital piercings and they give me the gas face and say those wouldn't set off the scanner. Not sure how they know that to be true, but whatever."

As you may imagine, seeing masses of people while you are glued to one spot gives an agent a lot of time to notice certain patterns. I would get bored while manning the metal detector during down times, and I would see how far I could get through the machine before I set it off. I had plenty of time to test the amount of metal needed.

I also figured out how to scan myself in the new body scanner. I was able to test all sort of things over time.

It is most likely a security tag like Phunniemee suggests. If this is the case, you will be able to feel it if you scrunch up your pants. I would check all the areas you get patted down.
posted by "friend" of a TSA Agent at 6:12 PM on May 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

Do the pocket linings pull up/out, even a little? I've had jeans that set off the body scanners because of that - apparently if the linings bunch even a little it shows up as something in your pocket. I now make sure to push the pocket linings down before I go through the scanner and haven't had any issues.

(I know that doesn't explain your problem with metal detectors though... )
posted by blu_stocking at 7:30 PM on May 29, 2015

I've had them pat me down for a sock that was slightly bunched up below my jeans. It could be layers of material, as others have suggested.

But yeah, no idea on the metal detectors.
posted by guster4lovers at 7:44 PM on May 29, 2015

Do you actually witness the machines alerting, or does someone just tell you they did and inform you you need to get patted down? Do those jeans make your ass look amazing? (I wish I was joking)
posted by ctmf at 8:35 PM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

I feel gross suggesting this.

Are you a person of colour? Especially a person who could be construed as Middle Eastern? Your jeans may be a red herring.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:20 PM on May 29, 2015

Are the jeans heavily decorated with metallic studs or whatnot? Or, do they have a lot of grommets on the seams? The specific AE model might be helpful.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:17 AM on May 30, 2015

The new scanners now detect gunpowder and pyrotechnic residue. Is it possible that you may have been shooting a firearm, or near a fireworks show, or something similar in those jeans at some point?
posted by hootenatty at 3:29 PM on June 1, 2015

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