Will the TSA take my PA away?
December 4, 2006 11:28 AM   Subscribe

New body piercings, too recent to remove safely. Want to travel by plane. What should I expect at security?

I've heard reports of people not being allowed on flights unless they remove their jewelry. I've also heard that having "hidden" piercings can result in "further screening" or in a pat-down search. One of the piercings is a genital piercing, so I assume that qualifies as "hidden." I'll drop my pants if I have to, but if there's a significant chance I'll be required to take the jewelry out, I'd rather not waste time and money purchasing a ticket.

My impression is that even if there are official regulations about this sort of thing, they may not be implemented consistently or fairly. Does anyone have recent first or second-hand experience with this?
posted by treepour to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My titanium, and stainless earrings didn't set off the metal detector at Buffalo and JFK airports this past October. (Obviously it would be tough to conceal something dangeroous in ear cartilage). I'm talking about the walk-through arch-type detector and the handheld wand.

And on the return trip, I forgot about my belt and my metal belt buckle didn't set either of them off FWIW.

I would think telling them up front that you've got some "equipment" and it may go off would be better, but they may take that like you're trying to pull something. Phone the airport and ask?
posted by KevCed at 11:33 AM on December 4, 2006 [1 favorite]

I have my nose pierced and it is very small compared to some piercings but I have never removed it nor has it ever set off the metal detector. My ring is made of titanium which is also used for things like hip replacements and other surgical implants, which may not set off metal detectors. I personally would tell the screener that you have a piercing and they will probably have some sort of system in place already to deal with this sort of thing, since it is becoming quite common.
posted by estronaut at 11:34 AM on December 4, 2006

I flew a few times with a pierced belly button (barbell) in the past 6 months, and it never caused any problem. I wouldn't contact the airport or any sort of higher up, because the only person who is going to have any say over what happens to you is whoever happens to screen you. If I were you, I'd just keep my mouth shut. I don't think you're going to have any problems.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:46 AM on December 4, 2006 [1 favorite]

my pair of 12-ga barbells (ss) didn't set anything off last time I flew -- I think unless you're sporting several very large-gauge piercings, it won't even come up.
posted by kalimac at 11:48 AM on December 4, 2006

Best answer: I have about 4 pounds of surgical steel in the form of artificial hip joints, and I set off every metal detector I've ever been through in the 10 years since the joints were put in. I tell the security people upfront that I have artificial joints before I pass through the metal detector. They wand me and pat me down every time to confirm I have no large metal bodies in my pockets.

If you have a Prince Albert ring of any size, it may set off metal detectors, and you could be wanded. Discreetly declare your piercing in advance as you come to security, and prepare to have your pockets patted and your front wanded. The wands are pretty good about ranging the amount of metal they detect, and what the screeners are looking for is several ounces of metal in a weapon. As long as you are up front about the issue, describe it accurately, and are willing to undergo wanding, patting, and maybe visual inspection by a male, you shouldn't have a problem. You're not the first special snowflake they've seen.
posted by paulsc at 11:56 AM on December 4, 2006

I have one 10ga and two 12ga circular barbells. It's never tripped the metal detector. I also walk through a airport-type metal detector any time I forget my ID at work and piercings don't set it off. You'll be fine.

I wouldn't bother calling, myself. They're going to tell you that it's possible you'll get flagged, blah blah blah, best to take them out, better to be safe than sorry.
posted by desuetude at 11:57 AM on December 4, 2006

It's hard to answer this without knowing how many piercings and what sort of jewelry you have, but I think it is unlikely that you will set off a metal detector. I have two 12-ga, four 14-ga, and two 8-ga stainless steel rings (and a very small nose ring). I travel frequently, and have not once set off an airport metal detector.

There is some information about this at the TSA site:

"Hidden items such as body piercings may result in your being directed to additional screening for a pat-down inspection. If selected for additional screening, you may ask to remove your body piercing in private as an alternative to the pat-down search."
posted by Siobhan at 12:09 PM on December 4, 2006

I have a cartilage piercing with a stainless steel stud, as well as two standard stainless steel earrings, various necklaces, etc. I have never removed this jewelry, and it's never set off a metal detector.

However, a friend of mine did manage to set of the metal detector with ~6 studs and rings in each ear, 2 nose piercings, a chain, 3 eyebrow piercings, a lip ring, and a tongue ring (not to mention piercings he may have had elsewhere...)
posted by muddgirl at 12:13 PM on December 4, 2006

Nipple piercings, almost ten years, many flights domestic and international, never caused a problem. Neither has an underwire bra, and that's got a lot more metal in it, over a larger surface area, than a single piece of body jewlery.
posted by Kellydamnit at 12:23 PM on December 4, 2006

I have nipple piercings and um, other piercings and they have never set off any detectors or wands.
posted by Holy foxy moxie batman! at 12:41 PM on December 4, 2006

From the TSA: The Screening Experience:

Hidden items such as body piercings may result in your being directed to additional screening for a pat-down inspection. If selected for additional screening, you may ask to remove your body piercing in private as an alternative to the pat-down search.
posted by seymour.skinner at 12:52 PM on December 4, 2006

Best answer: I wouldn't bother telling them unless the Walk Through Metal Detector (WTMD) alarms. My advice is based on flying a lot, and going through Theatrical Security Association (TSA) security screening at least 2 times per week for the past 4 years.

To decrease the chance of the WTMD alarming, remove ALL other metal you have on your person--belts, watch, rings, earrings, etc. The detector detects your all-over ferrous metal "load", so get that load as small as possible and you'll probably just sail through. If it does alarm, only then would I bother mentioning piercings...otherwise it's none of their business.

A (non-jewelry) example from my recent experience: I rarely remove my USB drive (Sandisk Cruzer Micro -- steel case) from around my neck OR my belt from around my waist to go through the WTMD, and it had very rarely alarmed in the past (some WTMD's are set a little more sensitively, though). But I recently bought a new belt with a buckle that is larger than the old one, and the new belt was apparently pushing my overall load over the detection limit, and causing an alarm every time. I found that if I removed either my belt or my USB drive, the WTMD didn't alarm. But then I remembered that I was wearing a clip to hold my phone holster on the belt, and discovered that the clip itself contains a metal spring, affecting my load. Now I remove it, and my belt and USB drive go through OK 95% of the time.

I suspect my USB drive, while small, is still larger than your new jewelry, so I bet you'll be fine.
posted by Bradley at 12:59 PM on December 4, 2006

In my experience, none of my body jewelry has set off metal detectors. Both the usual boring metal detectors and the more personal search left my piercings intact and unscathed.

Even at an airport where I was warned that the equipment was "extra sensitive" (the button on my jeans set off the walk-through detector) my body jewelry was not a problem.
posted by lastyearsfad at 1:04 PM on December 4, 2006

If you're wearing pants with a zipper there's no way for them to tell if it's the zipper or something else setting it off. I was on the "Super-Duper Top Secret Special Treatment" list until last May and got placed in the glass box, searched and wanded every time I flew. Not once did they ask me to drop trou or remove any "special features." I never mentioned my hidden hardware, they never detected anything out of the ordinary and they never asked. It's been a non-issue for me.
posted by Floydd at 1:06 PM on December 4, 2006

Best answer: I have six or seven piercings [nothing huge-gauge]. However, they're not usually what makes the walk-through detector go off - steel-toed boots, pants with a lot of metal, things you forgot to take out of your pockets, etc. are what tends to do the job there. If you get wanded, you can warn the TSA people in advance about any non-visible piercings. I don't bother myself; if the wand goes off near the piercings [which it's done only a few times, at most], I politely explain that I have piercings. The TSA people tend to look disapprovingly at me after that [as I'm given to understand they often do to people who have nipple and/or genital piercings], but they've never even done a pat-down afterwards, let alone anything more intrusive.

Try not to trigger the detectors with anything else; if they do detect the piercings, be polite about it. You'll be fine.
posted by ubersturm at 2:09 PM on December 4, 2006

Second what Bradley said. My metal-frame glasses plus visible jewelry are sometimes enough to set off the detector. If I put my visible jewelry into my handbag, I sail through with no problem. Just minimize your other metal and its unlikely you'll have a problem.
posted by AuntLisa at 2:36 PM on December 4, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks very much, all. In retrospect I think I was hoping to get some "don't even think about trying to board a plane!" answers. Now I have one less excuse to avoid dreaded holiday travel. :)
posted by treepour at 3:56 PM on December 4, 2006

In my experience if you tell the TSA folks you have a piercing (& I've only done this with a tongue piercing, long long ago), they'll tell you that's what's setting off the metal detector & that you should take it out. When I kept silent & took off my belt buckle, etc, I made it through without any trouble or alarms. Of course, preemptively try not to wear any extra metal on the day of the flight.
posted by soviet sleepover at 4:00 PM on December 4, 2006

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