Monday, August 30, 2010

TSA Guest Blogs At Traveling With Service Animals

While I was working as a trainer at the Cincinnati Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG), I had the pleasure of working with a group called Circle Tail. Circle Tail is a non-profit organization that trains and provides service animals for people with disabilities. We helped each other understand how best to navigate a security checkpoint while traveling with service animals. We both learned a lot from each other, and when the folks at asked me to be a guest blogger, service animals were the first topic that came to mind. So be sure to check out my blog post at by going here.


Blogger Bob
TSA Blog Team

Friday, August 27, 2010

Enhanced Pat-downs

You may have read about TSA implementing enhanced pat downs as part of our layered approach to security. Using the latest intelligence, TSA constantly updates our screening procedures to stay ahead of those who wish to do us harm and keep the skies safe for the flying public. When developing our security procedures, we use input from across the agency, including our Offices of Intelligence, Privacy, and Civil Rights and Liberties.

To add some perspective, TSA has used pat downs since our agency started federalizing checkpoints in 2002. They’re an effective way of helping us keep dangerous items such as weapons or improvised explosive devices off of planes.

So, what might cause you to receive a pat-down? Passengers may receive a pat-down in a number of circumstances: to resolve an alarm at a walk-through metal detector; if an anomaly is detected during screening with advanced imaging technology; or during random screening. Passengers who opt out of enhanced screening such as advanced imaging technology will receive an equivalent level of screening to include a thorough pat-down. Remember, you can always request to be screened in a private area.

You shouldn’t expect to see the same security procedures at every airport. Our security measures are designed to be unpredictable and are constantly assessed and updated to address evolving threats.

Blogger Bob
TSA Blog Team

Friday, August 20, 2010

Talk to TSA Response: Recognizing TWIC Cards and Other Forms of ID at TSA Checkpoints

Talk to TSA BannerAs part of the "Talk to TSA" initiative TSA reviews the questions and comments that come in and we plan to use the TSA blog to address some of the more common themes we are seeing - both the favorable and not so favorable. Security is a shared responsibility and we are always looking to hear from you. ‪

In reviewing the last few weeks worth of submissions, one issue that came up consistently was the acceptance of different forms of ID at security checkpoints.

TWIC CardTSA officers see hundreds of different IDs at the checkpoints and it is their job to ensure they are legitimate and valid. There are more than 1.7 million maritime workers and truck drivers that have been thoroughly vetted and received a biometric card called a Transportation Worker Identification Credential, commonly known as a TWIC card. It is an important layer of maritime security, and because it is a valid government ID, TWIC is listed as one of the forms of accepted ID at airport security checkpoints.

There seems to be a trend of TSO’s not recognizing TWIC cards at our checkpoints. As a result of your feedback, I will ensure that TSA officers receive the necessary refresher training to recognize TWIC cards and other government-issued ID's (Including NEXUS cards) brought to the checkpoint.

Thank you for raising this issue so we can improve our security screening process moving forward.

Please keep the feedback coming. 

John S. Pistole
TSA Administrator

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Safety Razors and Disposable Razors

I've seen a lot of confusion out there on what types of razors are OK to take with you in your carry-on baggage. This post is just a quick and basic attempt to clear up any confusion. Let me just start by saying that electric razors are OK, but straight razors are a no-go.

Shaving razor, brush, and mug.
Photo Courtesy of Charlie Esser @ Flickr 
Razor Blade
Photo Courtesy of Scottfeldstein @ Flickr
Disposable Shaving Razor
Photo Courtesy of Cisc1970 @ Flickr
These two photos show a safety razor and the removable blade that they use. They're making a come back thanks to the close shave they provide and the extremely affordable price of the replacement blades. It basically unscrews and you can insert a razor blade. Because these razor blades are so easy to take out, safety razors are not permitted in your carry-on luggage with the blade. The blades must be stored in your checked luggage.

This is a disposable razor. They come in two types. The kind that is completely disposable (handle and all), or the kind where you replace them with cartridges. These are permissible in carry-on luggage with the blade and replacement cartridges.

This gentleman is shaving with a disposable razor. Good to go!
Photo Courtesy of

This gentleman is shaving with a disposable razor. Good to go!

This gentleman is shaving with a safety razor. No-go! (OK without blade)
Photo Courtesy of Noob @ Flickr

This gentleman is shaving with a safety razor. No-go! (OK without blade)

This gentleman is shaving with a Samurai sword. No-go! (Swords must be checked with luggage)
Photo Courtesy of Emoneytg @ Flickr

This gentleman is shaving with a Samurai sword. No-go! (Swords must be checked with luggage)


Bob Burns
TSA Blog Team

Friday, August 13, 2010

Talk To TSA Response: Are Liquids Really A Threat? Why 3-1-1?

Talk to TSA Banner
After reading many of the great questions that have come in to "Talk to TSA" I think the best one to start off with is a commonly asked one: are liquids still a threat? The short answer is yes. I can appreciate how someone might wonder why their bottle of water is considered a threat. Having worked at the FBI back in 2006 when the UK liquids plot was disrupted, I understand why TSA’s procedures are in place. To answer your question, I’m going to tell you as much as I can about why the 3-1-1 liquids rule is necessary without getting into classified information.

On August, 10 2006, I was serving as the Deputy Director at the FBI. The FBI worked closely with other US Intelligence Community agencies and our close partners in the UK to disrupt the plot to blow up several airliners flying from the UK to the US. I know of the real and present threat those terrorists posed using chemicals disguised as everyday consumer items such as sodas and water. If undetected, I believe there is a high likelihood the terrorists would have killed hundreds of people that day. That's why we limit the amount of liquids you can bring on a plane.

The challenge with liquids and the vulnerability that terrorists tried to exploit in August 2006 is that liquid explosives don't look any different than regular liquids on the X-ray monitor. There is no way to tell one from the other without removing every liquid from every passenger's bag and testing it. I'm sure you could imagine the gridlock that would ensue if our officers had to test every liquid that came through the checkpoint. This led to an immediate ban on all liquids on August 10, 2006 because of the threat that was uncovered. Extensive testing started immediately to determine if there was a way liquids could be brought on board without posing a risk, because the total ban wasn't sustainable in the long term. These tests were conducted by multiple government agencies, national laboratories and other nations, and the end result was the 3-1-1 formulation: 3.4 ounce (100ml) containers, inside a 1-quart clear, plastic zip-top bag, 1 bag per passenger.
The sealed baggie limits the total volume of liquid per passenger and keeps all the liquids in one place so officers can get a good look at them.

Some have speculated on the possibility that several passengers each carrying a baggie full of 3.4 oz. bottles full of liquid explosives could all go through the checkpoint and combine their liquids in a larger bottle. That's a reasonable question. It's easy to dismiss 3-1-1 if you don't understand why this scenario is highly unlikely. Liquid explosives are extremely volatile and it was the general consensus of top explosives experts that it would be nearly impossible to create a successful explosive combining a small amount of liquids in a larger container on an airplane.

We understand that 3-1-1 is an inconvenience. But it's also an inconvenience to terrorists and significantly drops their chances of getting a liquid explosive on an airplane. The liquids rule continues to be a necessary step because current intelligence shows that liquids are still a threat, and until TSA has the technology to screen liquids at checkpoints, the only other alternative is to ban all liquids. We're not going to do that. TSA is getting closer to finalizing upgraded software for X-rays that will allow liquids to be screened. Until this happens, we will continue with 3-1-1 to keep you safe when you fly.

In the meantime, please continue using the 3-1-1 liquids rule, or put your liquids in your checked baggage.

I hope this has answered your questions on whether or not liquids are a threat and why we require the baggie.

John S. Pistole
TSA Administrator

Friday, August 6, 2010

TSA Response to “Feds admit storing checkpoint body scan images”

An article from cnet has been making the rounds today about the US Marshal Service (NOT Federal Air Marshal Service) storing Advanced Imaging Technology images at a Florida courthouse checkpoint (Not a TSA checkpoint). This has led many to ask if TSA is doing the same.

As we’ve stated from the beginning, TSA has not, will not and the machines cannot store images of passengers at airports. The equipment sent by the manufacturer to airports cannot store, transmit or print images and operators at airports do not have the capability to activate any such function.

Feel free to read a post from earlier this year: Advanced Imaging Technology: Storing, Exporting and Printing of Images You can also read all of our other AIT related posts dating back to 2008 here. Our imaging technology page at has been updated as well.

Also, please note that the US Marshal Service falls under the Department of Justice, not under the Department of Homeland Security.

***Update - 12:00 - 8/6/2010***

The U.S. Marshals Service has issued a press release to clarify recent stories about the scanners they use. You can read it here.

Screen Shot of US Marshals Press Release
U.S. Marshals Service Press Release

Blogger Bob
TSA Blog Team

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Guns are No Fun at the Checkpoint


From time to time, things show up at airports that cause us to scratch our heads, especially almost nine years after 9/11.

On average, our officers find about two guns a day at checkpoints. Yesterday must not have been an average day, because 10 guns were found in various checkpoints around the country, well above the norm.
When one of our officers tells a passenger that they’ve found a firearm in their bag, the most common response is that the person had no idea it was in there. One man even threw his wife under the bus and claimed she must have left it in there when she was packing his bag.

So we thought we’d take the opportunity to remind anyone who owns a gun that might be traveling soon to double check your carry-on bag just to make sure it’s not in there before you leave.

And in case you’re wondering, the “I didn’t know it was in the bag” excuse works just about as well at the checkpoint as “The dog ate my homework” worked with your high school teacher.

Whether or not the gun was put in the bag intentionally, TSOs are required to contact law enforcement immediately. In addition to potentially missing their flight, passengers could have their gun confiscated and/or face criminal charges. A fine from TSA is also possible.

For more information on transporting firearms on planes, this web page can help you out.

TSA Blog Team