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Understanding the TSA: Airport Security Explained

If you’ve ever travelled by air within, or to, the United States, you’ve likely encountered the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) at the airport. Let’s explore exactly who they are and what do they do?

In this article, we’ll dive into the world of airport security and explain the role of the TSA in keeping air travel safe.

What is the TSA?

The TSA is a US government agency created in 2001 to improve and enhance airport security. Its main responsibility is to ensure the security of the nation’s transportation systems, with a focus on air travel.

Learn more about the department’s history here.

The TSA is part of the Department of Homeland Security. Responsible for screening passengers and their luggage, as well as inspecting airport facilities and equipment. They also work closely with other agencies, such as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). As well as the Department of Defence, to ensure the safety of air travel.

TSA PreCheck and CLEAR: What’s the Difference?

TSA PreCheck and CLEAR are two programs that can help expedite the security process at the airport. While they may seem similar, there are some key differences between the two.


TSA PreCheck is a program that allows pre-approved travellers to go through a separate, faster security security lane. This means they do not have to remove their shoes, belts, or light jackets, and can leave laptops and liquids in their bags. To be eligible for TSA PreCheck, travellers must apply and pass a background check.


CLEAR, on the other hand, is a biometric identity verification program. It allows members to skip the ID check and physical boarding pass scan at security checkpoints. CLEAR members can also use a dedicated lane for PreCheck, making the security process even faster. However, CLEAR is not a replacement for PreCheck and travellers must still go through the standard security screening process.

What is the Airport Assessment for TSA?

The airport assessment for TSA is a security screening process. All passengers must go through this screening before boarding a flight. This includes going through a metal detector or full-body scanner. As well as having carry-on bags and personal items scanned, and potentially being subject to a pat-down search.

The TSA also conducts random additional screenings, known as “secondary screenings”, to ensure the safety of all passengers. These may include a more thorough pat-down, a hand-held metal detector, or a swab test for explosive residue.

How Does the TSA Keep Air Travel Safe?

The TSA uses a variety of methods and technologies to keep air travel safe. These include:

TSA X-Ray Scanners

Carry-on bags and personal items are X-ray scanned for prohibited items. These scanners use low levels of radiation to create an image of the contents of the bag. This allows TSA agents to identify any potential threats.

To reduce time and potential damage to your luggage and locks, the TSA recommends TSA Accepted locks.

TSA Full-Body Scanners

Full-body scanners use millimetre wave technology to create a 3D image of a person’s body. This allows TSA agents to identify any potential threats hidden under clothing.

TSA Explosive Trace Detection

Explosive trace detection (ETD) is a method used to detect trace amounts of explosives. Performed on a person or their belongings to detect these trace amounts. A swab test analyses a person’s hands, clothing and personal items for any traces of explosives.

TSA Canine Teams

TSA also employs canine teams to assist in security screenings. These highly trained dogs are able to detect explosives and other prohibited items that technology misses.

What Can You Bring on a Plane?

The TSA has strict guidelines on what you can and cannot carry on to a plane. Some commonly allowed carry-on items include:

  • Liquids in containers of 3.4 ounces or less
  • Medications and medical devices
  • Electronics, such as laptops and cell phones
  • Food and snacks
  • Books and magazines
  • Baby formula and breast milk

However, there are also a range of prohibited items you cannot carry onto a plane, these include:

  • Weapons and firearms
  • Explosives and flammable items
  • Sharp objects, such as knives and scissors
  • Sporting equipment, such as baseball bats and golf clubs
  • Self-defence items, such as pepper spray and stun guns

Ensure you check the TSA’s website before packing to ensure you are not bringing any prohibited items.

How Can You Make the Security Process Easier?

The security process at the airport can be stressful and time-consuming, but there are some steps you can take to make it easier:

Apply for TSA PreCheck or CLEAR

As mentioned earlier, TSA PreCheck and CLEAR can help expedite the security process. If you travel frequently, it may be worth applying for one of these programs to save time and hassle at the airport.

Arrive Early

It’s always a good idea to arrive at the airport early, especially during peak travel times. This will give you enough time to go through security and find your gate without feeling rushed.

Pack Smart

Avoid delays or security issues by packing your own carry-on bag and personal items according to guidelines. Place liquids in a clear, quart-sized bag and remove laptops and other electronics from your bag for separate screening.

Use the Correct Lock

Non-TSA locks slow down the process of security checks on your luggage. Ensure you have the correct locks that TSA agents can open to avoid damage to your luggage and belongings.

We’ve answered a few of your common TSA security questions here.


The TSA plays a crucial role in keeping air travel safe. Through various methods and technologies, they work to ensure passengers safety. Screening all passengers and their belongings thoroughly before boarding a flight.

Understanding the role of the TSA and following their guidelines, improves the security process and efficiency for everyone.

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