Why Are TSA Agents So Rude?

What’s the worst part about flying? Is it the long lines? The baggage fees? The cramped seats? No. it turns out that for most people, it’s the Transport Security Administration – aka, the TSA.

The TSA is tasked with keeping us safe when we fly, but they have a bit of a PR problem.

A lot of people find them to be rude, intrusive, and just downright unpleasant to deal with – why are they like that?

TSA agents might come across as rude, due to intense job pressure, long hours, and having to deal with angry or even entitled passengers. They see some pretty crazy stuff while on the job, so it’s no surprise that some TSA agents can be a little jaded..

There are a lot of things to keep in mind when dealing with rude TSA agents.

What do you say to them? Do you ask for a superior? In serious cases, is there a way to file a complaint?

In this article, we’ll explore all of these questions and more. So next time you’re dealing with a rude TSA agent, you’ll know just what to do.

Why Are TSA Agents So Rude?

Let’s take a closer look at some of the reasons why TSA agents might come across as rude.

1) Job Pressure

Every job has its share of stress, but TSA agents are under a lot of pressure. They have to deal with long lines, angry passengers, and the constant threat of a terrorist attack. Ever since 9/11, the TSA has been on high alert, and they take their job very seriously. That level of pressure can lead to some pretty rude behavior.

2) Long Hours

TSA agents often work long hours. They might have to start their shift early in the morning or work late into the evening. Sometimes, agents can even work for 12+ hours at a time, with mandatory overtime. This can lead to fatigue, which can make them seem grumpy.

3) Dealing with Angry or Entitled Passengers

No one likes to be treated rudely, but TSA agents have to deal with it on a daily basis. Some passengers are angry about the security process, while others act like they’re entitled to special treatment.

Dealing with one or two of such passengers is bad enough, but imagine having to deal with them all day, every day!

All of these reasons, combined with poor pay and improper sensitivity training, can lead to some pretty rude TSA agents. But what can you do when you’re faced with a rude agent? Keep reading!

Can You Argue with TSA Agents?

In short, no. You can’t argue with TSA agents – at least, not without consequences. Remember, TSA agents have a lot of power.

They can make your life very difficult if they want to. So it’s always best to just cooperate and do what they say.

Here are some things that can happen if you try to argue with a TSA agent:

  1. You Could Get detained: TSA agents have the authority to detain you if they think you’re being uncooperative. They might take you into a private room for questioning or even call the police. It’s always best to just do what they say and avoid any sort of confrontation.
  2. You Could Miss Your Flight: If you’re causing a disturbance, the TSA might make you miss your flight. They might hold you for questioning or force you to undergo additional screening. Is it really worth it to miss your flight just to argue with a TSA agent?
  3. You Could Get Blacklisted: The TSA keeps a list of unruly passengers, and if you get on it, you could have some serious problems. You might get placed on a watchlist or banned from flying altogether. So again, it’s always best to just cooperate with TSA agents.

Note:The New York Times also discovered that the TSA has a secret list of unruly flyers. This list is not made public, so you’ll have no idea you’re even on it! Some of the things that can get you on that list are – loitering suspiciously near security, physically engaging with a TSA agent, having verbal altercations with officers, or generally being difficult during the screening process.

What Can I Do About Rude TSA Agents? (And Is There Any Way to Complain?)

Although TSA agents have some pretty powerful authority, they’re not above the law. If you think an agent has treated you rudely, there are a few things you can do:

ActionDescriptionImportant Links
1)Contact an immediate supervisorThere is a designation in the TSA called Supervisory Transportation Security Officer (STSO). These are the people in charge of a group of agents. If an agent is treating you rudely, ask to speak with their STSO. The STSO will hopefully be able to resolve the issue.
2)File an official complaintAnother option is to directly send an email through the TSA’s website. There is a specific option for Customer Service that you can select. Ensure that the email has all the necessary information such as the name and badge number of the rude agent, as well as the time and location of the incident.https://tsa.gov/contact-center/form/complaints
3)Get in touch with your elected officialsIf you want to take things a step further, you can always contact your elected officials. They might be able to help resolve the issue or at least put some pressure on the TSA. This has happened in the past, and many senators have openly criticized the TSA for their treatment of passengers.house.gov/representatives/find
Table showing how to complain about TSA Agents

Here are some more ways in which you can easily report a complaint against a TSA agent – 

  • FlyRights 2.0: An app that was developed by the Sikh Coalition and other civil rights groups. This app allows you to immediately file a report if you feel you’ve been mistreated by the TSA. There is also an option to send a copy of the complaint directly to your Congressperson, adding another layer of accountability.
  • The ‘MyTSA’ app: Another option is to use the MyTSA app developed by the TSA. There is a link in this app which will redirect you to the TSA’s Contact Center at the Department of Homeland Security. From there, you can fill out a form detailing your complaint against the TSA agent.

How Does the TSA Decide Who to Pat Down

This is a big question – how does the TSA actually decide who to pat down? Sometimes it seems so random that it’s hard to understand the logic behind it. The reason it might seem random is because there are a lot of seen and unseen factors that go into the decision. 

  1. Pre-screening: Did you know that the screening process actually happens long before you even reach the airport? TSA works closely with the FBI and other intelligence agencies to develop a watchlist of individuals who might pose a threat to air travel. If your name is on that list, you will undergo additional screening at the airport. 
  2. Physical: There are also some physical factors that might make you more likely to be selected for a pat-down. For example, if you set off the metal detector or the body scanner, you will be automatically selected for a pat-down. This is because these devices are not always accurate, and TSA needs to ensure that there is no threat. 
  3. Behavioral: There are also some behavioral indicators that might make you more likely to be selected. Things like fidgeting, avoiding eye contact, or loitering around security checkpoints can all be flags for TSA. This is because these behaviors might indicate that you are nervous or hiding something. 

Ultimately, the decision of who to pat down comes down to a risk-based assessment – also called the TSA’s Behavior Detection and Analysis program. This is a program that uses some of the factors mentioned above, as well as others, to assess whether or not an individual poses a high-level threat. 

Once identified, these individuals will have to undergo additional screening, one of which is the infamous pat-down.

Check out this YouTube video that walks you through the TSA process at the airport.

What Powers Do TSA Agents Actually Have?

TSA agents are actually federal officers, which means they have a lot of power. They are empowered to search your bags, pat you down, and even detain you if they suspect you might pose a threat to air travel. 

One thing to keep in mind is that TSA agents are not law enforcement officers. This means they cannot arrest you, but they can detain you and hand you over to law enforcement (usually the airport police) if they suspect you might be a threat. 

TSA agents also have the power to confiscate any items that they deem to be a threat. This includes things like sharp objects, liquids, gels, and even some food items. If you try to bring any of these items through security, the TSA will most likely take them away from you. 

The best way to avoid any problems is to familiarize yourself with the TSA’s rules and regulations before you travel. Here is a link to the official factsheet from the TSA website giving you an inside look into their operations – https://www.tsa.gov/news/press/factsheets/tsa-glance

Why Does the TSA Wipe Your Hands?

If you’ve ever been through airport security, you’ve probably had your hands swabbed by a TSA agent. This is done in order to detect explosives – specifically, traces of nitrates. 

TSA uses a device called an Explosives Trace Detector (ETD) to test for the presence of explosives. When you go through security, the TSA agent will swab your hands and then insert the swab into the ETD. If the device detects traces of explosives, it will set off an alarm. 

The TSA does this because nitrates are a key ingredient in many types of explosives. So, by testing for them, they can get an idea of whether or not you might be carrying any explosives on you. 

Here are some common things that the ETD tests for with the hand swab:

  • ANFO (ammonium nitrate)
  • GSR (gunshot residue)
  • HMX (octogen)
  • NG (nitroglycerin)
  • PETN (pentaerythritol tetranitrate)
  • RDX (Royal Demolition eXplosive)
  • Semtex (plastic explosives)
  • Tetryl (trinitrophenylmethylnitramine)
  • TNT (trinitrotoluene)

Keep in mind that the ETD is not 100% accurate, and it can give false positives for things like fertilizer or certain cleaning products.

If you do set off the alarm, the TSA will most likely take you into a private room for additional screening. But don’t worry! As long as you’re not actually carrying any explosives, you should be fine.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about TSA agents and their powers: 

Q.1. Can TSA agents arrest you?

  1. No, TSA agents cannot arrest you. They are not law enforcement officers. However, they can detain you and hand you over to law enforcement if they suspect you might be a threat. 

Q.2. How much do TSA agents make?

  1. The salary for a TSA agent can vary depending on their experience and position. A Security Screener might earn around $31,430 per year, whereas a Marshal can earn anywhere north of $56,358.

Final Thoughts

We hope this article has given you a better understanding of why TSA agents can be rude and why they have so much power. Remember, the next time you travel, be sure to familiarize yourself with the TSA’s rules and regulations before you go through security.

It’ll save you a lot of headaches (and potentially a lot of embarrassment) in the long run. Safe travels!