Random Searches in the TSA Pre✓ Line?

I  received a telephone call from a friend who was at Pittsburgh International Airport earlier today and said that he witnessed agents of the Transportation Security Administration conducting random searches on passengers who were already qualified to use the TSAPre✓ line at the security checkpoint; and he asked if I had heard anything about this.

“No, I have not,” I responded.

“Well, I was not selected for a random search; but I asked an agent if searching people in the TSA Pre✓ line made sense — and he could not answer.”

“To be fair, the agents are simply following orders,” I replied, “but I will check around and see if there are other cases of this happening.”

He frustratingly opined as to what was the point of paying $85.00 and going through the process of applying and being approved if they are going to conduct random searches anyway.

No logical response came to my mind.

Random Searches in the TSA Pre✓ Line?

I did a cursory check of the Checkpoints and Borders Policy Debate forum on FlyerTalk; and the discussion with the closest topic which I could find is that agents of the Transportation Security Administration are supposedly once again conducting random searches at the gate areas of the terminals in airports.

I then found this discussion — which was launched last month — pertaining to random checks on people who already qualified for the Global Entry program. There were a few FlyerTalk members who claim to have endured a random search of some type — despite having already been qualified for what are known as “trusted traveler” programs — but those incidents seem more like anomalies than a trend.

After that, I did find this discussion pertaining to random extra screening in the TSA Pre✓ line; but that was from almost two years ago. Perhaps this has been ongoing on a wildly inconsistent basis for years?

A search was then conducted by me at the forums of InsideFlyer; but I found no discussions pertaining to this topic.



I personally have not experienced any random searches or checks whenever I am in the TSA Pre✓ line at airport security checkpoints; so I am turning to you: have you experienced a random search or check at an airport security checkpoint by an agent of the Transportation Security Administration while already qualified as a “trusted traveler” — or, at least, have you heard of a similar occurrence happening to another passenger?

If incidents such as the one imparted by my friend are actually happening, that would render the term trusted traveler to be a rather ironic misnomer, in my opinion — and it would be one more reason as to why I believe that the TSA Pre✓ program should ultimately be eliminated

Source: Transportation Security Administration.

37 thoughts on “Random Searches in the TSA Pre✓ Line?”

  1. TxAg says:

    I flew from ORD to MCI this morning and precheck didnt show up. I went to an agent how said he sees my number on the ticket so I probably got chosen for random check. I go to the regular checkpoint and not only it was emptier than the precheck line but they also asked everyone to not take their laptop out and keep their shoes on! Random check, indeed!

    1. TxAg says:

      *who said!

  2. JC says:

    You have great timing! I was in Pre-Check on 09/09/16 (have been since I started traveling) and was randomly selected for ‘additional screening’ at T7 at LAX prior to my United flight. This is the first time I’ve ever seen this or experienced this. Needless to say, they didn’t have the staffing for ‘additional screening’ at a Pre-check line, so I stood for about 15 minutes before an agent was able to tell me to walk into the scanner and be screened as if I wasn’t pre-check.

    The agent that originally said I had been randomly selected for ‘additional screening’ did so after I was past the metal detector, and it had not gone off. He stated that I had passed the metal detector, but had to reverse my direction, go back out, and wait to be screened by the machine.

    I was beyond pissed off at the end of this screening as were most people in the Pre-Check line, as pre-check took 35 minutes that day, the line was out the door, as apparently they were having ‘metal detector’ problems. Normal screening took 5 minutes, yet everyone with a pre-check was being directed in the non-moving pre-check line and even if we asked to join the normal screening line, we were told we had to go to the pre-check line. Typical TSA shenanigans, on a non-holiday weekend too.

  3. Tyler says:

    Yes. I flew from SLC to DEN last Friday and was “randomly” selected to go through the full-body scanner instead of the regular metal detector. They didn’t search my carry-on; just pulled me out of line and scanned me.

  4. Andy says:

    I was at lax t2 on labor day, afternoon. Out of the 5 people i saw who had pre check, 3 including my wife were subject to a pat down, but not a baggage search. Pat down was awkward while carrying a baby in a sling

  5. JT_BOS says:

    Yes, it happens quite often. I have been random searched at a pre-check lane several times. Usually it’s to go through the other scanner, which is really silly. Because of that, I had to go through two radiations, instead of one, unless I opt out.

    1. Ubk says:

      It’s not radiation it’s radio waves that bounce off your body and then shows any unordinary objects on an avatar they did away with the radiation machine. Let’s get educated people all you have to do is ask TSA will explain it to you.

  6. Rick says:

    Went through the PreCheck line at COS just yesterday and was randomly selected for the grope and grab. The agent was very nice about it and made the check pretty cursory.

  7. ATLJono says:

    This has happened to me twice this summer – both at BOS. After successfully making it through the metal detector I was told I was selected randomly for additional screening. I was put through the body scanner and that was it. It added less than a minute or so and I honestly hadn’t given it any thought until now. Didn’t involve the bags on the belt at all. I think a bigger issue for the program is an increasing number of times I’ve noticed the PreCheck line longer than the general line…

  8. Pete says:

    I was traviling PreCheck through Boston on United. When I went through the metal detector, it made an unfamiliar noise. The TSA agent informed me that I had *not* alarmed, but rather had been randomly selected by the metal detector. I was asked to go through the body scanner, opted out, and got a pat down and extra attention on my bags. All were polite; it was fairly painless, as far as these things go.

    The interesting part, to me, was that the metal detector itself seemed to have been programed to do the random selection, by making a distinct beep when I walked through.

  9. David Buhn says:

    As a TSA Precheck flyer, I was randomly selected today to have a residue test on my backpack. This occured in T3 at SFO and I was surprised but it was quick.

    1. Ubk says:

      If something alarms on the x-ray machine they have to check your bag it’s not random it’s mandatory by rules so it’s not TSA but the machine. Once again let’s get educated people just ask TSA they will explain.

  10. Tim A. says:

    Do you mean like the random hand swabs and such? I’ve had that.

    And on my last international trip, I got a random “agricultural search” with my Global Entry. Took me a while to even find the office at DFW. Once I found the proper place, it was relatively painless. But it added 5-10 minutes to the process.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      I was not quite sure, Tim A., as the information imparted to me was more general and not specific — but yes, any type of search, check, swabbing or other action which should not be a part of TSA Pre✓.

      I must say that I did not expect the response that this short article received…

    2. Ubk says:

      Once again the machine randomly selects people not TSA they only do what the machine ask them to do so people do you want to be safe or do you want to let terrorist on your plane and take your chances? Everything done is for your safety so stop complaining because anyone can be a terrorist anyone you don’t know what’s going on in people’s life that make them go over the edge. That’s why they say get to the Airport early.

      1. Random says:

        Prove it’s actually the machine deciding. It has “randomly” selected me for additional screening 9 of the last 10 weeks (I fly precheck every week). The odds of that being random are infinitessimally small. You keep saying “ask TSA” but TSA has lied straight to my face on at least three occasions. Yes, people want to be safe, but thank goodness we live in a society where people can still have a healthy skepticism and question authority.

  11. Yev says:

    Had 4 flights so far with TSA Pre-check: 4 people in my party. Here is the tally: me-two pat-downs (LAX or Seattle on one, Burbank), husband: one pat-down (LAX or Seattle, can’t recall), daughter age 8: one hand-swab (Burbank). They said 3 of 4 were random. My husband had a fitbit one attached to his pant pocket.

  12. Angry with TSA precheck says:

    It happens to me almost 50 percent of the time I fly now despite my precheck status. A few of the agents have even seemed surprised and asked “Aren’t you pre-check?”

  13. Blind Squirrel says:

    Brian, sorry I did not make it clear in my phone call to you today. I was flying FROM ATL to PIT not flying from PIT. The random selection was in the Atlanta south terminal pre check line. The three lives were moving along at a snails pace so the “random” selections added to my agitation. I was not randomly selected but watched it happen and heard the term “random selection” – how awfully Mengelleian that term is – and saw people being redirected through the full body scanners and some then patted down. Utter horseshit.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      Thank you for the clarification, Blind Squirrel.

      Judging from the responses to this article, this happens more often than I thought…

  14. James Gale says:

    I’ve been subjected to the full-body scanner about four times this year (after passing through the metal detector). Each time, the metal detector beeped a couple seconds after I’d passed through. The TSA agents made clear that I’d been randomly selected. The beeping was not detecting any metal. A couple times, the additional search went quickly. But a couple times, the agents said that the body scanner was showing something in or near my pockets. (My pockets were empty.) So I got a pat down as well. The agents were always polite. But the process is annoying.

    I’ve also had my carry-on swabbed a couple times. That has always been quick and easy. But it’s still and extra step.

    Even with all this, I find pre-✓ to be worthwhile because of the shorter lines populated by people who mostly are experienced at moving quickly through the process.

  15. Left Handed Passenger says:

    I’ve been following your blog more for entertainment than useful information at this point. I know your contempt for TSA to begin with, so they can’t do anything right in your world anyway….

    I’ve also had a “random” check, this at LAX TSA Pre✓. The process sounds very familiar after reading through all the comments. After having gone through the metal detector, I was told I was randomly selected and was instructed to go through the whole body scanner. I don’t remember if I was asked to take my shoes off. This was the extent of the extra check, as I consider it useful to remember how to go through the whole body scanner (as long as they aren’t the big blue boxes) once in a while. I blame it on my parents never buying me the Star Trek transporter toy, while the floating box guardians in original Tron were very scary.

    I’ve also had a cotton swab check done while in line at SFO Pre✓, so I corroborate on that comment.

    I see nothing about random extra checks that discredit the TSA Pre✓ program.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      “I must admit that my recent experiences of traveling through airport security checkpoints in the United States lately have been rather pleasant — especially when I am selected for TSA Pre✓ as an elite level member of a frequent flier loyalty program or have agents of the Transportation Security Administration help me pass through the airport security checkpoint as quickly as possible while being friendly and smiling as though I am a human being.”


      I wonder who was the author of that quote — of whom I can find more which are positive pertaining to the Transportation Security Administration — Left Handed Passenger?

  16. Alvin Saulsberry says:

    It’s need it just because! !!!!

  17. Your Friendly TSA Officer says:

    TSA officer here. The metal detectors themselves have been programmed with a randomizer that, as one commenter said, make a specific sound when going off. This sound denotes that the person that just walked through must go through additional screening. Usually this just entails, as others have said, going through the body scanner (or a pat down if you opt out). However, if a precheck lane at an airport is not equipped with a body scanner, it could end up being one of any number of things to include a bag check of some sort (usually a quick swab of the outside), swabbing your shoes or hands for explosive trace, or a partial pat down (ie not full body).

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      I appreciate the information, Your Friendly TSA Officer. Thank you.

      Please feel free at any time to provide more information which you believe readers of The Gate will find useful whenever they travel.

      Despite my disagreement with how the agency operates in general, I rarely have a problem with the men and women who work at the airport security checkpoints whenever I interact with them, as many of them are polite, professional and usually treat me with respect whenever I travel.

    2. fosin says:

      I got that beep this morning in precheck at hsv. Just swabbed my hands. Took about 20 seconds. didn’t swab my backpack.

      Also, they occasionally send pre-check through the scanners at this airport. I’m guessing it has to do with people on break and can only operate one line.

  18. Paul says:

    TSA finger-banged me.

    1. NiceTry says:

      You wish.

  19. Patrick C Ahlstrom says:

    When you sign up for PreCheck, the lira ture makes it clear that additional searches may occur at any time. The reason is obvious. Although those who qualify PreCheck are less likely than unknowns to attack an aircraft there is no 100% safe group so a random aspect may discover the would be mass murderer that has otherwise defeated usual PreCheck screening. The same is true of random searches at the gate in case an insider threat has armed the would be murderer er inside the secured area. Random, therefore unpredictable screening is Very smart. It makes you safer. I’m in PreCheck and I have NO problem being screened thoroughly and often. And do would all those who died on 9-11 had they had that choice (except the hijacking mass murderers).

  20. Jason says:

    Happened to me at least twice this summer at different airports.

  21. Scott says:

    Happens often in my observation but never to me personally. I’ve traveled from CLT to DEN and back several times in the past 45 days and from CLT to TPA and in all three airports I witnessed other PreCheck passengers randomly selected after passing through the standard metal detector.

  22. Ed C says:

    Happens often than reported IMO (and been happening for years). It makes sense as pre-check/GE always warned that you were subjected to random checks.

    It’s usually the swab drill for me but i’ve gotten the pat down a few times and i’ve seen Precheck family members chosen to do a complete screening too.

  23. Fawick Flyer says:

    When signing up for PreCheck, you acknowledge that you may be screened randomly. Remember to read the fine print. The lady who administered my fingerprint scan also made certain I understood the random screening.

    Also, I have had situations where the airport did not have a scanner, one security line, and more pax volume than they could handle. Every pax went through a PreCheck style line and they had the medal detector signal for shoes getting swabbed, Pat down, bag check, etc. It felt weird, but worked.

    My brother is Global Entry through Nexus, and was flagged with SSSS on a trip with long layover in a country where there was a high incidence of radicalized religious groups. He was interviewed about his time, produced receipts, and got by with a quick bag search with his interview.

  24. John says:

    I have pre-check. I fly SEA-SFO several times a month. I’ve been selected for random screening my last 3 times in a row going out of SEA. Has never happened going out of SFO. It’s quick @ SEA, but pretty annoying that it’s been every time recently.

  25. Erick says:

    I have Global Entry, and was flying from ORD-PDX last week was “randomly” selected to go through the full-body scanner after going through the metal detector. They didn’t search my carry-on just made me walk through the scanner.

  26. Brown Man says:

    Yes, this happened to me on 8/31 flying out of Austin. I have precheck and stepped through the scanner, no alarms went off and it flashed green. Then the attendant told me he had to randomly search me and patted me down. It wasn’t a terrible inconvenience, but made me wonder what the point of paying for pre-check was. I’ve only had it since January, but in the last 3 years, I’ve been randomly searched and patted a third of the time. I’m if Indian descent, so I could be paranoid about my skin tone and the frequency of being stopped. Regardless, for something described as “random,” I’ve been searched a lot, I feel.

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