TSA Brings Back Book Inspections at At Least One Airport, You Really Do Have to ‘Show Your Papers’

Back in the spring the TSA was testing a requirement to make passengers take their books and papers out of their bags for inspection.

The idea of having to present what you’re reading to the government at a checkpoint was… concerning. The TSA killed the test, and in one statement even blamed it as some sort of mistake by a contractor.

Dallas Fort-Worth PreCheck

At the end of June the TSA was calling the requirement to take books out for screening a rumor and declared definitively that you don’t have to take them out of your bags when going through a checkpoint.

We were testing the removal of books at two airport locations and the testing ran its course. We’re no longer testing and have no intentions of instituting those procedures.

And they helpfully added “we encourage any passenger with privacy concerns to request private screening” failing to understand that the concerns are privacy from the government.

That’s the end of that, right?

Since then TSA rolled out new rules requiring electronics larger than a cell phone to be taken out for separate screening except in PreCheck lanes. But there wasn’t any word about demanding passengers show their literal papers at the checkpoint after showing their identity papers.

Philadelphia PreCheck

Yet a reader shares that he was going through security in Orlando and had to take out not just his electronics but also products, books, and magazines.

And according to the TSA in Orlando,

TSA screening procedures changed in August. All airports must comply with the change by May of 2018. The screening of property at the security checkpoint will be spread out more to reduce clutter on the X-ray image. We are currently training officers at Orlando. As they are certified they will use the new procedures on additional lanes. Other airports are also beginning to train their officers.

To better search for weapons and items related to explosives, the procedures require travelers divest their electronics larger than a cell phone, liquids, and other items that may give a cluttered image to the X-ray operator. The other items can include food, books and magazines. All standard screening lanes will use this new procedure. Expedited, trusted traveler lanes will not.

(Emphasis mine.)

So now the TSA says they’re back to screening books. Sometimes. I’d say you’d better watch what you’re reading, but the government probably already knows.

It’s possible they’ve gone rogue in Orlando, and this isn’t supposed to be policy like the TSA promised, but rogue government security agents are disturbing in a different way.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. If TSA tries to make book and magazine checking the nationwide policy, there will be on heck of an uproar from angry passengers. Does anybody know what the changes have been in overseas airports (apart from the Middle East airports that experienced the “laptop ban”)?

  2. So is the TSA becoming the official censor of what is allowable to read on planes? Quasi-officialdom gone mad.

  3. I wonder how many Anti-TSA and Anti-Security Theatre pamphlets I can make them read searching my bags? I hope the courts can fix this one.

  4. My wife went through Orlando today. She had to take out tablet, phone, granola bars, and packages of loose tea and all into separate bins. She had 6 bins. And they decided they needed to test all of them. If it had been me, I guarantee I would have missed my flight. Luckily, she leaves a lot of time and still was able to make her flight. Great place to increase security to absurd levels. After all, not many tourists go through Orlando (with kids who need snacks), shouldn’t hurt tourism at all. The stupid just goes on and on.

  5. I used to think Kindles were dumb, since I like the feel of a book in my hands, but at least with a Kindle you can password protect the login.

    On the other hand, this kinda makes me want to travel with hardcore pornography in my bag.

  6. TSA: american stupidity at best, being vanguard of first image of american by a foreigner stepping into american soil….

  7. @Stephen,

    That is the perfect way to get the TSA to knock it off. If everyone traveling though Orlando would just add a couple porn magazines and “toy” or two to their carry-on bags, waiving them around before having to fill separate bins with all that stuff would certainly cause an uproar… “would someone PLEASE think of the children”.


  8. I got sent to secondary screening and basically groped because i had my frickin passport in my pocket. (My passport!) Then they forced me to open my carryon and went through everything. Worst airport to deal with security and i have been in airports all over the world.

  9. TSA required my father-in-law to show them his books in Bozeman earlier this week. I thought it was a misunderstanding.

  10. “The government” (i.e. the TSA) is not reviewing or judging your reading materials. My interpretation is that they are requesting for carry on to be a little less cluttered by taking out certain items that apparently obscure the viewable image on the monitors during xraying.

    It might even mean fewer secondary screens as a result of which you get to move quicker through security so you reach the always long line at Starbucks a few seconds earlier.

    Obviously, books in or out makes absolutely no difference to the actual safety provided by the Theater of Security Apparatus.

  11. @BahHumbug but TSA explicitly promised they wouldn’t be doing this when there was media attention and criticism, and the moment the attention subsided they went ahead and did it anyway. Lying Liars. But we should trust them with security and believe when they tell us everything they do is for our benefit but of course we can’t question it because it’s all classified (all the while breaking the law by refusing access to materials to their own inspector general)?

  12. How about we all get book covers with thE title “TO SERVE THE TSA” on all our books. If they ask about it, you tell them it’s a cookbook.

  13. Orlando will also try to tell you to take everything out of your pocket in the precheck line. I’ve heard it a few times going through there, but don’t know how they would enforce it since we go through a metal detector.

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