Will TSA Require Travelers to Remove Books for Screening?

TSA Checkpoint

The last couple of months have been filled with stories about security in the aviation industry. From the electronics ban and questions about whether it will be expanded to new facial recognition technology being tested by Delta Air Lines, it seems there’s something new every week.

A story that has not been covered as widely is the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) testing of new procedures that could be implemented at airport security checkpoints. There have been discussions about requiring all electronics larger than a cell phone to be scanned separately from the rest of a passenger’s luggage, similar to what TSA currently requires with laptops.

More recently, the ACLU raised questions about the possibility of requiring passengers to remove books from their luggage to be screened separately. The ACLU is concerned with the privacy implications of forcing passengers to share what they are reading.

The Wall Street Journal reported at the end of May that some tests of this new procedure were shut down over confusion about whether all paper, including notebooks, had to be removed for screening.

Obviously, no one enjoys a slow security process, and the longer it takes the more frustrated passengers become. Passengers are even more likely to get frustrated when their bags are selected to undergo manual screening by TSA.

Cluttered or densely packed carry-ons take more time for TSA agents to screen and are more likely to be selected for this extra screening. This leaves passengers with an interesting dilemma: check more bags, or be prepared for additional screening at the TSA security checkpoint?

Checking bags means spending more time in the airport for travelers on both ends of the trip. If you only need a carry-on, you can check-in online, head straight to security once you arrive at the airport, and be right on your way once you land.

However, checking a bag means you have to deal with lines at the check-in desk and wait for luggage in the baggage claim area when you arrive. Not to mention the fact that there’s always a chance your luggage will be lost in transit.

Airlines have also been charging more and more for checked bags, which can dramatically increase the cost of your flights. When considering these costs, many passengers choose to cram as much as they can into carry-on bags to save time and money.

It’s no wonder passengers become frustrated at the airport, but there are a few things you can do when flying to ease the pain and improve the screening process.

TSA PreCheck Items
Make sure you have access to TSA PreCheck for a quicker screening experience.

First, make sure you sign up for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry (which gives you access to PreCheck). TSA PreCheck will allow you to move through airport security without removing your shoes, laptop, small liquids, light jacket, or belt. Hopefully, this list will include books if their removal becomes a standard part of the screening process too.

Bottom Line: Global Entry is your best bet if you will travel abroad (even to Canada) in the next 5 years, so you can have access to expedited screening when you depart and return.

Several credit cards will reimburse you for the application fee for either TSA PreCheck or Global Entry, including The Platinum Card® from American Express, the Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ Card, and the Citi Prestige® Card.

Second, use a credit card that will reimburse you for checked bag fees or a co-branded airline credit card that includes a complimentary checked bag as a benefit. This benefit often extends to at least 1 traveling companion on your itinerary.

For example, if you are with Delta, the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express provides a complimentary checked bag for you and up to 8 companions.

Finally, you can fly with Southwest Airlines to avoid checked bag fees since all passengers receive 2 complimentary checked bags. This will allow you to save any travel credits from your credit cards for times when you really need them.

We can hope for the best going forward, but getting a TSA PreCheck or Global Entry membership and being strategic with your credit card choices will make the screening process more tolerable regardless of changes in aviation security.

We’ll continue to follow this story and update you if books (or other items) are added to the list of things that must be removed from luggage for screening by TSA.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

The Platinum Card® from American Express