In order to keep passengers safe, the TSA employ a number of security measures, including scanning checked baggage.
Let’s take a closer look at how checked baggage is scanned, what the TSA is looking for, and some other frequently asked questions you may have about the security screening process.
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How Checked Baggage is Scanned
Once you have checked in your bag, it will then be provided to the TSA for security screening.
Once the screening process has been completed and there is nothing that arouses suspicion that requires further investigation, your checked bagged is loaded onto your flight.
Each day, the TSA screens approximately 1.4 million checked bags.
What Airport Scanners Can See
Your checked baggage is screened by an X-Ray machine when it is checked in and passes through the conveyor belt.
The X-ray works by creating detailed images of the items inside your bag, which includes both metallic and non-metallic objects, as well as organic and inorganic materials.
TSA agents are trained to identify all forbidden items, and will take a closer look at a bag if they detect a suspicious item.
This may include physically inspecting your bag.
Generally, in the USA, a CT scanner (Computer Tomography Scanner) is used to scan checked baggage.
It works by calculating the mass and density of individual objects in your bag.
If an object inside your bag is within the mass/density of a dangerous material, security personnel are alerted.
What the TSA is Looking For When They Scan Bags
The TSA primarily screens for explosive and other dangerous items that can put passenger safety at risk.
This can include items that passengers may think are largely innocuous, like lithium batteries, which can actually be a fire hazard.
Related: Can You Bring Batteries on a Plane?
Checked Bags Aren’t Directly Scanned for Drugs
It may surprise you to learn that the TSA is not actively looking for drugs, as there are far greater, more immediate dangers that are of more concern.
However, if drugs are found, a TSA agent has the responsibility to report the passenger to the local, state or federal authorities.
1 in 10 Bags Are Opened
The vast majority of checked baggage is screened without being opened for a physical bag search.
Approximately, 1 in 10 bags are opened and physically inspected.
You will know that this has been done because TSA will place a notice of baggage inspection inside your bag.
The TSA Have Master Keys
Regardless if you have placed a lock on your checked baggage or not, the TSA will be able to open up your bag.
This is because the “TSA has been provided universal “master” keys under agreements with Safe Skies Luggage Locks and Travel Sentry so that certain branded locks may not have to be cut to inspect baggage.”
This covers many of the locks that passengers use on their luggage.
If the TSA is unable to open your bag with a master key, they will have no choice but to cut the lock.
Ella Dunham, a Freelance Travel Journalist and Marketing Manager, boasts an impressive career spanning eight years in the travel and tourism sectors.
Honored as one of "30 Under 30" by TTG Media (the world’s very first weekly travel trade newspaper), a "Tour Operator Travel Guru" and "Legend Award" winner, Ella is also a Fellow of the Institute of Travel, a Member of the Association of Women Travel Executives, has completed over 250 travel modules, and hosts travel-focused segments on national radio shows where she provides insights on travel regulations and destinations.
Ella has visited over 40 countries (with 10 more planned this year).