Ex-TSA Agent Warns Not to Wear Headphones in the Security Line—Here's Why
You need to be able to hear clearly when your safety is at risk.
From removing accessories and jackets ahead of time to discarding oversized liquids, there are a lot of things travelers can do to help streamline their airport security experience. Even untying your shoes or separating electronics beforehand can save you a few extra minutes. But some hacks are actually more about personal safety. One you might have missed the memo on? Keeping headphones in a case and out of your ears when you go through the security line.
In an interview with Business Insider, former Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent Caleb Harmon-Marshall warned that one of the easiest ways to jeopardize your safety is by wearing headphones while going through a security checkpoint.
While TSA lines have a knack for being long, and you may be tempted to listen to music or a podcast while you're waiting, Harmon-Marshall said this is the time when you want to be the most observant of your surroundings—and consequently, be ready and able to hear an officer's instructions.
"I would never wear headphones prior to going through security. You want to be very mindful of what's going on in your surroundings," Harmon-Marshall, who served as an agent at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, told the outlet.
Until you're on the other side of the full-body scan machine, the area you are in isn't 100 percent secure, Harmon-Marshall explained. That means passengers waiting to be scanned could be carrying weapons, or a potentially dangerous threat could enter the airport.
"The key is to listen to that first officer that you see past the ID check. They're going to tell you what to do," he said.
"I know we tune them out because we're so focused on: 'I need to make sure I'm doing everything; I don't want to get yelled at.' But really take a moment. Just stop, listen to what that officer is saying, and then proceed," Harmon-Marshall continued.
In his interview with Business Insider, Harmon-Marshall had some more positive thoughts to share as well.
He noted that while security checks can change from airport to airport, the process can go a little faster when a K-9 dog is present, because more often than not, the rules are a bit more relaxed.
"If you see a K-9, nine times out of 10, you'll probably be able to keep your shoes on, because they're doing risk-based screening at that moment," he explained to the outlet. "If you don't see a K-9, you're most likely going to have to take off your shoes, take your laptop out of your bag, all those things that they tell you to do."
After serving as a TSA agent for eight years, Harmon-Marshall has become a travel influencer. More than 150,000 people turn to his TikTok page (@travelwiththeharmony) for airport hacks, TSA insider tips, and overall air travel advice.
Harmon-Marshall has demonstrated how overhead bin space works on a plane, explained the correct way to use the airport moving walkway, and shared what to do if you're wearing nothing under your jacket at TSA.
"You need to be in airport security-friendly outfits. That means dress underneath your jacket if you are wearing a jacket," Harmon-Marshall tells his followers in his jacket video.
Should you forget to wear an undershirt of some kind, Harmon-Marshall says that you can always "request a private screening."
However, in no circumstance should you have to remove a sweatshirt or jacket that results in you being shirtless in a public checkpoint area, he adds. In many cases, Harmon-Marshall says a TSA agent will allow you to go through the screening process, and will issue a "pat-down" check if the machine senses something.
If the sensor alarm still goes off after the pat down, then the traveler will be asked to go in a separate room for a private screening, he further explains.
Harmon-Marshall also uses his page to share little-known facts about airlines and checked baggage—which may not help you get through security faster or keep you safe, but is certainly good information to have.