Updated on February 5, 2024.
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Walking through body scanners can feel invasive. After all, they’re scanning what’s under your clothes for any threats, so they can see it all. The same thing with your luggage. Nothing stays a secret as your bag passes through the watchful eye of airport security, so make sure you stay cautious as you pack if there’s anything you’d rather keep private.

Let’s explore what the TSA can really see in your bags and on your person when you pass through security checkpoints.

Key Takeaways

  • The body scanners used by the TSA during airport security checks do not show explicit images of individuals, but highlight areas of concern such as metallic and non-metallic items.
  • Luggage scanners can detect anything that’s in your bag, including any hazardous or suspicious materials, and packing density can impact the scanning process.
  • The TSA can only see items that are on your person or in your luggage, and they do not have access to private medical items or identify if you have a tampon in.
  • It’s important to be cautious and follow airport security guidelines when packing your luggage, especially with liquids that must follow the 3-1-1 rule.
  • If you’re unsure about what items are allowed in your luggage or on your person during air travel, check the TSA website or contact them directly for clarification.

Body Scanners

We’ve all been through the body scanners at the airport. You put your feet on the footprints in the scanner and lift your hands above your head. The little woosh of the scanner passes by, and you wait to see if the security person allows you to pass. The waves in the machine will pass through your clothes, reflecting off your skin to get an image. If you have anything concealed on your body, it will pick it up.

Now, before you panic, don’t worry. The scan doesn’t show you naked. It offers a generic human body image, highlighting any areas that could be of concern. They won’t show if you have a tampon in, but they may reflect if you have any piercings or are wearing an underwire bra. Again, it won’t be specific. Instead, it will just flag the general area.

Because the body scanners do not penetrate the body, they do not pick up if there is anything stashed in a body cavity, like drugs or other hazardous liquids and materials. That’s why there will often be dogs wandering the airport who have been trained to locate suspicious items.

At the end of the day, airport body scanners are really looking to see if you have anything concealed on your person. These could be knives, guns, explosives, and other metallic and nonmetallic items that could be a threat to others while flying.

Luggage Scanners

Now, when you’re thinking about luggage scanners, they can really see anything that’s in your bag – even if you’re trying to hide them. This could be additional liquid items or illegal drugs that are packed in a lining. Whatever is in your bag will show in clear detail to TSA, so be very cautious as you pack.

If your bag is densely packed, they may flag it to search for what is triggering the alarm on the scan. For example, if you carry all your charging chords in one bag or have a lot jammed into a small space, the scanners may not be able to properly penetrate the bag and need an additional inspection.

Airport luggage scanners can see all metallic and non-metallic objects, and this applies to both carry-on and checked luggage. Make sure you don’t accidentally pack any hazardous or suspicious materials; otherwise, these items could be seized during scanning and discarded.

If you are carrying on, remember all liquids need to follow the 3-1-1 rule. They must be 3.4 ounces or less, fit in a one-quart-sized bag, and only one bag is allowed per person. If you do not follow the rule, the airport scanner will pick up on it.

So, What Does The TSA Really See?

what the tsa really sees

The TSA only sees items that are on your person. It’s a myth that they can see your naked body or identify if you have a tampon in, but that doesn’t mean they can’t get a sneak peek of what’s on your person. Still, they can see anything you’re trying to hide, so the next time you pass through airport security, take care with your personal items lest you accidentally get flagged for additional searching.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can TSA scanners see me naked?

No, TSA body scanners only highlight areas of concern and do not display explicit images of individuals.

  • What can TSA scanners detect?

TSA scanners can detect metallic and non-metallic items on your person or your luggage that could pose a threat during air travel.

  • Do TSA scanners detect drugs?

TSA body scanners do not detect drugs hidden inside the body, while luggage scanners can detect illegal drugs packed in luggage.

  • What is the 3-1-1 rule for liquids?

The 3-1-1 rule means that liquids must be in containers of 3.4 ounces or less, fit in a one-quart-sized clear plastic bag, and only one bag is allowed per person.

  • Can TSA see medical items, such as a tampon?

No, TSA cannot access personal medical items and will not identify if you have a tampon in.