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New TSA requirement for travelers with in-cabin pets: Hands swabbed

Getting ready for another flight tomorrow morning, I realized that I forgot to tell you about a new TSA requirement I encountered on this trip: After I passed through the metal detectors at Seattle and at LaGuardia (though not at Baltimore), I was asked to wait until a TSA agent could break free and take me (holding Chloe) over to a counter where both of my hands were wiped with a swab — the same kind of swab they use on your suitcase sometimes, looking for traces of explosives.

The first TSA agent I asked about the new requirement nimbly avoided answering me, but the second said it was in response to a concern that bad ‘uns may — there’s no better way to put this — place explosives in their “pet.” As my husband pointed out, when he saw me gagging, the kind of people that contemplate mass murder are not likely to be nice about the means they use, but still. Gagging.

The new step will add a couple of minutes to your trip through security. Keep an eye on your belongings, and make sure that they accompany you to the place where your hands are swabbed.


  • annyhanny

    I also went through the hand swabbing on my recent air trip with my cat – starting on Saturday May 26 – and was forced to continue holding my cat while my hands were swabbed and the swabs were analyzed. This is too much – the pet should be placed back in the carrier before the swabbing – the liability of dogs and especially cats getting loose is way beyond the unthinkable possibility of exploding pets. At $250 round trip for my cat’s ticket I expect her safety to be as important as mine.

  • Gigi

    Ah, so that’s why I was randomly selected for a swabbing both times I went through security! Mystery explained!

  • Gery Osowiecki

    I completely forgot about this, and was visibly annoyed when the TSA person in Seattle did the hand-swabbing thing last night. The guy (who noticed me shaking my head and rolling my eyes) wanted to engage me in a friendly conversation and was shocked that I expressed such an annoyance for this little bit of inconvenience…

    I think this would have been much less of a problem, had they allowed me to put Alfie (11 lb rat-terrier-dachshund-God-only-knows-what-else mix) back in his kennel (mainly for the safety of the dude with the swab – whose hands got awfully close to Alfie’s mouth, and was risking a bite…), and also, perhaps allow me to put my belt on.

    A couple of trips ago about 100 people waiting on the TSA lines in Seattle got a good view of my underwear, as Alfie started to wiggle in my arms, and it was either drop my pants, or drop the dog – so I chose pants…

    I guess it was hard for the TSA dude to imagine how a person trying to hold up their pants from falling down with one hand, while balancing a dog in the other, might get annoyed – at having to present their hands for inspection – especially since they are already late due to the incompetence of the armatures which were staffing the Airtran counter last night – but that’s the subject of another vent…

    How about the Dog Jaunt community start a petition to ask the TSA to allow travelers with pets the opportunity to secure their animals in the carriers before either human or animal is subject to any additional screening? Also, if presented with a note from a mental health professional saying that the traveler is not likely to hang themselves, perhaps they might consider giving back belts and shoe-laces as well… 🙂

    Happy travels to one and all.
    Gery O.

  • Oh, dear, Gery — I’m so sorry about the undies incident! I appreciate the humorous way you describe the situation, particularly given how vexed you must have been at the time. I’m trying to think of a good objection TSA might have to owners putting their pets back in before the swabbing, and I’m coming up blank — and I do think there would be a compelling argument that it would improve the agents’ safety. Going through security is unfamiliar and unnerving, and a pet might sense that their owner, too, is uncomfortable or unhappy — all of which might make even the most sweet-tempered dog testy.

  • Nancy

    Thanks for the warning about the swabbing. It certainly made it easier to be ready for. I flew from Louisiana to California to pick up a new 8-week old pup. All the tips you had on this site were invaluable. When I pulled the pup out of her carrier with her TSA harness & leash on, the people at security in Sacramento couldn’t have been nicer. I set out a piddle pad with a bowl of water for her to play on in the lounge while waiting for the flight & then the attendants and Captain couldn’t have been nicer about getting the pup settled even though the flight was late leaving. I did pay for the Economy Plus seating on the plane and the extra legroom was great. I fed the pup little bites of food during takeoff and land, both to help equalize her ears and to distract her from anything that might scare her. Looking over your website certainly made this trip much easier!!

  • Thanks so much for your comment, Nancy! (And for the very kind praise!) It helps so much to know what other travelers encounter, and what works for them.

  • Joan

    I’ve got a nightmare to tell you all about the new hand swabbing practice. I took my cat from Laguardia to Orlando last week and this was the first time the agent insisted that I continue holding her while they swabbed my hands. I didn’t think worry about what they were putting on my hands or whether it might be harmful to her. I got all the way to Orlando before she started having a huge coughing / choking fit. Took her to the vet the next day and she was filled with fluid from the top of her lungs to the bottom. $500 later my cat’s now on steroids, bronchial dilator, lasix and I have no idea if she will ever be normal again or not require medication. She is FOUR years old and was in perfect health prior to this trip. It took me a while to put two and two together. What is that stuff they are putting on our hands anyway. I’m holding her on my chest, my hands are right by her face, petting and calming her, and they cause me to open my palms while they put chemicals on them and then when I’m allowed to hold her again and so those chemicals have no where to go but her fur – starting to get the picture? Even if having the chemicals in her face wasn’t bad enough, it then went to her fur where she probably licked it off while she was cleaning herself. I realize TSA doesn’t think this far ahead in their planning and isn’t intending to harm my cat but the end result is the same. I wrote TSA and asked them what I can do to prevent this happening again and they sent me back a form reply. I guess I need to try to speak to a human being but I don’t have a lot of hope. When I bring her back to New York I am going to have to ignore the TSA agent and put her back in the carrier first and if it results in me being detained or arrested, so be it. I’m not exposing her to the anonymous chemical bullcrap again.

  • Hi, Joan — That sounds like a total nightmare for you and your cat! I’ve been digging and digging, and the consensus seems to be that the white swabs are a very neutral cotton (one TSO describes them as “nothing but sterile cotton swabs. There are no chemicals on them. They are not for transferring some type of material onto you, they are for picking up trace amounts of explosives from whatever we are sampling”). I mention it not to argue — not at all! what do I know about the workings of TSA? — but because I worry that there might have been some other, or additional, cause for your cat’s terrible troubles that should be kept in consideration.

  • Gery O.

    I never noticed the TSA agent taking out a new sterile pad out of a package before swabbing my hands. So it is perfectly possible that an infection of some kind was transferred from some other passenger whose hands were swabbed with the same pad. Poor kitty cat.

  • In my experience, they do carefully dispose of the pads after use (if they didn’t, after all, and there was a positive, they’d have a heck of a legal battle on their hands!), and they do put on gloves before deploying the pads — sterile, they probably aren’t, but I’m pretty sure they aren’t reusing them.

  • Larry Goodman

    has there ever been a case where an in-cabin pet had explosives hidden inside them? If not, why does the TSA think that someone might put explosives in their pet but not put explosives inside of themselves. TSA’s rationale is that only a person carrying a pet is a potential threat for explosives and everyone else is not. I don’t see the logic in that.

  • Gery O.

    Recall that the “Nuddy Scanners” were deployed as a response to an incidents involving underwear, and NOT of the kind I described earlier in this thread… (there is a certain “B word” I’m trying to avoid using online for obvious reasons) 🙂

    Since passengers with pets get to avoid the new scanners, the TSA must have felt that hand-swabbing might be a next best thing to avoid another “underwear” incident… Of-course it is not a good idea to speculate what the TSA might or might not be thinking, at least not in a public forum that I’m sure is monitored by the very same folks, who have the power to make our lives so miserable if they choose….

    Good and safe flights to one and all during this busy travel season, and don’t forget that the greatest risk you face is actually in the terminal building from exposure to “cold and flu” viruses, so please remember to wash your hands often… 🙂

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