Tips for traveling with religious and cultural items

Avoid confusion with TSA agents by following these simple steps

By Kassie Simmons - Intern
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A TSA worker screens passengers at LaGuardia Airport on November 22, 2017. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

While TSA agents are trained on how to handle religious and cultural items, confusion can still ensue when unfamiliar items are placed in front of them. Here are some tips to make sure you have a smooth trip when carrying these types of items.

Call ahead

Call the TSA Cares helpline at least 72 hours before your flight. Resources may vary from airport to airport. 

Pack your special item separately

When packing your carry-on, put the special item in a container that can be easily separated from other belongings and placed in a bin for X-ray screening. TSA officials recommend using a clear, plastic container or bag that can be easily opened to remove items for screening. Do not use a metal container.

If your item is delicate, do not place it in checked baggage. Most checked baggage is screened without the need for a physical bag search. However, officers may still need to inspect the baggage during the screening process, which would increase the chance of your items being handled.

Let the TSA officer know

Tell your TSA officer that you have a religious or cultural item that needs individualized care that you do not want touched because of the tenets of your beliefs. You may explain the significance of the item and that your religious beliefs require that the item must not be touched by a non-practitioner of your religion.

If you are at the checkpoint and need assistance, you may ask for a passenger support specialist or a supervisory TSA officer. Having a passenger support specialist may help facilitate communication with the TSA officer and increase the chance that your item will not have to be touched. 

Screening

Place your items in an X-ray bin by themselves, with nothing on top of them. This will help officers get a better look at your item so further inspection is avoided.

If any items cause alarm during the screening, TSA officers will attempt to resolve the alarm with a visual inspection. You may be asked to personally hold and display the religious item or place it on a flat surface for viewing.

If the alarm cannot be resolved through visual inspection, the item will be tested for traces of explosives using a swab test. You may ask TSA officers to collect a sample without picking up and handling the item or ask that officers wear gloves.

Prohibited items

Religious knives, swords and similar objects are not permitted through the security checkpoint and must be packed in checked baggage.

If you have concerns during or after your screening, you should request to speak with a TSA supervisor, manager or a passenger support specialist. If you have an item that absolutely cannot be touched, consider alternative methods of getting the item to your destination.

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