What Does Airplane Mode Do? (Is It Necessary?)

If you’ve ever been flying commercially in the US, you know that at some point during the beginning of your takeoff, you’ll be asked to put your devices like your iPhone in “airplane mode.”

But what exactly does airplane mode do and do you really need to put your phone in it when flying?

In this article, I’ll explain exactly what airplane mode does and why it might be so important to keep your phone in airplane mode when flying.

I’ll also give you some scenarios where airplane mode can be useful outside of the airplane context.

What does airplane mode do?

Airplane mode disables wireless transmission features on your mobile devices such as: cellular data, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth.

Airplane mode is primarily designed to reduce the interference from cellular radio waves that could potentially interfere with cellular transmission on the ground but some also believe it helps to reduce navigational and communication issues between pilots and air traffic control.

Let’s look at why airplane mode may or may not be needed.

Reducing radio waves on the ground

Believe it or not, it’s not the FAA but the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that is the primary driving force behind airplane mode requirements.

They prohibit in-flight cell phone use to protect the integrity of ground-based cellular systems.

The worry is that a cell phone hurling through the sky could ping multiple cell phone towers at the same time.

Consider that the farther that some phones get from cell phone towers, the more “aggressive” they get with their signal requests.

So you could imagine that with potentially thousands of passengers in the sky shooting out their cell signals nonstop, this could create an unstable environment for cellular data.

When flying at high altitudes of 35,000 feet, it’s very debatable that a cell phone signal could reach cell phone towers on the ground.

It’s not that the cell signal could not extend that far out — a typical cellphone has enough power to reach a cell tower up to 45 miles away.

It’s more about the angles of the signals and how the towers receive and transmit those signals.

Take a look at the image below and that might give you an idea of the direction the signals typically go out. As you can see, it is more of a lateral transmission than vertical.

So when flying 35,000 feet above these towers, it makes sense that the signals would not be properly received.

However, when flying at much lower altitudes (some say around 2,000 to 8,000 feet), it sounds like much more of a possibility that phones in a plane could ping these towers.

cell phone tower signal diagram
Image via brightsandz.co

Protect flight controls

It was once believed that cellular phone transmission could affect the flight controls like the navigation systems and therefore create a major flight safety risk.

That risk may have been more prevalent with older technology with unshielded wiring but it seems this risk on modern planes may be overblown.

According to the North Carolina Consumers Council (NCCC), there are no proven cases of cellular phone transmission interfering with a navigation system.

It’s said that the shielded wires in the cockpit now should prevent those radio waves from penetrating and causing issues.

But there are still a couple of concerns.

One, it’s worth noting that shielding can degrade over time.

Also, with phones always rapidly evolving, it can be hard to predict exactly how new devices could affect flight control systems.

So it seems that while modern planes are more equipped to deal with lots of electronics, there still may be some room for concern in some cases.

The biggest inconvenience these days might be cellular signals interfering with communications between the pilots and air traffic control.

The cell signals could cause distracting noise in the headsets of the pilots which could result in miscommunications.

And that could obviously be a major problem.

The noise in the pilots headset theory is challenged by a lot of people who state this type of interference is extremely rare or potentially even nonexistent with today’s tech.

The evidence is a bit mixed, but I think the conclusion here is that older aircraft and older cellular devices posed a much greater risk when it came to interference from cell signals.

That risk from cell signals is probably very low in modern times but due to all of the factors that would go into testing this and how quickly technology changes, it’s really hard to know for sure what that level of risk is at any given time.

Therefore, I would still err on the side of putting your phone in airplane mode just in case something unthinkable could happen.

What can you do in airplane mode?

When you put your phone into airplane mode, your phone may or may not disable three separate features.

The features that will be disabled include cellular transmission, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth.

Airplane mode allows you to toggle Wi-Fi and Bluetooth back on if needed which allows you to still use Bluetooth headphones and connect to Wi-Fi on an airplane, for example.

I actually learned this the hard way years ago after unsuccessfully attempting to pair my Bluetooth headphones on a flight.

I went hours without any music or sound only to later find out that all I had to do was toggle my Bluetooth on to get it to work!

Wi-Fi is the exact same way.

Just toggle your Wi-Fi on and you can connect and even engage in text messaging and making Wi-Fi phone calls.

However, be aware that most airlines prohibit voice calls while flying, mostly because it can be super annoying to other passengers nearby.

A lot of smart phones like iPhones will remember the last configuration of your airplane mode to make things easier for you.

So if you enable Bluetooth while your phone is in airplane mode, it should be enabled the next time you put your phone in airplane mode.

Airplane Mode settings on phone

What about GPS in airplane mode?

GPS functionality is a bit different from everything else mentioned.

Airplane mode disables the transmission from your device but GPS on your phone is not transmitting signals; it is receiving signals from satellites.

So, in theory, your phone could still register a GPS signal even when flying on a plane (some devices might disable GPS).

The problem is getting that signal through a high flying metal tube is not so easy.

In addition to that, the absurd speed at which planes fly can essentially confuse a lot of algorithms used by GPS software, making them struggle to pin point where you are.

This is why some people will prompt their phone to receive a GPS signal before boarding the plane — it will make it easier to track.

With your cellular data turned off, you also won’t have the benefit of assisted GPS which helps your phone receive a GPS signal in a timely manner (WiFi might be able to help).

So receiving a sufficient GPS signal on a plane is difficult and maybe even impossible.

However, if you are seated by the windows and you position your phone next to the plane window, a lot of times (with a bit of patience) you can still get a GPS signal.

If you look at your maps on your phone, you might see a little dot located on a “map” that looks more like a sea of blankness. And that is because data is required to populate your map.

But, if you were to have a map downloaded off-line and your phone received a GPS signal through the window, you should be able to see your position on a map, albeit with questionable accuracy.

Airlines with in-flight entertainment (seatback TVs or streaming) often have maps for you to see where you are so relying on your phone for a map view is not always necessary.

What happens if you don’t put your phone in airplane mode?

If you choose to defy the orders of putting your device in airplane mode, here are some of the outcomes that you might face.

Get a slap on the wrist or kicked off the plane…

If a flight attendant notices your phone is not in airplane mode, because you are yapping on the phone or because they just happened to glance over and see your screen (should be very rare), they’ll probably just request for you to put your phone in airplane mode.

This could amount to a polite request but it could also come off as an admonishment.

Basically, it could just be an embarrassing scene and other passengers may not appreciate that you may have put their safety “at risk” by being selfish.

For some people, interactions like this can quickly escalate (especially post pandemic). It could even lead to you getting kicked off the plane like this person or this person.

In a worst-case scenario it might even land you on an airline’s no-fly list!

So it’s a good idea to avoid these situations when possible by just keeping your phone in airplane mode.

You could cause disruptions for the pilots

If it is true about pilots hearing static noise from cell signals in their headsets (which I do believe is the case), you could be interfering with the communications going to and from the person trying to navigate you safely from Point A to Point B.

Is that really something that you want to risk by keeping airplane mode off?

Could you cause a plane to crash?

It seems unlikely that you would directly interfere with plane navigation systems simply by keeping airplane mode off.

After all, if there was a real threat to airline safety from cell phone signals, it would be such a high national security concern that phones would not even be allowed to be turned on in planes.

The risk from a terrorist attack would just be way too high.

But as just discussed, cell phone signals can probably interfere with the pilots ability to communicate and hear instructions from air traffic control.

In a perfect storm scenario, it would not be impossible for something horrible to happen.

So while not putting your phone on airplane mode will not directly cause a plane to crash, it could contribute to a dangerous scenario under the worst of circumstances.

Get hit with a fine?

Although there are some reports that passengers could face a fine for not putting a phone in airplane mode, I struggled to find confirmed cases of passengers getting fined for not putting their phone in airplane mode.

It seems that if fines were being issued on a regular basis, that would not be the case.

But while you may not have to worry about getting a fine, you might still be out of pocket if you choose to leave airplane mode off.

How exactly is that the case?

If you don’t turn on airplane mode it’s possible that your device could connect to the in-flight roaming network and you could be billed several hundred dollars for usage!

Cell phone battery goes dead quicker

Not putting your phone in airplane mode means that it could keep working to connect with cell phone towers.

That could drain your battery very quickly.

When should you use airplane mode?

Obviously, when you are requested by flight attendants to put your phone in airplane mode you should comply.

But there are a handful of scenarios where airplane mode could come in handy.

Coming back in the country

Something that hardly anybody knows about or thinks about is the need for putting their phone in airplane mode when they are coming back in the country through customs.

The point of doing this is to prevent a customs agent from snooping through everything on your phone.

In case you were not aware, a customs agent can seize your phone and search all of its contents without needing a warrant or even suspicion.

The limitation is that they cannot access anything that is stored on the cloud. So if you were to exit out of your apps and put your phone into airplane mode, that would be the extent of anything a customs agent could inspect.

You’re unsure about roaming charges

Some phones can be a little bit confusing when it comes to roaming settings.

People don’t always know exactly what setting needs to be turned on or off and because of that they run the risk of getting hit with huge roaming charges.

Some people also just forget to disable roaming.

By putting your phone in airplane mode you can be guaranteed that you will not be subject to any unexpected roaming fees.

When troubleshooting

A lot of times whenever I have trouble getting reception I utilize airplane mode to to get me service.

This will help “reset” your phone to seek out cell phone towers and speed up the process for getting you service.

In my experience, this has been really handy when arriving in a new country. When my phone struggles to get service I simply put it in airplane mode and then take it back out and it often resolves the issue.

Battery saver

If you ever are running low on your battery one of the best ways to preserve it is to put your phone in airplane mode. You’d be surprised how quickly your battery can be drained when it’s attempting to get a signal.

Put your phone on airplane mode, dim your screen, and you just extended your battery life so that you can hopefully make it to your next charging session.

This can be extremely helpful when traveling or when out and about in remote places such as when you’re hiking.

When you need a break

When you just need a break from communication, it’s easy to just put your phone in airplane mode so that you won’t be bothered with phone calls, text messages, and emails.

This is also a refreshing thing to do when traveling.

Nothing is worse than getting hit with a work email when trying to enjoy the sights of a museum or an amazing dinner at sunset.

Airplane mode can be your solution for staying present in the moment.

Final word

Airplane mode is designed to disable transmission from your mobile devices.

While many people doubt or seriously question the necessity for it, it seems that in certain instances cell phones from planes can interfere with cellular data on the ground and also with the ability of pilots to clearly communicate and potentially even navigate.

Future innovation may resolve some of the issues and more studies might give us answers to the questions that remain about the disruption of cell phone use on a plane, but for now given what we know, I think it makes sense to keep our phones on airplane mode until we have more clarity on the potential effect of these devices.

Can You Take Photos or Video at TSA Checkpoints and in Airports? [2023]

A lot of people like to document their travels or simply take in their experiences by recording videos and snapping photographs.

Some airports also are full of interesting architecture and even works of art so it’s not hard to find legitimate photo opportunities when making your way to the airport.

But can you actually take photos or videos when inside the airport and when making your way through TSA security checkpoints?

In this article, we will take a look at the policies for TSA and different airlines and airports.

I’ll breakdown what is allowed and where a lot of confusion is often coming from so that you’ll know what to expect whenever taking photographs in the airport.

Can you take photos or video in airports?

Airports will allow you to take photos and video in certain public parts of the airport but in other areas you may need to obtain consent in order to film or photograph.

In order to figure out where you can freely take photographs at an airport, you need to analyze the different policies for those who operate inside the airport such as: TSA, the airlines, airport police, and airport staff.

It also helps to look at what the Supreme Court has said with respect to the First Amendment in airports.

We’ll take a look below to see how these entities respond to people taking photographs and what their stated policies look like.

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Can you take photos or video at TSA checkpoints?

According to TSA:

TSA does not prohibit photographing, videotaping or filming at security checkpoints, as long as the screening process is not interfered with or sensitive information is not revealed

So TSA will allow photos and videos at checkpoints but it really comes down to what counts as interference or sensitive information.

What counts as “interference?”

The most problematic bit of language taken from TSA probably has to do with what constitutes “interference.”

TSA does supply us with some guidance on this question and states interference with screening includes but is not limited to:

  • Holding a recording device up to the face of a TSA officer so that the officer is unable to see or move
  • Refusing to assume the proper stance during screening
  • Blocking the movement of others through the checkpoint
  • Refusing to submit a recording device for screening

Some of these are pretty understandable.

For example, it’s pretty obnoxious to put your phone in someone’s face and start recording, especially if they are unable to see or move. It’s also very inconsiderate to block the movement of other travelers trying to get through a busy checkpoint.

So you could boil down these rules to say that: if you keep a reasonable distance from passengers, TSA officers, and follow screening directions, you will probably be in the clear — at least based on the criteria above.

It is worth noting that this is not an exhaustive list of “interference.”

So it is possible that TSA could come up with additional reasons why you are interfering with the screening process.

For example, they could state that you are making other passengers feel uncomfortable in the security line whenever you bring out your device and start recording.

“Sensitive information”

Whether or not you are revealing sensitive information should be a pretty easy thing to determine based on common sense but TSA does provide guidance on the issue.

TSA explicitly mentions that “you may not film or take pictures of equipment monitors that are shielded from public view.”

So for example whenever they run bags through the x-ray scanner and an agent is viewing one of those monitors, you can’t take pictures of that monitor. I assume the same would probably apply to the full body scanner monitors.

This is a very reasonable policy considering that you could be distracting the personnel who need to be monitoring the screens for dangerous explosives.

Plus, I would not want other people “snooping” inside of my baggage and taking photos of the contents I’m traveling with. There could also be medical privacy issues with allowing others to photograph the full body scanners.

Even with that said, some entities like the ACLU question whether or not there is even a legal basis to exclude photos at the stations.

A lack of accountability?

A recent federal court case from the Fourth Circuit shows a real lack of accountability with how this rule on taking video and photographs is enforced.

In that case, a couple was going through security when one of them was subject to a pat down. The spouse attempted to record the pat down (from about 10 feet away) but was told to stop and also to delete the video by a TSA agent and the agent’s supervisor.

They ended up suing on the basis of a First Amendment and Fourth Amendment violation and while the District Court seemed to be ruling in their favor, the appellate court ruled in favor of TSA and essentially granted them immunity.

This means that while you have the right to take photos and record, you probably will not have the support of the courts if those rights are ever infringed upon, which ultimately undermines those rights.

What do airports say about taking photos and videos?

Each airport may have its own policy regarding restrictions on photos and videos and often these may be made in conjunction with the law enforcement divisions that are responsible for overseeing the airport.

For example, the Port Authority which operates John F. Kennedy International, Newark Liberty International, LaGuardia, Stewart and Teterboro airports states the following:

The Port Authority reserves the right to restrict videotaping and photography at its airports. Videotaping and photographing at security checkpoint areas operated by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration is prohibited without the consent of the TSA. Videotaping and photographing in areas controlled by individual airlines, such as check-in or gate areas, is prohibited without the consent of the airline.“

It’s interesting that they point out that consent would be required by the TSA. Based on what is stated on the TSA website, you could argue that consent is already given.

LAX also has a pretty detailed policy on filming and photography.

They state:

Journalists are welcome to conduct reporting, filming or photography within public areas of the airport as long as they do not disrupt passenger flow or otherwise impede airport operations, tenants or passengers

Once again, we see standard language on avoiding the disruption of passengers and airport personnel.

But they go on to mention about filming restrictions that TSA and other entities within the airport such as airlines may impose:

All filming within the gate areas, concessions or other leased spaces is not allowed without the permission of the leaseholders. TSA Public Affairs must approve any filming of the TSA checkpoints in advance. U.S. Customs and Border Protection must approve any filming within customs areas in advance.

So based on the language from these airports, you can gather that filming or possibly taking photographs in areas controlled by individual airlines (leaseholders) like the gate areas may need special consent.

But let’s see what the airlines actually say.

What do airlines say about photos and video?

Unfortunately, airlines do not make it very easy to locate their official policies on photography and videography. Some like JetBlue apparently even keep it internal for security reasons.

However, some airlines like United Airlines have an official page that outlines their (on board) policy. United states:

The use of small cameras or mobile devices for photography and video is permitted on board, provided you limit the purpose of your photography and video to capturing personal events. Any photographing or recording that creates a safety or security risk or that interferes with crew members’ duties is prohibited.

Other airlines probably follow a very similar policy: as long as you’re not getting in the way of anybody or causing trouble, you are probably fine.

It’s also a good practice to not take photos or video of staff members or passengers without their consent unless you have some type of good reason for doing it such as to obtain evidence for a potential claim or criminal matter.

It’s just a matter of not making people uncomfortable so as to prevent a confrontation — not necessarily a legal thing.

Also, whenever you are inside the airport terminal it’s possible that an airline may impose a policy against photographs and video for certain areas.

For example, American Airlines apparently restricts photography at ticket counters, baggage areas, and gates.

Without guidance from the airline it’s hard to know how restrictive (or reasonable) these policies are and how they would hold up in court.

How to get around the airlines’ restrictions

For blog reporting/content purposes, I’ve been taking photos of airport check-in areas, airline cabins, and certain portions of security checkpoints over the past eight years and have barely ever had any issues.

One of the best ways to avoid attracting unwanted attention is to simply look as touristy as possible when taking photographs.

This is really easy to do when you’re traveling with a companion or other people because you simply make it look like you’re taking a bunch of selfies and personal vacation pics while slipping in photos of whatever it is you’re trying to get.

Smile big, wave to the camera, look cheesy, etc. That will get you much further than looking shady with covert camera ops.

What does the US Constitution and current law say?

In the past, the Supreme Court denied that airports were “public forums.”

“Thus, we think that neither by tradition nor purpose can the terminals be described as satisfying the standards we have previously set out for identifying a public forum.” International Soc. for Krishna Consciousness, Inc. v. Lee, 505 US 672, 683 (1992).

This means that airport terminals don’t offer the strong First Amendment protections that you would find on a sidewalk, street, or park.

Other cases go along with this ruling although some seem to push back at times, so I don’t know the law is 100% settled on if any portions of an airport can qualify as a public forum.

If you look to guidance on public spaces from the ACLU, you’ll see they believe taking photographs and video of things that are plainly visible in public spaces is a constitutional right.

They reiterate that they don’t believe “restrictions on photography in the public areas of publicly operated airports are constitutional.”

My take is that the law is a bit murky when it comes to your First Amendment protections to photograph in airports.

It will probably be okay to do in most areas provided you are not interfering with operations but you may not necessarily have as much legal support as you would think based simply on an airport being a “public space.”

This may not be the hill you want to die on.

Can TSA confiscate your phone for taking photos?

TSA stands for “Transportation Security Administration” and the purpose is to “strengthen the security of the nation’s transportation systems while ensuring the freedom of movement for people and commerce.”

TSA is not looking for drugs like marijuana, trying to track down your arrest warrants, or engage in other types of law-enforcement duties. Moreover, they have not been granted special authority by the US government to engage in certain types of searches and seizures.

Since they lack police power, they cannot demand to see the contents of your photo album or force you to delete photos. [although, see the updated case mentioned above.]

In some cases, in order to get through a checkpoint you could be asked to power on your electronic device to determine if it functions, and your device also could be inspected to ensure that nothing is hidden inside of it.

But if they ask you to log-in to your device or unlock it/view photos or videos, they are overstepping boundaries and you should feel okay with challenging their authority.

In some cases, the local airport police will get involved, usually when a TSA agent calls them over to sort something out.

According to the ACLU, police officers may not confiscate or demand to view your digital photographs or video without a warrant (there may be exceptions in exigent circumstances).

If police get involved, just be respectful and politely request for them to provide you with the authority they are using to deny your ability to film or photograph.

Try to comply as much as possible to avoid escalating the situation but feel free to insist on a warrant if they try to apprehend your phone.

US Customs and Border Protection (CBP)

When it comes to the contents of your phone, things change dramatically when you are dealing with US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and you’re entering/exiting the United States.

They may be much more strict about cell phone use and photographs and usually they say it is not allowed.

Also, in these areas, the same rules do not apply that require warrants and reasonable suspicion — the contents of your phone, including photographs could be fair game.

That’s because according to the law, you have a reduced expectation of privacy at a border crossing, whether you are coming in or going out.

The case law is still evolving on all of this but CBP has a lot of liberty when it comes to confiscating your phone to review its contents. I would not try to push things with CBP as far as trying to get photographs and video, as they have much more authority than TSA agents.

Also worth mentioning is that when traveling internationally those airports can be a lot stricter with no photography policies.

Is it worth the trouble?

The final question to ask yourself is it worth the trouble?

If you go around taking video and photographs throughout the airport you run the risk of encountering issues with TSA, airport staff, airline staff, airport police, other passengers, and potentially CBP or Homeland Security depending on where you are.

There may be some restrictions regarding filming or photographs that you were not aware of. You may also run into individuals who are misinformed on the law and even their own organization’s policies.

Many times, there may be grey areas filled with subjective determinations on things like what constitutes “personal use” or “interference” and that is where the trouble usually begins.

Regardless of who is in the right, just know that if you go around taking lots of photos and videos without much regard this is basically inviting some type of conflict.

You have to ask yourself if this is truly worth it for your goals.

In a worst case scenario, you could be arrested, detained, or placed on some type of government watch list that interferes with your ability to easily get through airports.

Even if you were to take your issue to court and win after a lengthy and costly legal battle, that would still be a huge burden to bear for the sake of some photographs or video.

For some people, fighting such a fight is worth it but I would venture to guess that for most of us, that type of legal fight is not something we would be interested in going through.

My advice would be to not let your emotions get the best of you if someone ever tries to clamp down on your ability to take photos or videos.

My go-to move is to just comply and put my phone away and then if I really need the photos try to get some a little bit later when that individual is out of the picture (literally and figuratively). Otherwise, I’ll just drop it.

Pick your battles wisely.

Final word

Taking photographs and video in an airport is often not a problem so long as you do it in areas where security is not an issue, you are not interfering with airport operations, and you are not taking pictures of people without their consent.

Although airports are public spaces, it’s not clear what level of free speech protections you have because airports are not “public forums” in the legal sense.

So my advice would be to stick with getting personal travel photos that come off as touristy captures and try to resist encroaching on airport personnel.

Because even if you do have the right to film or take certain photos, it’s often not worth the hassle that will follow. And in some cases, your legal rights may not be as strong as you think they are.

Bringing Sunscreen on a Plane: Don’t Get Burned by TSA’s Rules!

There’s nothing worse than turning into a lobster while on vacation. So naturally, many travelers take sunscreen with them through airport security every year, hoping to get protection from the unrelenting Sun.

But bringing sunscreen on a plane presents a few specific issues that you want to be aware of before you head to the airport.

In this article, we will break down all of the TSA rules and other FAA restrictions you need to think about when taking sunscreen through airport security.

Can you bring sunscreen on a plane?

Yes, you can bring sunscreen on a plane as a carry-on item as long as you comply with the TSA liquids 3.4 ounce rule. You can also bring sunscreen in your checked baggage but you need to be mindful of FAA restrictions on the quantity and size of bottles you can bring.

Be careful applying sunscreen before your flight because you could trigger the alarm if you get swabbed by a TSA agent. Also, be aware that certain states and countries banned certain types of sunscreens that contain chemicals that could be harmful to coral reefs.

If you want to know more about traveling with sunscreen through TSA, keep reading below!

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Sunscreen bottle in sand

Important: Getting through airport security with sunscreen

If you were recently having fun in the sun and applying sunscreen before heading through airport security, be aware that some sunscreen or SPF products may contain glycerin.

That’s important because glycerin is one of the chemicals that can trigger the alarm whenever getting swabbed.

What does it mean to get swabbed?

One way that TSA agents try to keep passengers safe is by detecting whether or not passengers have come into contact with explosive materials. And one of the ways that they do this is by taking samples from the hands of passengers as well as their luggage contents.

If that sample contains traces of explosives, then the passenger will likely be subject to questioning and perhaps even a much more invasive search. That invasive search could involve a pat down and more swabbing which could take an extra 20 minutes or longer.

When going through airport security, you don’t always get swabbed but if you applied sunscreen containing glycerin on the day of your travels, there is a chance you would test positive if you got swabbed!

You can read more about what it’s like to get swabbed at the airport here.

Security officer swabbing

Bringing sunscreen as a carry-on (TSA liquids rule)

TSA allows you to bring liquids like sunscreen on board as long as they are contained within a container no larger than 3.4 fluid ounces or (100 mL) and all of those containers can fit comfortably inside of one clear quart sized bag (this is known as the TSA Liquids 3-1-1 Rule).

You will need to remove this liquids bag from your carry-on bag when going through the security checkpoint unless you have TSA Pre-Check.

Keep in mind that this will focus is on the size of your liquid container and not the amount of liquids on the inside.

For example, if you had a five ounce container of sunscreen but only 3 ounces of sunscreen on the inside, that would not be permitted. The actual container needs to have 3.4 ounces of volume or less.

Also, this 3.4 ounce limitation also applies to sunscreen spray or aerosol bottles. (If you plan on bringing a spray bottle of sunscreen make sure that you bring it with the cap attached).

It’s really easy to find travel bottles of sunscreen under 3.4 ounces so it shouldn’t be a problem to get a container of sunscreen lotion that can go with you.

If you have a larger bottle of sunscreen that you really like, it is possible for you to pour this into your own 3.4 ounce travel container. You could always write “sunscreen” on the bottle for a reminder and perhaps to give TSA a hint of what is in the bottle (although it is not necessary).

Sunscreen  bottles

I thought I could bring bigger bottles of sunscreen through TSA?

If you are a bit confused about the size limitation for sunscreen, it’s completely understandable.

At one point, TSA announced that they were going to allow sunscreen bottles larger than 3.4 ounces to be taken through security. This was apparently going to be done to help reduce the threat of skin cancer and UV damage to travelers.

In other words, sunscreen was going to be treated as a medically necessary liquid which would place it under the medical exception that allows for larger liquids bottles.

But as soon as this announcement was leaked it was rescinded and TSA clarified that sunscreen is still subject to the liquids 3.4 ounce rule.

“Our website incorrectly reported that sunscreen containers larger than 3.4 oz. were allowed in carry-on bags if medically necessary. That error has been corrected. Sunscreen in carry-on bags must be 3.4 oz. or less. Larger quantities should be placed in checked baggage.”

TSA security line

Flying with sunscreen in the cabin (applying it mid-flight)

Lots of people apply lotion during a flight because it helps them reduce uncomfortable dry skin but applying sunscreen during a flight would just be stupid, right?

Well, maybe not.

Marc Glashofer, M.D., a dermatologist and a fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology, told CN Traveler that it is possible to get sunburned on a plane.

But worse than that, the windows on a plane can be penetrated by UVA rays, which penetrate your skin to a deeper level and are often the culprit for causing skin cancer.

A lot of the risk pertains to pilots who are constantly in the air and exposed to UV rays via much larger windows than what a typical passenger is exposed to.

For example, one study in JAMA Dermatology found that a single hour flying at 30,000 feet could expose pilots to an equivalent amount of UV radiation that someone would get spending just 20 minutes in a tanning bed.

However, some reputable sources claim that plane windows block out a lot of the harmful UV rays including both UVA and UVB.

So the risk of skin cancer or UV damage is probably low for passengers.

But for skin conscious travelers, you may feel better about your seat selection if you have sunscreen on hand just in case that Sun starts to hit your face a little bit too much.

Of course, if you select the window seat it’s your choice to put down the window shade so you could always reduce that risk by just shutting the shade.

If you do decide to apply sunscreen in the cabin, just be careful about pulling out any type of bottles because your bottle could explode in the plane and create a big mess for everyone nearby.

A good way to avoid this is to squeeze out the air from the bottle whenever you are on the ground so that the air has room to expand at altitude.

Also, try to cover the nozzle with a bag (perhaps your liquids bag) whenever you open it so that if it does burst, it won’t get everywhere.

And finally, consider selecting sunscreen that does not contain a scent because it’s not very considerate to unleash a strong scent throughout the cabin.

Related: What Can I Bring In My Purse on a Plane?

Window view from plane

Bringing sunscreen in your checked baggage

When you travel with sunscreen in your checked baggage, you have to keep in mind the FAA restrictions on the total quantity and size of your medicinal and toiletry articles.

For checked baggage, the FAA states the capacity of each container must not exceed 0.5 kg (18 ounces) or 500 ml (17 fluid ounces). It should not be difficult to find sunscreen bottles smaller than 17 fluid ounces so you don’t have a lot to worry about in most cases.

The aggregate total of all of your toiletry items in your checked baggage cannot exceed 2 kg (70 ounces) or 2 L (68 fluid ounces).

Once again, if you have aerosol bottles make sure that you have them covered with the cap to prevent accidental release.

You also have to be mindful about the sunscreen bottle exploding in your luggage.

The best way to prevent something from happening is to try to squeeze out any air that you can before you place it in your checked baggage.

In addition to that, double bag the sunscreen and perhaps consider storing it in a separate compartment so that you can minimize the damage from a spill.

Luggage with bottle inside

Buying sunscreen at your destination

Sunscreen is one of the easiest items to find at any type of tourist destination or tropical vacation spot.

The problem is sunscreen at these places, especially in shops at all-inclusive resorts, can be extremely expensive. We’re talking $25 plus per bottle.

Talk about getting squeezed!

Moreover, they may not sell small bottles so you could be forced to buy a larger, more expensive bottle that you may only use a small portion of on your trip.

For this reason, I usually try to purchase a couple of small sunscreen bottles or spray canisters that I bring with us when we travel to tropical destinations.

(If I’m using checked baggage, I’ll just purchase a big bottle and bring that along.)

You can also look into packages that come with sunscreen. For example, if you were renting a car through Turo or other types of rental companies, sometimes you can get free sunscreen with your rental or just add it on.

Woman applying sunscreen at beach

Bringing sunscreen to different countries or states

Some sunscreens may not be allowed in certain countries or even certain states such as Hawaii.

There has been a growing trend of banning certain sunscreen ingredients because of the harm that they could do to reef systems. For example, Aruba banned sunscreens containing Oxybenzone.

In 2021, Hawaii banned sunscreens containing both oxybenzone and octinoxate as did the US Virgin Islands and Key West.

I’m sure many more will follow.

So if you are heading to a tropical destination where you might find coral reef or where scuba diving or snorkeling are popular, be sure to double check that your sunscreen is allowed.

Look for sunscreens that are labeled as “reef safe” or “biodegradable.” I personally use Coppertone Sport 50 SPF 4-in-1 that is free of many of the prohibited active ingredients.

In addition, you can consider purchasing diving shirts that block out UV rays so that you don’t have to worry about applying a lot of extra sunscreen.

Aruba beach

Final word

When traveling with sunscreen, you need to be mindful about the liquids rule and also be careful about applying sunscreen before you head to the airport because you could trigger the alarm if you get swabbed by TSA. If you put the bottles or spray canisters in your checked baggage make sure you comply with the FAA rules mentioned above.

And finally, try to bring your own sunscreen so that you can avoid getting burned by the hotel, and be mindful about the local laws that could prohibit certain types of sunscreen.

Also, watch this video:

Can You Still Fly if You Have a Common Cold? (Or Should You?)

Every year, adults have an average of 2 to 3 colds, and as many parents are aware, children have even more than that.

During the winter and spring months, if you do any flying it’s not uncommon to see other passengers who are obviously dealing with some type of cold or virus.

But what should the protocol be whenever you have a common cold and you need to board a flight? Are you allowed to fly and what steps should you take if you choose to fly?

In this article, we will break down what the law says and also give you some tips for dealing with this type of situation.

Can you still fly if you have a common cold?

If you are dealing with the common cold you can still fly on a plane. However, there are some key things you want to consider before jumping on a flight, including getting familiar with what the law says.

Keep reading below for more insight on this question!

And note: You should always consult a medical doctor before making any decisions that could impact your health. This article does not contain medical advice.

The rule of thumb

Typically, airlines will only deny boarding if they believe the passenger has a contagious disease or other condition that could create a health or safety threat while on the flight.

The interesting thing about the common cold is that it is actually excluded in the wording of the relevant laws regarding conditions that could lead to being denied boarding.

Let’s take a look at the law to clarify.

What the law says about flying with a common cold

As mentioned, an airline may deny you boarding if they determine that you are a “direct threat.” In other words, if you looked like you had a seriously contagious disease an airline could deny you boarding.

Airlines are instructed to determine a direct threat by considering “the significance of the consequences of a communicable disease and the degree to which it can be readily transmitted by casual contact in an aircraft cabin environment.”

So they are basically looking at how serious the condition is and how easily can it be spread to others.

How serious should an airline consider the common cold to be?

Well, we have specific guidance on this because the first example mentioned in the statute states:

The common cold is readily transmissible in an aircraft cabin environment but does not have severe health consequences. Someone with a cold would not pose a direct threat.

So right there you have the support you need (from a federal law) that is telling you that you can fly with a common cold.


This does not mean that you should always fly when you have a common cold and there are a few reasons why.

You may not know what you have

First, unless you have visited a physician and been examined and or tested, you may just think that you have a common cold when in reality you have something that is more of a problem such as the flu.

Many of the common cold symptoms overlap with symptoms of other more contagious conditions.

These symptoms include:

  • Runny nose
  • Congestion
  • Sneezing
  • Weakened senses of taste and smell
  • Scratchy throat
  • Cough

According to medical experts, it’s rare to have a fever when you have a cold, so that’s something to keep in mind when trying to decide if you should fly or pay a visit to the doctor.

Related: Can You Still Fly if You Have a Cough? (Or Should You?)

You could get worse

Even if you only have a cold, if the cold is just emerging there is a chance that it could get a lot worse during the flight. Flights have a tendency to exacerbate symptoms when you feel ill.

Being stuck in a metal tube for hours can be a nightmare if you’re dealing with symptoms like nausea or just the general unpleasant feeling of being sick.

If your symptoms happen to peak while you are on a flight, you could appear so sick that flight attendants and the crew could choose to divert the plane which could be a huge inconvenience to all of the other passengers.

So my number one tip for traveling when sick is to first know what you are dealing with before you head to the airport.

Getting others sick

Colds are highly contagious and can be spread through the air. While an aircraft cabin is actually a pretty safe place to be because of the filtration systems in place, there still is always that possibility that you could spread your cold to others.

Lots of airlines will allow you to change your travel dates without a change fee so if it is practical for you to change your dates then consider pushing your trip out a few days so that you can get better.

Deciding on if you should travel: what it comes down to

When deciding on whether or not you should travel with a common cold it comes down to the necessity of your travel and the precautions you are going to take.

For example, if you have a cold but you really need to travel and you are willing to distance yourself from others, wear a mask, etc., lots of people will not have a problem with that.

Some situations where travel may be necessary would include situations like:

  • Traveling to spend time with family when you can’t change your dates
  • Attending a funeral
  • Traveling for medical treatment
  • An important work event

If you are just traveling for leisure or a vacation that is a bit more controversial.

On the one hand, it’s understandable that you would want to travel because you may have booked a trip that is not changeable and you could be losing out on a lot of money. While you may have a cold at the moment, you could get better in a few days and still be able to enjoy a large portion of your vacation.

On the other hand, people have a tough time accepting that you are going to put others’ health at risk so that you can enjoy a vacation. If you failed to get travel insurance to cover an illness, then that is on you they would argue.

It’s a pretty heated debate but you can take some of the heat out of that debate if you are willing to take some precautions.

So let’s take a look at some of the precautions you could take to help diffuse some of the tensions.

The first is wearing a mask.

People are very polarized on masks when it comes to mandates and requirements but most people agree that they will wear a mask whenever they are sick.

Passengers will be much more understanding of you traveling sick if you are covering up your coughs and sneezes with a mask.

(Just an FYI, based on the language of the statute, I don’t think an airline could force you to wear a mask if you had a cold since it does not qualify as a “direct threat”.)

Keeping your distance.

When you are exhibiting symptoms of a common cold try to keep your distance from others.

Avoid standing or hovering close to people during boarding or when spending time in security or an airport lounge. There is nothing worse than getting “hit” by someone’s cough.

Something else that you can do if you have the extra money or the miles is purchase an additional seat.

I recently did this when Brad and I booked a flight in economy while I had a bad cough. I used United miles to purchase an extra seat so that Brad and I could occupy the entire three-seat row and not have to be close to someone else.

Ultimately, if you choose to fly with a cold, other people may not like that you are sniffling and coughing but expecting people to never never travel when they have something like a cold is just not realistic.

Try not to escalate any situation but if you are taking all the precautions you can, don’t let others shame you into feeling bad just because you chose to travel.

What to do if questioned by airport staff

If you are hanging around the boarding area and are approached by a crewmember and asked about your illness, you can always explain to the agent that you are dealing with a common cold.

If you have the law/link above printed out or saved to your phone, you could always have that on standby in case you need to show the agent that a common cold does not present a direct threat.

The thing is, the airline would have to take your word for it that you only have a common cold. You have to remember that from their perspective, anybody could just claim that they “just have a common cold” when in reality they have something much more serious.

For that reason, the airline may want to consult with one of their medical service providers to further evaluate if you are fit to fly.

If you are able to visit the doctor before your trip and get a doctor’s note that states that all you have is a common cold, you will probably have a very high rate of success of getting on the plane.

Final word

Flying with a common cold can be done but that does not mean you should always do it. If you can, try to reschedule your flight but if that’s not an option then take some precautions that will make other passengers more understanding towards your condition.

TSA Swabbing at Airport Security: What Is It and How to Avoid False Alarms

If you’ve done a lot of flying, chances are that when going through TSA security you have experienced a good swab or two.

Whether it was your hands or baggage that was swabbed, you may have been curious about what exactly is going on and what are they trying to detect?

Is it drugs, bombs, or is it all just a bunch of security theater?

In this article, we will clear up the confusion about swabbing at airport security and give you some tips on how to deal with it and potentially avoid setting off a false alarm.

Why is TSA swabbing your hands and bags at airport security?

TSA will swab the hands of passengers as well as their luggage in order to detect traces of dangerous explosives.

When people are dealing with explosive materials, their body and/or belongings will often have very tiny traces of particles or residue of explosives still on them. So TSA uses different methods to detect those microscopic traces in order to screen out passengers who could have intent to do serious harm.

This is the process known as explosive trace detection (ETD) which unfortunately is not a perfect system. Below, we will go into more detail and talk about the shortcomings of the system and how you can deal with them.

When did TSA begin swabbing passengers?

TSA had been swabbing luggage for traces of explosives for a long time but after the failed 2009 Christmas Day bombing of Northwest Flight 253, they soon started to swab the hands of passengers.

(That bombing attempt did not end well for him and he is currently serving four life sentences in a super max.)

Different reasons you might get swabbed by TSA

TSA does not have the resources or the time to swab every passenger so only a certain subset of people will get swabbed.

Suspicious items in your luggage

A common reason that you could be swabbed is that something in your baggage triggers a further inspection. This is often the case if you have a suspicious looking item in your luggage.

This could be some type of electronic or it could be a rare household item like a collapsible tea kettle that just looks strange in the x-ray machine.

You appear nervous or suspicious

If a TSA agent believes that you appear suspicious while waiting in line they could order a swab.

While TSA does not publish a lot of data on how they go about doing this, common sense would dictate that agents would be looking for people who look extra nervous or like they are up to something in order to subject them to more screening.

You refuse the full body scanner

Another reason why you could get swabbed is if you declined to go through the full body scanner. In that case, you will likely be subject to a pat down and could also get swabbed.

Randomly selected

It’s also possible that you could be randomly selected for additional screening.

This could happen without warning or you could see it coming based on your boarding pass. For example, if you had SSSS on your boarding pass then you will have to go through the enhanced screening process which will require swabbing.

When going through the security checkpoint, you’ll usually know that swabbing is coming whenever your bin or bag is removed from the main conveyor belt. The agent will ask who owns the bag and will call you over to where the screening will take place.


If you are traveling with a pet, you will likely have to get your hands swabbed.

Medical equipment

TSA states that “officers may swab an individual’s hands, mobility aids, equipment and other external medical devices to test for explosives using explosives trace detection technology.”

If you have mobility issues you can always request to have the procedure done while you are being seated to make yourself more comfortable.

How does TSA swabbing work?

Once you have been designated for swabbing, you will likely be directed to walk over to a certain spot at the checkpoint. You will then be asked to hold out your palms and your luggage will likely be set aside on the counter to be swabbed as well.

This can feel uncomfortable and be a bit stressful but if you have nothing to hide, chances are nothing is going to happen and you will be on your way shortly. So just try to follow directions as much as you can.

TSA agents wearing nitrile gloves could use different materials to swab but you will often find them using a fabric swab (perhaps made of teflon coated fiberglass) attached to a wand but sometimes the swabs can be used by hand.

The agents will swab your hands and then will often also swab your luggage contents. It’s not uncommon for electronics like phones, cameras, and laptops to get swabbed but they can also swab your clothing, shoes — pretty much anything.

The TSA agent swabbing your body or your bags has to be very careful to apply just the right amount of pressure to the swab. In fact, despite how easy the swabbing process might look, quite a bit of training goes into showing TSA agents how to properly get a sample.

Depending on the material, TSA could use the same swab up to around 10 times but after a certain point it will become unusable. However, with the outbreak of coronavirus and worries about spreading viruses, TSA gave direction to replace the swab every single time.

(It’s not clear to me if they still have that requirement given how attitudes have changed regarding the pandemic.)

Once TSA has the sample, the sample goes into the ETD instrument.

Typically the instrument uses ion mobility spectrometry (IMS) to get a reading on what the substance is.

IMS works by ionizing the sample and turning a liquid or solid sample into gas particles. Those particles are then sent through a drift tube via an electric field. A detector then records how long it took those ions to get through the drift tube and compares it to other drift times in the library.

Larger ions have more collisions and move slower so these libraries can break down the drift times based on the size and shape of the ions.

TSA has shown interest in moving to mass spectrometry which could be more accurate but is more difficult to build (and to scale) in a small package.

There are also other ways to accomplish EDT but so we don’t get bogged down into the science, let’s get back to the process…..

Once the sample swab is submitted into the detection instrument, it is then compared to a vast library of different chemicals, which only takes a few seconds to happen thanks to powerful algorithms.

If there is a match then the alarm will be triggered. You’ll see a red light come on and hear the dreaded “beep.”

For security purposes, TSA does not release exactly which chemicals they are testing when they check for explosives.

However, to keep your browser search history squeaky clean we have included some possible candidates below:

  • Cyclotrimethylene-trinitramine
  • Cyclotetramethylene-tetranitramin
  • Otoluene
  • Pentacrythrite tetranitrate (PETN)
  • Ammonium nitrate/fuel oil (ANFO)
  • Trinitrotoluene (TNT)
  • Nitroglycerine (NG)
  • Nitrates
  • Trinitrophenylmethylnitramine
  • Semtex

If the machine detects traces of an explosive substance, an agent may want to do a second sample to verify that this was not simply a false positive.

After this, you will likely be questioned and depending on your answers and the results of your test, you could be told to go freely about your business or you could be taken to a screening room for an invasive screening.

TSA agents are aware that honest, hard-working people sometimes test positive for explosives so this should not be a “walk of shame” as you head to a screening room. However, it can be difficult to not feel that way.

During the screening process, you could be thoroughly pat down (by a member of the same sex/gender I believe). Your bags could be completely unpacked and every item inspected closely, perhaps getting more swab treatment.

This process could easily add 15 to 20 minutes or possibly longer to your journey through the airport which is why it helps to get there early.

Common items that can trigger the alarm when swab testing

Unfortunately, the explosive trace detection systems can be triggered even when someone has not been in close contact with explosives or does not have any intent to inflict damage.

There are quite a few different scenarios where you could come into contact with something that could set off the alarm and here are some of those.

Products with glycerin

Glycerin can set off the testing machines and unfortunately glycerin is found in a lot of common products.

You can find this in a lot of lotions, certain make up products, soaps, laundry detergents, shaving creams, baby wipes, etc. There are also lots of other products that could contain glycerin.

For some of these products, the odds of you testing positive go up when you use them just before heading through security. For that reason, you should try to wait until after you get through security to apply lotion or any other potentially suspect product.


If you are a farmer, gardener, or just someone who was randomly exposed to certain fertilizers, those can leave behind traces of molecules that will test positive for explosives, especially if the detection instruments use thermo redox.


Nitroglycerine pills, used for heart conditions like angina, are allowed by TSA but it’s possible that you could trigger the alarm if you were handling them.

Fireworks and pyrotechnics

If you’ve ever done fireworks for New Year’s Eve or the Fourth of July, and then flown shortly after there’s a chance that you could have tested positive for explosives due to having gun powder residue on you or your luggage contents.

Incendiary munitions, accelerants, firearms, etc.

Sometimes you could be dealing with guns, ammunition, and explosives for some type of training.

This can be really common for military personnel and also police officers, firefighters, etc. If you are dealing with these things, there is a high chance that you would not pass an explosive detection test.

In those cases, the organization you are training with could reach out to TSA at the local airport and let them know that trainees will be going through with explosives residue.

You will still need to show that your name is on a certain list but it could make your time going through the security checkpoint easier.

Machines in need of maintenance?

One thing about these ETD Machines is that they do require maintenance in order to function properly. If a machine has not been properly maintained, it could be more prone to false positives.

So in some cases, you may not have any of the substances above on you but you could still trigger the alarm simply because the machine is not working properly.

Smoking cigarettes?

Some people claim that they have triggered the swab alarm after smoking cigarettes.

I’m not sure if that happens often but you might want to put off smoking cigarettes until after you get through security (assuming the airport has a smoking area).

Do the TSA swabs detect illegal drugs?

One concern that people have is whether or not the swabs will detect illegal drug use.

We know that TSA does not focus on busting people for using drugs. A TSA agent is focused on detecting dangers such as explosives and not on whether or not you are traveling with marijuana or some other drugs.

Also, there could be constitutional concerns if these swabs were used to detect drug use (i.e., used for non-security purposes).

With that said, we know that these type of chemical detection tests can be designed to detect narcotics.

Typically, whenever you see tests like this being used to discover narcotics in a US airport they are being used by US Customs and Border Protection to inspect passengers, luggage, or packages coming into the US.

So I suspect that TSA swabbing is not set up to bust people that have come into contact with drugs.

BUT it is worth noting that whenever you encounter chemical swab testing, there’s always a chance that it could be designed to pick up chemicals related to illegal drugs. This is especially true when traveling through other countries that are known for cracking down on drugs.

Are they swabbing for DNA?

Some people are really worried about their personal security when they are swabbed on their hands.

Their worry is that their DNA is being collected and stored but that is not happening at the security checkpoint. Also, the swab is not used to detect viruses whether that be coronavirus or any other virus.

Related: Can Airlines Refuse To Serve Sick Passengers?

Does TSA always rely on swabbing?

You may not always be swabbed as TSA has contemplated utilizing different methods for explosive trace testing.

For example, they have entertained using contactless methods involving lasers or other methods like moving air particles around. New methods will always require a lot of testing so they may not be used in practice for quite a while.

But it’s feasible that in the foreseeable future swabbing may become more of a rare and obsolete practice.

Why am I always getting swabbed at the airport?

If you’re somebody that’s always getting swabbed by TSA then consider a couple of things.

First, you might be traveling with an object that looks strange in an x-ray machine.

Think about any weirdly shaped items you travel with such as electronics or even certain types of vapes. Traveling with powders can also raise questions.

Second, if you have SSSS on your boarding pass then your name might be in a government database causing you to get enhanced screening. You can apply for a redress number which can potentially remove your name from that list so that you will not get enhanced searches any longer.

Another possibility is that you give off nervous vibes. Some people just can’t help but to look suspicious when they go through security and that can raise red flags. Try to relax and just remind yourself that you are not doing anything illegal.

And finally, maybe you have just had some bad luck and you need to give it a few more tries before you start to worry.

Final word

For most people, getting swabbed at airport security is not a major hassle and it won’t affect your travels much.

However, if you have traces of explosives on you or in your belongings then you could be subject to a much more invasive screening that could take up a considerable amount of time.

So try to think ahead and avoid wearing certain items or exposing yourself to certain substances if possible before you head to the airport.

Additional Sources:

Can You Still Fly if You Have a Cough? (Or Should You?)

Are you dealing with a cough and wondering if you should still get on a flight?

In today’s world, it’s a question worth thinking about and there are a few key considerations you should think about before you choose to fly.

Below, I will break down what you need to know when trying to decide if you should still get on a plane when you are dealing with a cough.

Can you still fly if you have a cough?

If you are battling with a cough you can still fly on a plane. However, if you have other symptoms, especially those associated with a contagious disease such as a fever, you may be denied boarding and you should rethink your travels.

Keep reading below for more insight on this question!

And note: You should always consult a medical doctor before making any decisions that could impact your health. This article does not contain medical advice.

The rule of thumb

Typically, airlines will only deny boarding if they believe the passenger has a contagious disease or other condition that could create a health or safety threat while on the flight.

A cough is a very common symptom of contagious viruses like the flu or coronavirus, so we often associate it with people who are contagious.

However, if you are just dealing with a cough, you may not have a contagious disease or present a health threat chiefly because many noncommunicable conditions often cause coughs.

Let’s take a look at some of those conditions.

woman coughing

Common (non-contagious) causes of coughs

We tend to associate coughing with colds and viruses but a lot of conditions can cause people to cough. These include causes like:

  • Allergies
  • Asthma
  • COPD
  • GERD
  • Lung cancer
  • Medications called angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
  • Neuromuscular conditions
  • Post nasal drip

For some people, these conditions could result in intense coughs that could resemble contagious conditions.

This is important for two reasons.

First, as passengers we need to be careful with our assumptions about others.

Try not to assume that the passenger coughing is being inconsiderate to others because they may be dealing with a cough caused by a chronic condition (and a condition that is not transmissible).

Second, while airlines will deny boarding to people who they believe pose a threat, because so many conditions can cause a cough, it would be very risky (legally and from a PR standpoint) for them to deny boarding to people with just a cough.

Imagine the backlash if an airline told a lung cancer patient that they can’t fly to get to their treatment because they were coughing too much.

cough drops

Should you travel with a cough?

If you’re trying to decide if you should travel when you have a cough, consider these factors.

Do you possibly have something transmissible?

If you know that you have a harmful virus that is transmissible like coronavirus then you should not travel.

If you were recently exposed to someone who had a potentially serious transmissible condition and you are now showing a cough, you may now have something contagious. By flying you are putting other passengers at risk of catching that.

So reconsider flying but if you must, wear a proper mask.

Just a cough

If you only have a cough and do not present a fever, the chills, or any other symptom associated with a harmful virus or contagious condition, airlines and fellow passengers should be more understanding.

That’s because it’s not uncommon for people to have a lingering cough several weeks after dealing with a virus. And as mentioned above, lots of non-contagious conditions can cause coughs.

While it might make some passengers uncomfortable, you should not feel like you can’t travel just because you have a cough. At a certain point, we as a society have to “get over” being afraid of anyone who exhibits a cough in public.

Are you just now getting a cough?

If you just woke up one day with a cough in the morning and you have a flight later that day, it may not be a good decision to get on the flight.

The reason is that you could become sick during the flight. And if things got really bad, the flight could be forced to do an emergency landing.

When I came down with coronavirus, I had a really light cough when I woke up that morning but by the evening time I was in pretty bad shape with a fever, chills, and nausea.

If I would have had a flight and chosen to fly out that afternoon, that would’ve been a terrible situation.

I know from experience that symptoms like nausea can be intensified when flying. And it’s a bad feeling to be trapped in a plane for hours when you feel very ill.

So until you know what you’re dealing with, you may want to put off flying.

How bad is the cough?

Another big thing to think about is how bad is the cough?

Are you coughing every couple of minutes and going into coughing frenzies?

If your cough is really bad, you may draw the attention of the crew and they could decide that you are not fit to fly, particularly if you are exhibiting other symptoms.

If you have a bad cough but you know that it is caused by something that is not contagious then it might be worth conveying that to the crew. Just let them know, “Hey, I took this blood pressure medication that causes me to cough really bad and there is basically nothing I can do about it.”

This could help the crew to “have your back” in the event other passengers were complaining. They may even be able to bring you water and help you out.

Where are you sitting?

Where you choose to sit on the plane could be pretty important.

The worst place for you to sit would be in a middle seat in economy between two or three people that you don’t know.

People will naturally feel uncomfortable if you are coughing a lot right next to them which is why I would strongly recommend to wear a mask.

Taking a window seat is probably your best bet as you could sort of lean in to the window area if you’re coughing versus the aisle seat which would have you coughing right into the open area of the airplane.

You can also purchase an extra seat if you want to create more distance between you and other people.

For example, I was dealing with a cough recently and so Brad and I purchased an extra economy seat (with miles) so that in our row we did not have to sit next to any stranger.

Wearing a mask?

Unfortunately, wearing a mask has become a hot button, political issue.

Personally, I think that if you are exhibiting symptoms like a cough you should wear a mask when flying.

Even if you don’t believe that a mask helps with limiting the spread of a virus, I guarantee you that a high percentage of people on your flight do hold that belief.

By wearing a mask when you are coughing, you will at the very least help put a lot of people at ease.

Visiting a lounge

If you have a bad cough you may want to consider arriving to the airport a little bit later so that you can spend less time in a lounge or just avoid spending any time in the lounge.

If I was dealing with a noticeable cough I would probably check out the lounge and see if I could find me a good seat, away from open areas with lots of people. If I could, I wouldn’t mind spending time in there with a mask on.

But if you enter a crowded lounge and you are very close to other people and coughing up a storm, that’s a situation I would try to avoid at all costs. Your air travel may be essential but your lounge time is not.


Preboarding is designed for people who need assistance or extra time when boarding. It’s not really designed for people who are sick per se but you could still talk to an agent about getting preboarding if you were dealing with a noticeable cough.

The idea would be that you could avoid standing (coughing) near others during boarding if they allow you to pre-board. Not every airline may go for this but it is worth a shot, especially since you can self identify for pre-boarding.

Final word

After coronavirus, it’s understandable that a lot of people are on edge around others who are showing signs of a contagious virus by coughing.

However, we have to remember that coughing can be caused by many conditions including a lot of things that are completely non-transmissible.

Because of that, people should be allowed to fly even if they are coughing. They just need to take certain precautions like wearing a mask and choosing a good seat.

Can You Bring Brass Knuckles on A Plane? TSA’s Rules Explained

Lots of people rely on brass knuckles (or knuckle dusters) for self-defense and like to carry them around when traveling for extra security.

But can you bring brass knuckles on a plane or will that land you in legal trouble?

In this article, we will take a look at the TSA policy for brass knuckles and talk about whether or not you can bring these to the airport in your carry-on or checked baggage. Plus, we will provide an overview on some of the laws you might encounter in different states.

Can you bring brass knuckles on a plane?

You cannot bring brass knuckles in your carry-on but you can bring them in your checked baggage. However, many states outlaw brass knuckles so you definitely want to make sure you are in compliance with state laws so that you don’t risk getting arrested.

Note: Nothing in this article contains legal advice.

brass knuckles

Brass knuckles in a carry-on

As mentioned above, brass knuckles will NOT be allowed in your carry-on.

The reason for this is pretty clear: brass knuckles can be used as a weapon to inflict serious damage on people.

You can imagine the disaster situation that could arise by an angry passenger using brass knuckles to take out their frustration on a flight attendant. And of course, there is always the threat of terrorists using these.

Brass knuckles could easily be detected by the metal detectors/full body scanners/x-ray machines and so if you attempt to bring these through airport security, you most likely will be caught.

At that point, it’s possible that you could be referred to law-enforcement and especially if brass knuckles are illegal in that state you are departing from, you could face criminal consequences.

If you have brass knuckles that come in a different form like a necklace charm or bracelet, you might want to reconsider wearing those, even if they seem like decorative jewelry. That’s because TSA may not allow them and you could also be in violation of the law in that state (more on that below).

Some brass knuckles may actually come in plastic form. For example, these could be stealth knuckles.

Airport x-ray scanners can pick up non-metal objects such as plastics so they still could be detected in the x-ray.

While TSA does not specify if non-metal brass knuckles count as “brass knuckles,” I would assume that they do because they could be used as dangerous weapons in lots of cases.

Plus, some states define brass knuckles as just consisting of “hard substances.”

Checked baggage

Brass knuckles are allowed in your checked baggage similar to other weapons like firearms or knives.

However, the big consideration here is whether or not it is legal for you to possess brass knuckles where you are departing and landing.

You also want to think about the risk at the airport.

Your checked bag will be screened after you hand it over to the airlines and it’s possible that your brass knuckles could be discovered then. During these checks, TSA agents are mostly concerned with finding dangerous substances which are basically explosives.

If a TSA agent discovered your brass knuckles in your checked baggage they could track you down and refer you to law-enforcement if they knew it was illegal to possess them but that would probably be rare.

The reason is they are trying to find explosives — not weapons like brass knuckles. In a more realistic worst-case scenario, they could throw them out but more than likely the TSA agent would probably just leave them alone.

So the biggest legal concern you probably have when traveling with brass knuckles is transporting your luggage to and from the airport and also transporting it around the airport.

For example, if you were to get pulled over on your way to the airport and an officer discovered brass knuckles in a state that outlaws them that could get you in trouble.

And that is when the state and local laws become important.

The law and traveling with brass knuckles

There is no federal law in the US regarding the legality of brass knuckles.

Instead, the legal status of brass knuckles is determined on a state basis which means that you need to get familiar with the state law of your departure and destination.

You can find a breakdown of brass knuckle state laws here. However, keep in mind that these laws are constantly changing.

For example, as recent as 2019 Texas chose to legalize brass knuckles. And just recently in 2022, Missouri repealed a prohibition on brass knuckles.

So it’s best to always verify with official government sources what the current law is on brass knuckles. That’s because the penalty for unlawfully possessing brass knuckles could be a hefty fine or could even be imprisonment.

In addition, you could be looking at a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the circumstances of your arrest.

Once you take a look at some of the laws for brass knuckles, you will find that the laws have a few patterns.

Person holding brass knuckles


There is often a minimum age at which you can possess brass knuckles legally. For example, the minimum age could be 21.


Lots of states have laws about concealing brass knuckles. If you want to conceal your brass knuckles you likely have to have a license. Make sure you understand what concealment means under that jurisdiction.


Some states make it very clear that it doesn’t matter if your brass knuckles are made up of metal or hard plastic. If they are capable of serious bodily damage chances are they will count as brass knuckles under the law.

Different types of brass knuckles

Brass knuckles could actually come in a lot of different forms.

You can have brass knuckle belt buckles, brass knuckle necklaces, brass knuckle knives, charms, keychains, coffee mugs, etc. Some state lawmakers have recognized this and specifically called out that many of these different forms of brass knuckles are still illegal.

In some situations, it will be clear that some of these different forms of brass knuckles could still be used as weapons.

For example, some keychains may look somewhat innocent but when you take a close look you see that they could be used as a way to apply serious force. In those situations, you should probably expect the law to consider your keychain to qualify as brass knuckles.

I’m not sure how they would apply the law for some of these things, though.

For example, there are brass knuckle pendants that are so small they would probably not even fit on the first of an infant. However, since brass knuckle pendants are explicitly mentioned in statutes, they are technically illegal. For the states, it may come down to what you could realistically do with these (i.e., intent).

Ambiguous laws

Some states may not have laws that specifically apply to brass knuckles.

The states probably have laws that apply to dangerous weapons and it would not be hard to argue that brass knuckles could be classified as a dangerous weapon so while you may not find a law directly on point, certain laws could still apply to you using them.

Often, it will come down to the context of your possession and what you are using the brass knuckles for.

For example, if you get into an altercation with an airline agent over a delayed flight and you pull out your brass knuckles, you’re likely going to jail. If you’re just walking through the airport and brass knuckles fall out of your bag, that’s a very different scenario.

Specific use scenarios

Some states may allow you to possess brass knuckles if you have a specific use for them.

For example, if you have an educational purpose, you are collecting them, or perhaps they are being used in some type of media production.

In these instances you obviously want to have as much proof that you can have about the specific use for the brass knuckles. It would probably be a good idea to have some kind of paperwork to support that in your checked baggage in the event you were inspected.

International travel with brass knuckles

If you want to travel out of the country with brass knuckles be aware lots of countries ban brass knuckles.

Countries where you might run into trouble include: Hong Kong, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Bosnia, Croatia, Cyprus, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Ireland, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Turkey, Sweden, Singapore, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom.

Each country may have a nuanced approach so always keep that in mind. For example, some may allow plastic knuckles or they may be allowed for collections.

So always check the laws in the country you are heading to!

Final word

Brass knuckles are never allowed in your carry-on. They are allowed in your checked baggage but you want to make sure that you are complying with state laws when transporting them. Try not to push things with the gray areas when it comes to brass knuckles that come in different forms like jewelry because TSA and many states make count lots of those items as “true” brass knuckles.

Hotel Room Key Lost or Not Working? Here’s What to Do

Most travelers have had at least one instance where they are issued a hotel room key and it doesn’t work or they simply lose the key card and they need a replacement.

But what is the best method to take when this happens and how can you ensure that you can get back into your room quickly?

In this article, we will break down what to do when you lose your hotel room key or it simply doesn’t work.

How to get your hotel room key replaced and get access to your room

Properly identify yourself to the front desk

The first step to getting your hotel room key card replaced is to verify your identity with the front desk.

No hotel should give a guest a key card unless they verify their identity because that’s a major security concern.

Anybody could impersonate someone and tell the front desk that they are in room “123” and then get room access if identity verification was not being enforced.

It’s not hard to imagine how that could end up in a disaster….

Typically, you would prove your identity by showing a government-issued ID such as a driver’s license or passport.

If an agent at the front desk has seen you before then there is a chance that they will recognize you and will not request for you to provide an ID.

In the event you don’t have one of those you may be able to show credit cards with your name on it or perhaps a photo of your ID if you have it on your phone.

You might be able to negotiate with the front desk and ask them to accompany you to your room if your ID is in the room.

You can then show them your ID as soon as you get access to the room. But if the hotel is busy and short staffed they may not be able to do this for you right away, so try to be patient.

Be aware that some hotels have policies that require them to treat you as someone trespassing if you repeatedly refuse to provide an ID!

Hotel Room Key door

Asking help from housekeeping

Sometimes you might realize that you don’t have your key card when you are just outside your door and you may see housekeeping down the hallway, just a couple of rooms down.

In the past, I have asked housekeeping to let me into my room because I don’t have a room key and they have let me in on a few occasions.

It’s possible that they could have seen me walking through the halls earlier that day or on another day and so they knew I was not trying to sneak into a room.

Or, they could have just assumed that I did not look like a criminal and they felt sure I was just a regular hotel guest.

But generally, that’s a security risk if housekeeping allows someone access to a room without them proving their identity. Don’t be surprised if they don’t do it.

Related: Should You Tip Hotel Housekeeping?

Why doesn’t my hotel room key card work?

If your hotel room key card does not work, there are several scenarios to consider.

It does work

Some hotel doors are not very intuitive the first time you use them.

They have an awkward handling or mechanism that just does not feel right.

It can be difficult to know how to unlock these doorhandles when you first encounter them and as a result you may think that the key card is not working when it actually is.

So try to be patient.

Try swiping your key card faster or slower because sometimes you need to swipe it just the right speed for it to work.

Also try moving the handle every direction that it can go and give the lock enough time to unlock before you try moving the door handle.

Most of all, don’t storm down in an angry rant to the front desk because if the problem is just that you could not figure out how to use the door, you’ll be left in a pretty embarrassing situation.


One of the most common reasons why your room key does not work is because it got demagnetized.

Many hotel key cards use mag stripes which contain microscopic iron particles that get magnetized in a specific pattern so that they can be recognized by readers.

But if you expose the magstripe to a magnet that pattern can be affected so that the reader is not able to recognize it.

This often happens when you keep the room key close to something magnetic like a TV in your hotel room. There is debate about whether or not phones can demagnetize a hotel key card but given the recent prominence of magnets they probably can.

Even if the magnet is weak, if the magstripe is exposed for an extended amount of time that can cause it to be demagnetized.

Got worn down

The magnetic strips on hotel key cards are not typically as durable as the magnetic strips on credit cards because they have less “coercivity,” maybe only about 300 Oersteds (Oe) compared to a credit card strip that would have 2,750 Oe.

In other words, magstrips on hotel key cards are more susceptible to erasure or damage.

For this reason, they can get worn out and fail to work more often. Sometimes, they could get worn out during your stay and the only thing you can do is replace them.

Coding or hardware problem

It’s possible that whenever the agent at the front desk is creating your key card that something goes wrong.

For example, the encoder could be in need of a cleaning or the key card contains the wrong code so it will not work on your door. There also could be an issue with the reader on the door or perhaps the lock is on low battery.

Using the wrong hotel card

If you’re doing a lot of traveling it’s possible that you may have multiple hotel key cards stashed in your wallet and you could be swiping a card from another hotel. (Not that that’s ever happened to me before….)

Late check out

If you are ever given late check out then a lot of times the room key will stop working at the standard check out time.

This is why I always make sure to stop by the front desk on my way out if I know I’m going to get late check out. It saves me a trip later on because they are able to extend the validity of the key card until my late check out time.

Separate reservations

Related to the above point, if you had separate reservations that you linked together then there is a good chance that the room key will stop working after check out and that you will have to go and get a second key issued or your key card recoded.

Botched reservations

Sometimes a hotel may have screwed up your reservation dates or not programmed the dates properly and that could be why your key card is not working. Or, maybe even you have the dates wrong!

Will the old room key work after you get a new one?

Hotels use different types of systems to manage their key cards, so the approach to dealing with lost key cards is going to vary.

But a common approach is for the locks on the doors to no longer recognize older keys after the newer keys are used.

There are some layers of complexity to this that I might get into in a later article but what it basically means is that when you are issued a new key, the old key that was lost could still be used to open your door until you use the new key to unlock the door.

This is why it is a good idea to immediately use a new key when it is issued to you.

Something else you can do to improve your security is to not walk around with the sleeve that holds your room key.

That’s because the sleeve usually has the room number on it and if you lost it, somebody with bad intentions would know exactly where to try your room key.

Final word

Having a key card that does not work or losing your key card is a pretty frustrating experience.

But you can easily get back into your room by verifying your identity which is why it is always good to carry around an ID with you when making your way around the hotel.

When you don’t have your ID you may be able to work something out but just be patient because hotels have to make sure they are not creating a security risk by allowing unidentified guests to access and occupy rooms.

Can Airlines Refuse To Serve Sick Passengers?

Have you ever wondered whether or not sick passengers are allowed to fly?

Can airlines actually refuse to provide service to a sick passenger — even if it is something basic like the common cold? And if so, how would this process actually work in a real world setting?

In this article, I will talk about some of the policies that major airlines have along with what the law says and how these could be enforced on passengers trying to fly with certain illnesses.

Can airlines refuse sick passengers?

Yes, airlines can deny boarding to some sick passengers based on the terms found in their contract of carriage and based on federal law.

Typically, airlines will only deny boarding if they believe the passenger has a contagious disease or other condition that could create a health or safety threat while on the flight.

In those situations, airlines will have to abide by specific rules and we will dive into those details below!

Policies on denying boarding to sick passengers

Let’s start with the World Health Organization which has a clear stance on this and states:

“Airlines have the right to refuse to carry passengers with conditions that may worsen, or have serious consequences, during the flight…

As for individual airlines, it’s pretty easy to find the airline’s policy for dealing with sick passengers by taking a quick look at the contract of carriage.

There’s usually a section on “refusal to transport” and that is where you will find the relevant language.

For example, here is what Delta states on who they refuse to transport:

“When the passenger has a contagious disease that may be transmissible to other passengers during the normal course of the flight”

Here is what United states:

Passengers who appear to have symptoms of or have a communicable disease (or there is reason to believe there was exposure to a communicable disease) or other condition that could pose a direct threat to the health or safety of themselves or others on the flight….

And here is the language from Southwest:

Boarding or attempting to board an aircraft when the Passenger has an infectious disease or infection that poses a direct threat (as defined in 14 CFR § 382.3) to the health or safety of Passengers and/or Crew that cannot be eliminated by a modification of policies, practices, or procedures, or by the provision of auxiliary aids or services

The policy by United and Southwest refers to a “direct threat” which is a clear reference to the federal statute that gives airlines permission to deny sick passengers boarding when they present a direct threat.

When making this “direct threat” determination the airline considers two things.

First, they consider the “significance of the consequences of a communicable disease.” In other words, how deadly or severe is this disease?

Second, they consider how transmissible the disease would be via “casual contact in an aircraft cabin environment.” Is it spread by coughing? Bodily fluids? Etc.

The statute clarifies that certain types of illnesses like the common cold would not be a direct threat because of the lack of severe health consequences but other conditions like SARS could be.

Often airlines will refer to the CDC and other health organizations when making this determination.

You’ll notice that the provisions tend to focus on whether or not the passenger is contagious or “communicable.”

There’s a long list of communicable diseases but some of the most popular that we know of now include coronavirus, the flu, Ebola, Zika, and West Nile. These often fall into that direct threat category even though the severity of them can vary widely.

Sometimes a passenger can get around these health-related travel restrictions by having a medical certificate from a doctor.

Basically, they get a letter explaining measures for preventing transmission of the disease and as long as the airline can comply with these, the passenger should be able to fly.

Flight attendants generally have a background in CPR and first aid but unless a doctor is on board, there will always be limitations to the treatment available to the sick individual on the plane.

So if you plan on traveling when sick make sure you always keep that in the back of your mind.

How sick passengers are denied boarding

So how would getting denied boarding for a sickness actually work in practice?

Basically, the flight attendants and crew will be looking for signs of illness during the check-in and boarding process (they also look for other things like signs of intoxication, nervousness, etc.).

As for sickness, they are looking for people who look very ill/pale in the face or have signs of illness like bad coughing, sneezing, sweating, etc. At some airports, there may even be infrared temperature readers that will detect if someone has a fever.

Flight attendants continue to observe through the boarding process. So you could still be flagged as a sick passenger even after you make your way to your seat.

The flight attendants can then report their findings to the captain who can make the ultimate call on whether or not the passenger can fly.

As the WHO states, “If cabin crew suspect before departure that a passenger may be ill, the aircraft’s captain will be informed and a decision taken as to whether the passenger is fit to travel, needs medical attention or presents a danger to other passengers and crew or to the safety of the aircraft.”

This screening is often a tricky and very imperfect process, though.

Some people may just have bad allergies or some other type of non-contagious condition such as a lasting cough from a previous illness. Planes are also very dry and present an instant environment change which can cause people to cough and sneeze more often.

Other times, it’s simply too difficult to screen every passenger so sick passengers still get through (and sometimes tragically die).

To help with the screening, airlines utilize a special medical service like Stat-Md or MedAire so that the flight attendants can evaluate whether or not somebody is fit to fly.

For example, they can access a 24/7 hotline and talk to doctors or nurses about the symptoms that somebody is displaying. (These services can also be used while in the air in case medical attention needs to be provided.)

Airlines really want to avoid a potential reroute or flight diversion because those can be very dangerous and costly events.

If the captain determines that the passenger is not fit to fly (which they may decide based on advice from a professional) then the sick passenger will be asked to exit the plane or not to board.

At that point, they will probably be met by a security agent or agent of the airline to figure out the next step.

Depending on the illness and symptoms, they could try to fly a few hours later if they end up feeling better or they could be referred for medical treatment.

Related: Can You Still Fly if You Have a Cough? (Or Should You?)

Can you get refunded if denied boarding for a sickness?

If an airline denies a passenger boarding because that passenger has some type of communicable disease and presents a direct threat then federal law requires them to allow the passenger to travel at a later time, which could be up to 90 days from the date of postponed travel.

What’s more, the passenger should be allowed to travel at the fare that applied to their originally scheduled trip. However, the passenger can also request a refund for any unused flights.

If you can contact an airline ahead of time, sometimes you can get these things figured out well ahead of your trip and still get your money back. For example, I once was unable to fly with United and after sending in a signed doctor’s letter, I got a full refund on my nonrefundable ticket.

This is why travel insurance through a travel insurance provider or via a credit card is so helpful. You always have to check the terms but usually you will have coverage for any type of illness as long as it is not stemming from a pre-existing condition.


Sometimes an airline may be worried about an outbreak of a certain disease and dozens of passengers believed to have been exposed to the outbreak could be asked to not fly.

This could even mean them getting escorted off the plane!

They would then have to go through some type of medical screening and after perhaps spending a day or two getting monitored or screened, they might be able to fly again.

Other times, there could be an outbreak where passengers to start to develop flu like symptoms mid-flight.

When this happens, preparations could be made on the ground to screen the passengers whenever they arrive at the destination.

If it’s a major disease, there could be mandatory screenings and quarantines but for most less severe outbreaks, there is not enough authority to enforce major restrictions and people are sent on their way.

Both of these situations can be stressful but unfortunately there’s not too much you can do about them if you get caught in a situation like this.

(I do carry N95 masks with me in my backpack when I fly just in case something ever were to break out or a passenger next to me appears to be pretty sick.)

And finally, sometimes a country could set up entry points so that people who have visited a country known for a recent outbreak have to enter and be screened at one of only a few entry airports.

CDC Do Not Board List

It’s possible that if you are diagnosed with certain illnesses, you could be placed on the CDC do not board list. This is essentially a no-fly list for people with certain serious contagious medical conditions.

In order to be added to this list you have to meet the following criteria.

First, you have to have been “Known or believed to be infectious with, or at risk for, a serious contagious disease that poses a public health threat to others during travel.”

In addition to satisfying that requirement, any of the following three must be met:

  • Not aware of diagnosis or not following public health recommendations, or
  • Likely to travel on a commercial flight involving the United States or travel internationally by any means; or
  • Need to issue travel restriction to respond to a public health outbreak or to help enforce a public health order.

In the past, people with coronavirus were added to the list along with other conditions like measles and tuberculosis. Once a passenger is no longer contagious they should be removed from the list within 24 hours.

Related: TSA No Fly List Explained (How Your Name Gets on A Watchlist)

Final word

Airlines can definitely deny boarding to passengers who they believe to be too sick to fly. Typically, this will be enforced on passengers showing clear symptoms of a severe and contagious illness but the lines are not always so clear.

REAL ID Act: Explained with Detailed Timeline [2023]

You’ve probably seen the term REAL ID quite a few times over the past few years. It’s been in the news, on the blogs, and even at airports and other ports of entry.

Some people are surprised to find out that the REAL ID has been a thing for over 15 years!

But now, we seem to be closer than ever to the point when the REAL ID will be officially implemented so it definitely pays to know what it is all about.

Below, I’ll give you a breakdown of what the REAL ID is and talk about the background of how it came about. I’ll tell you everything you need to know about it including giving you a detailed recap of its timeline.

What is the REAL ID Act?

The REAL ID Act is an act of Congress intended to make state-issued drivers licenses and IDs more secure by helping to reduce fraud.

Specifically, the Real ID Act prohibits federal agencies from accepting drivers licenses and other ID cards issued by states and territories that do not comply with the REAL ID Act’s minimum standards.

The result is that people without compliant state IDs cannot access certain federal government facilities, nuclear power plants, and cannot board flights, unless they provide some type of alternative ID (such as a passport).

For your average traveler who is not visiting government facilities or nuclear power plants, the biggest and most notable change will be that you will not be able to rely on your drivers license to get you through TSA unless it is REAL ID compliant.

How to know if you have a REAL ID compliant ID

REAL ID-compliant licenses are marked by a star on the top of the card. It’s usually very easy to spot but if you aren’t 100% sure just contact your state driver’s licensing agency or local DMV.

Keep in mind that there are some IDs that do not have stars on top of the card that can still be accepted. For example, these may include enhanced driver’s licenses (EDLs) and enhanced IDs.

Only five U.S. states (Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Vermont, and Washington) offer EDLs.

Related: Can You Get Through TSA and Fly with No ID?


How to get a REAL ID compliant ID

If you need to get a REAL ID compliant ID, check out this official website from the DHS. You can then click on your state or territory and then you will be able to set up an appointment. You can also just contact your local DMV.

Be aware that you will need certain documents when you head to the DMV.

At a minimum, you must provide documentation showing:

  • 1) Full Legal Name
  • 2) Date of Birth
  • 3) Social Security Number
  • 4) Two Proofs of Address of Principal Residence and
  • 5) Lawful Status

Some locations may require you to submit even more documents which is why you want to contact the office nearest you.

REAL ID Act background

After the attacks of September 11, the US established the 9/11 commission to help find out ways to reduce future terrorist attacks.

One of the recommendations that came out of the report was a recommendation to establish federal standards for IDs.

“The federal government should set standards for the issuance of birth certificates and sources of identification, such as drivers licenses.”

Before 9/11, every state had its own set of rules for how IDs were provided and what information was showing on IDs, including security features. And these are not always the most robust requirements or processes.

Going back to the 1990s, many DMV’s struggled to deal with fraudulent actors who were seeking IDs for nefarious purposes, so this has been an ongoing problem.

However, they didn’t have the resources or the structure (or just the proper motivation) to successfully combat these and that is what the REAL ID initiative helped provide.

Related: TSA Pre-Check Guide (Application Process, Locations, Status)

What are the REAL ID Act requirements?

The REAL ID Act requirements primarily affect the agencies that are issuing the IDs and require them to comply with certain standards. Specifically, there are 39 REAL ID standards or benchmarks (although some argue there are 43).

The state or territory issuing the ID must meet certain standards when issuing an ID such as:

  • Capture a photograph of the applicant
  • Store digital images of the applicants documents
  • Verify the documents with the authorities who issued them (e.g., verify with the Social Security administration)
  • Verify existing IDs issued by another state are terminated
  • Limit the validity of ID documents to eight years
  • Implement background checks of employees
  • Maintain a database of ID documents issued along with driver histories
  • Provide access to other states and territories (State-to State (S2S) Verification Service)

The applicant must provide documentation of the person’s full name, date of birth, and residential address.

They must have a Social Security number or document that they are not eligible for one and they need a document that they are a US national or a foreign national legally in the US.

An applicant will have to show at least two documents showing their address. If they present a birth certificate, it must be verified through the EVVE. Also, US passports and visas on foreign passports must be verified with the Department of State.

As for the actual ID card, the REAL ID Act requires it to contain the following information:

  • Full name
  • Date of birth
  • Gender
  • Photograph
  • Address
  • Signature
  • Document number
  • Security features
  • Machine readable technology

Interestingly, states can still issue non-REAL ID compliant IDs but they have to make it clear that the document is not accepted for federal purposes.

Related: TSA Liquid Rules Ultimate Guide (3-1-1 Explained)

Timeline of Real ID events

July 2004

The 9/11 Commission Report is published and recommends that the federal government create standards for the issuance of identification documents such as drivers licenses in order to improve national security.

December 2004

The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (IRTPA) is signed by President George W. Bush on December 17, 2004.

This required the federal government to set regulations for the minimum standards for federal acceptance of driver’s licenses and ID cards — the first time national standards had ever been applied to ID cards.

May 2005

On May 11, 2005, the REAL ID Act was signed into law by President George W. Bush. (REAL is capitalized but apparently does not have meaning as an acronym.)

According to the DHS, the “REAL ID is a coordinated effort by the states and the federal government to improve the reliability and accuracy of state-issued identification documents, which should inhibit terrorists’ ability to evade detection by using fraudulent identification.”

The REAL ID Act specified that the new rules would go into effect on May 11, 2008. However, there was widespread opposition by many governments and so the deadline was extended.

March 2007

The DHS published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for REAL ID and opposition by state governments begins to grow.

Several states believed compliance would be too expensive and burdensome.

They also rejected it largely on the grounds of individual liberty, limited government, and privacy concerns.

For example, they believed having data from every American consolidated would make people more vulnerable to identity theft. Others saw it as a potential violation of the 10th Amendment and a slippery slope to federal government control.

As a result some states enacted legislation to oppose the law and prevent the state from being forced to comply.

For example, Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer stated “No, nope, no way, hell no,” and signed one of the toughest anti-REAL ID state laws in the nation. Many other states like Maine and Utah had also done the same or similar.

July 2009

Due to all of the opposition and uncertainty, critics of the REAL ID, including the ACLU, declared that the REAL ID act was essentially dead.

“Real ID is essentially dead. It’s time for it to be formally repealed and replaced with a process that works, one that protects civil liberties and license security,” said Michael Macleod-Ball, Acting Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office.

This time frame was truly the low point for the REAL ID as 15 states had passed legislation prohibiting participation in the REAL ID program including: Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Virginia, Washington, Oregon, and Missouri.

In addition, 10 other states had enacted resolutions that were against REAL ID including: Arkansas, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota and Tennessee.

it certainly was not looking great for the rea ID.

January 2011

Despite a lot of opposition and doubt during the first few years of the REAL ID Act, by January 2011, 11 jurisdictions were in compliance with all of the REAL ID benchmarks — a significant sign of progress for the REAL ID.

Some states were finding it less expensive than initially expected which was helping more states to get on board.

The ease of compliance was also largely a product of the REAL ID Program Office working closely over the years with AAMVA and the individual DMVs to ensure that the new implementations were practical.

This was a tricky relationship for many states because while the DMV offices were generally in favor of strengthening the security of their IDs, they also had to contend with the fact that their governors may have opposed the REAL ID Act. Not only that, but some DMV’s were even told to report to the governor any attempts by the DHS to secure REAL ID compliance.

December 2013

The DHS announced a “phased enforcement” plan for the REAL ID Act. The first three phases were to begin between April 2014 and October 2015.

These phases meant that the restrictions would go into place for certain government facilities such as the DHS headquarters, nuclear power plants, and restricted areas for federal facilities and some semi-restricted areas for other federal facilities.

The fourth phase was to apply to boarding federally regulated commercial aircraft.

It required individuals to have a REAL ID compliant ID to board an aircraft although they could also carry a second form of ID if they only had a non-compliant ID.

This was supposed to go into effect no sooner than 2016.

January 2016

In January 2016, the REAL ID took a large step forward when the DHS announced what was believed to be the final phase of implementation for REAL ID.

DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson announced that effective from January 22, 2018, passengers with a driver’s license or ID card issued by a state that is still not compliant with the REAL ID Act (unless that state has been granted an extension to comply with the Act) would need to show TSA an alternative form of acceptable identification for domestic air travel.

It was stated that starting on October 1, 2020, every air traveler would need a REAL ID compliant license or another acceptable form of identification.

July 2016

Things really begin to heat up starting July 15, 2016, when TSA, in coordination with airlines and airport stakeholders, started to issue web-based advisories and notifications to the traveling public.

On December 15, 2016, TSA then expanded the “marketing” outreach at its airport security checkpoints through signage and handouts.

Spring of 2017

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly announced in the spring of 2017 that he remained committed to the enforcement of the REAL ID rules.

He also reiterated the January 2018 deadline set by Secretary Johnson, and DHS officials continued to state that the October 2020 deadline is still set.

Some states like Missouri in Alaska repeal state laws against the REAL ID.

August 2017

Missouri became the last state to commit to REAL ID compliance.

January 2018

REAL IDs are required for air travel for all states unless they have an extension. However, it appears that all states that were not in compliance at the time secured an extension so air travel was not impacted.

November 2019

Substantial progress was made by many states in jurisdictions to be compliant with the REAL ID act.

For example, 51 jurisdictions were compliant and only five jurisdictions—New Jersey, Oklahoma, Oregon, American Samoa, and Northern Mariana Islands—had extensions or were under review.

All jurisdictions were set up to begin issuing compliant licenses by the summer of 2020.

January 2020

At the end of January 2020, DHS reported that the states had collectively issued more than 95 million REAL ID-compliant driver’s licenses and ID cards. This represented about (34%) out of 276 million total cards.

At this point, REAL ID had come a long way with every jurisdiction set up to begin issuing compliant licenses very soon.

Unfortunately, the world was in the process of adjusting to a very unexpected threat….

March 2020

As the coronavirus pandemic began to erupt and caused DMV’s to temporarily close or cut down on personnel, and the deadline around the corner for the REAL ID, Congress decided that they would need to extend the deadline.

On March 23, 2020, President Trump announced he would be delaying the deadline.

And then a few days later, Congress approved a relief package (CARES Act) that included a push back of the deadline by at least one year.

DHS Secretary Chad Wolf then set a new deadline of October 1, 2021.

September 2020

On September 10, 2020, The Department of Homeland Security announced that after more than 15 years, all 50 states were now in full compliance with the REAL ID Act.

In addition, over 105 million REAL ID-compliant driver’s licenses and identification cards had been issued, representing about 38% of all card holders.

April 2021

On April 27, 2021, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas announced the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would be extending the REAL ID enforcement date by 19 months, from October 1, 2021 to May 3, 2023.

This delay was once again caused by the coronavirus pandemic, as many DMV offices were still operating with limited capacity.

December 2022

On December 5, 2022, it was announced that the REAL ID would once again be extended from May 3, 2023 to May 7, 2025.

This means that beginning May 7, 2025, “every traveler 18 years of age or older will need a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license or identification card, state-issued enhanced driver’s license, or another TSA-acceptable form of identification at TSA security checkpoints.”


Do minors have to comply with the REAL ID?

REAL ID applies to travelers 18 years of age or older.

When will the REAL ID be enforced?

The REAL ID is scheduled to be enforced on May 7, 2025.

How do I know if my ID is compliant?

REAL ID-compliant licenses are marked by a star on the top of the card. Some states may offer an enhanced driver’s license which will not have a star but will still be compliant.

Will I be able to fly if I don’t have a REAL ID-compliant license?

Yes, you will still be able to use alternative forms of ID to get through airport security. For example, you could use a passport.

Will my gender be on the REAL ID license?

Yes, gender is one of the required fields of the ID.

Do I need a REAL ID to visit any federal facility?

No, not every federal facility will require you to show a REAL ID.

Do I need a REAL ID to vote?

No, the Act does not apply to voting or registering to vote.

Does the REAL ID create a federal database?

No, states will continue to issue their own unique license and maintain their own records. However, they may share information with other states.

Final word

The REAL ID was created as a response to the attacks of 9/11 and has had a very long (and uphill) journey to get where it is today.

It is still not fully in effect, probably mostly due to the circumstances that followed the pandemic of 2020.

However, all of the states are now in full compliance with the REAL ID and more and more of these are getting issued every month.

Based on the traction that has finally developed and the amount of time that has passed since the outbreak of coronavirus, it’s likely that the next deadline will be the final deadline for the story of the REAL ID.


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