woman walks through airport

Even if you’re a seasoned traveler, getting through TSA can be anxiety-inducing. Every airport has its own regulations, and as you’re herded through the metal detectors, it often seems as though the TSA agents could use a little more sunshine in their coffee.

Getting through security is stressful enough without the added fear that your body jewelry will set off alarms and delay your trip. Here’s everything you need to know about body jewelry and metal detectors when you travel.

Will my body jewelry set off the metal detector?

This simple question has a bit of a complicated answer.

Anecdotally, many people who are covered in piercings have claimed to never have set off a metal detector due to their jewelry. However, there have been well-documented instances when pierced people have had to go through extensive searches after their body jewelry has set off the metal detector.

pierced woman in a city

Although it’s not super common, the fact is that your body jewelry can set off metal detectors, and you need to know what to do if that happens.

Metal detectors can detect all sorts of metal, including precious metals like gold. While the technology has allowed detectors to be able to discern between weapons and jewelry items or implants, they’re still imperfect, and the fact is that your jewelry could set it off.

Many people are happy to risk it, and their security experiences haven’t been a nightmare. (Think about it: An estimated 12% of American men and 72% of American women are pierced. When you go through security, do alarms go off for even half of the people in line? Chances are, there are plenty of pierced people who easily got through security just ahead of you.)

To be on the safe side, you can get some non-metallic jewelry to wear while you travel. However, it’s likely it won’t be an issue.

What if the metal detector does go off?

So, the detector went off, and they pull you to the side to wave their detector wand over you. Don’t panic; this happens to everyone, even if they aren’t pierced.

Firstly, let them know that you have a piercing. Even if the piercing is visible, they might not catch it, and being open about your jewelry will make the process go faster. 

If your jewelry is in an area that you’re comfortable showing, like your face or ears, then you’ll most likely just need to show your jewelry to the TSA agent, and that will be enough for them. However, if you have piercings in private areas, like nipple or genital piercings, they might take you to a private area so that you can show the jewelry to them.

If you must go to a private area, don’t be alarmed. They just need to make sure that it really was jewelry that set off the detector, and they’ll simply need to see the jewelry to confirm. You always have the right to choose the gender of the person who searches you. 

Know your rights

When you go through security, or any type of situation where someone is in a position of power, it’s important to know your rights. Even if you don’t have a piercing, you should research your rights with TSA. Many are surprised to find that they have more rights than they thought.

airport security

The sight of airport security doesn’t have to fill you with dread. Know your rights, and you’ll be fine.

In 2008, TSA at a Texas airport forced a woman to remove her nipple jewelry with pliers in order to pass security. Besides being an unnecessary practice, this act could have resulted in substantial injury to the pierced woman. It sparked policy change, and since then, in the United States, TSA agents cannot force you to remove your jewelry.

If your jewelry does set of their detectors, all you have to do is show it to them, and you should be good to go. TSA policy states that, if a security issue arises, they must resolve the issue being flagged before letting the person pass. The policy enacted after the 2008 incident ensures that they only need a visual of the jewelry in order to resolve the security threat.

If your jewelry is in a discrete area, you can go to a private screening room with a TSA agent of the gender of your choosing to show them the body jewelry. Additionally, TSA must treat you with dignity and respect. If they make you feel awkward or humiliated, they are not doing their job properly. You don’t need to feel degraded just because your body jewelry set off the security alarm.

Make sure that you keep up to date with what is and isn’t allowed. Policies constantly shift and change, and it’s easy to get taken advantage of in these situations. Know your rights, stand your ground, and don’t be afraid to ask for what you have the right to.

Airport security and body piercings, for the most part, get along just fine. In all likeliness, your body jewelry won’t set off the metal detector, but if it does, it should only be a matter of showing the jewelry to a TSA agent before you’re on your merry way. 

Never let your piercings get in the way of a good time. Know your rights, plan around any possible delays, and above all, don’t be afraid to rock your piercings while you travel.

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