Security Questions On Flights To The United States…

Security Questions On Flights To The United States…

104

I’m sure I’m not the only one who is curious about this…

Those silly questions on US-bound flights

If you’ve ever flown to the United States from select international destinations (including Europe and South America), you’ve probably dealt with quite a bit of security theater. Specifically, either at check-in or at the gate, there are staff who have to ask you a series of questions. If you pass the “test,” then you’ll typically get a sticker on the back of your passport confirming that you can board the flight.

While the exact details vary, questions typically include:

  • Where are you coming from, and what’s the purpose of your trip?
  • Have you packed your bags on your own, and have they been in your possession the entire time?
  • Has anyone asked you to carry anything for them on the flight?
  • What electronics are you traveling with, and have you had any of them repaired recently?

Just to be clear, this isn’t like flights to & from Israel, where you have trained intelligence officials doing questioning, including behavior detection. Rather these are generally contract workers who largely don’t seem very well trained, to put it politely.

Security stickers from US-bound flights

What I’m curious about…

Am I the only one who has questions about this whole practice of asking security questions prior to boarding?

  • In the years of this happening, and the millions of people who have been questioned, has any sort of risk been averted because of this? If someone had bad intentions, it’s not like this questioning is going to be what gives them second thoughts
  • I can understand the yes or no questions that are asked, but what’s the point of asking where someone has been and how long they were traveling for? The people asking these questions don’t strike me as trained intelligence officials, so are there some destinations that will set off a red flag, is this behavior detection, or is this just some sort of small talk?
  • What happens if you don’t give the “correct” answer, and admit that your bag hasn’t been in your possession the entire time, or that you didn’t pack it yourself, or that you were asked to bring something? Will you simply be searched, or is there more to it?

The whole thing seems like such a massive waste of resources to me. I’m curious if there’s something I’m missing. I don’t know, given how many people get scammed by phone and email thinking that they need to buy Amazon gift cards for the IRS, maybe this does accomplish something?

I also struggle a bit with answering the questions. For example, when you’re asked if your bag has been in your possession the entire time since you packed it, can most people claim with 100% honesty that this is the case? I mean, when you see people in airline lounges, they don’t typically walk to the buffet while dragging their carry-on, so technically it seems that most people don’t. Yet what happens if you were to actually admit that?

Security questions are standard on US-bound flights

Bottom line

Aside from Israel (which takes security a lot more seriously), the United States is the only country I know of to have security questions prior to flights. I’ve always been intrigued by these, so I’m curious to hear what OMAAT readers think.

What’s your take on the security questions on US-bound flights? Have you ever given the “wrong” answer, and if so, what happens?

Conversations (104)
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  1. NottaBot Guest

    I've traveled to numerous foreign countries. Just returned from Columbia last week.

    Not one time have I been asked any of those questions before flying to or from the US.

  2. Ex-security person Guest

    Do you wanna know when and why it started? It started after the 11th of September, 2001, probably the date has already informed you why at this point, I worked for airline security for a major US airline in Bogota, yes we got extensive training we would actually be flown to the airline's HQ for training before we started our job, the training was quite hard and if you didn't pass you couldn't get hired,...

    Do you wanna know when and why it started? It started after the 11th of September, 2001, probably the date has already informed you why at this point, I worked for airline security for a major US airline in Bogota, yes we got extensive training we would actually be flown to the airline's HQ for training before we started our job, the training was quite hard and if you didn't pass you couldn't get hired, I think they don't fly people to the HQ anymore because of the cost associated to it but they have trainers who travel to each city to train the job applicants before they start. While the questions may be pesky, it's a requirement by the airline and yes at least in Bogota we were able to catch a lot of people trying to smuggle drugs because of suspicious behavior when interviewed, cause I don't know if you know this, but people who are about to commit major international crimes tend to get pretty nervous and being confronted about it will make it even more evident, there are certain questions which are meant to look for red flags like when, how and who booked your trip, and then as someone else here pointed out, some questions like who packed your bags, content of the bags, bag being in your possession all the time those are questions that in the event that the scanners do find something in your bag will legally hurt you because you already admitted that everything in your bag was yours, you packed it and you have control of your bag all the time, most smugglers when catched will say "it's not my bag" "I didn't pack it" "I didn't knew the contents" "someone put something in my bag while I was unaware"
    I unfortunately had to deal with people like you and some in the comments who would take it out on us for the inconvenience of being asked questions as part of our job and would make our jobs even more difficult, maybe you should've first tried questioning the airlines themselves as to why they do this and if this really works, instead of making a difficult job more difficult. I used to enjoy the writing in this blog but the sense of entitlement in this particular entry definitely ruined that perception, it just brings memories of how entitled and rude most of the so-called "frequent fliers" were

  3. Bill Guest

    This is why:

    https://apnews.com/article/39422ed6bffc40b9bee7c4599c8a19e7

  4. Marcus Guest

    In your recollection, Ben, do you also get these questions when you use the first class terminal at FRA?

  5. DEE Guest

    aslo asked how much cash I had in my possession once not sure what airport?

  6. DEE Guest

    AMS asked a lot of questions also Cabo

  7. Nick Guest

    I too have been curious about this and tested it. They cannot prevent you from travel, they aren't CBP, what is their deal? A flight from FRA stopped for the check I called them out. "Where are you going" "To the states". "Why?", "Doesn't matter I'm a citizen." "Where are you coming from?" "Again doesn't matter, I'm a citizen". "Do you live here?" "Doesn't matter, I'm a citizen". Eventually the lady let me through but...

    I too have been curious about this and tested it. They cannot prevent you from travel, they aren't CBP, what is their deal? A flight from FRA stopped for the check I called them out. "Where are you going" "To the states". "Why?", "Doesn't matter I'm a citizen." "Where are you coming from?" "Again doesn't matter, I'm a citizen". "Do you live here?" "Doesn't matter, I'm a citizen". Eventually the lady let me through but then of course was selected for "random inspection" which is just where they check your bag which they do most of the time anyways.

    Not only is it intrusive and insulting to have to deal with these people, I question their legality. Obviously boarding a flight in Israel I'd have been locked in a tiny cell for 3 days.

    Since then I've just had fun with it. Just completely lie. Always tell them "you're going home". Then make up answers to everything else. If you're friendly and speak English with no accent, you get a sticker and off you go. More recently though I have purposefully avoided airports with the interrogation line to the US. It's just annoying and unnecessary. A one man protest won't change anything but SWISS has received a ton more business from me than Lufthansa since I started caring of the schedule allows. Same flight time, same cost. Only difference is the Zurich lounge sucks compared to Frankfurt but that's fine for me.

  8. AA70 Diamond

    Flew MUC-ORD today in Polaris. At the gate I was asked:
    -do you have any powder in your bag?
    -did anyone try to sell you anything at the airport today?

  9. Alers Guest

    Did you ever watch the series - To Catch a Smuggle. That would explain the silly questions ❓.

  10. Jake Ryan Guest

    THANK YOU for writing this article!! I have had the same thoughts for years. So silly they do this, does it really make the world safer? Thanks again.

  11. Jill Guest

    I was asked once when leaving Berlin what sites I visited and what street the Berlin Cathedral is on. WHAT??? hell if I know. I thought it was just because I was a single woman flying alone. I was asked what kind of books I like to read at Heathrow once. It's ridiculous

  12. Erez Guest

    Have you flown from ben gurion airports lately. There is a never ending line of people waiting to be searched. The understaffed security personnel can barely keep up. They just put the sticker no interview questions. I am israeli. So maybe foreign passport holders are different. The wait can be 2 hours.

  13. Petri Diamond

    A few years ago, we were returning back to the States (HEL-NYC). My Amercan friend with origins in the Middle-East, decided to test the consequences of giving odd answers. What was the purpose of your trip? No purpose. Who packed your suitcase? My mother did. Where did you sleep last night? On a couch. Who's couch was it? I did not ask the host who owns it. Finally: Have a safe trip, sir. I lost my faith on the usefulness of that screening process.

  14. Gary Guest

    Systems are created for a reason and the continue to exist because they have been created. It does not matter if the reason for their creation in the first place is still viable or relevant.

    1. Jill Guest

      So you just do everything without question?

  15. Tom Guest

    The questions are asked in case something happens and there's a trial. If you answer you made the bags, and they find drugs, testifying "I didn't put it in there!" means trouble. It's the same reason on VISA applications you get asked "are you part of a terrorist organization?" or "Are you bringing more than 10k in cash or equivalent currencies?". It's not for those who answer lying, but to make everyone accountable if something happens.

    Very silly article.

    1. TravelinWilly Diamond

      …and yet you read it and contributed to it.

  16. EK_engineer Guest

    Entering the U.S. is a breeze compared to supposedly easy-going Australia and the genial 'gentlemen' [sarcasm here] who work as immigration officers. Unofficially, skin colour still determines what type of 'treatment' you get when present for immigration. Oh, boy! Woe betide black, brown and yellow skins. It's New Zealand that deserves the praise for being a 'nice' country, not Australia.

  17. Sam Guest

    I once made the mistake of saying that my bag was not in my possession the entire time since I packed it. It was opened and searched, item by item. It took ages and was very annoying.

  18. Frankfurt Guest

    About 2 months ago I was returning home to IAH and had to deal with one of those rude agents in FRA. He saw my US passport with birth country listed as Iran. The first statement this agent made was + You look like Indian than Iranian. - I'm American, and that is not something nice to say. + Where are you coming from? - Istanbul + What were you doing there? - Respectfully, that...

    About 2 months ago I was returning home to IAH and had to deal with one of those rude agents in FRA. He saw my US passport with birth country listed as Iran. The first statement this agent made was + You look like Indian than Iranian. - I'm American, and that is not something nice to say. + Where are you coming from? - Istanbul + What were you doing there? - Respectfully, that is none of your business, sir. + OK, come with me. He then took me to secondary inspection with two armed German police officers were present. Once I was done with this stupid inspection, I requested to speak with a supervisor. He basically argued I should not be offended because he is originally from Nepal and the rude agent is from Egypt. I was like what the ...

  19. Alex Guest

    I got a question "wrong" once. I was connecting in FRA on the way home from Angola to the US. When I was asked where I was traveling from Angola was the "wrong" answer so I got sent to a separate security area for a very through search of my bags. They were very nice though and the check was professional.

  20. Jane blogs Guest

    I maybe wrong but I think many of these questions started decades ago in relation to drugs. And a bit like shoe removal, it's never gone away. In Asia and Australia, the question about packing your own bags, keeping them in sight etc were always standard questions back in the day when there were very few airport security scanning machines or security cameras. It was not uncommon for packages (drugs) to be carried knowingly or...

    I maybe wrong but I think many of these questions started decades ago in relation to drugs. And a bit like shoe removal, it's never gone away. In Asia and Australia, the question about packing your own bags, keeping them in sight etc were always standard questions back in the day when there were very few airport security scanning machines or security cameras. It was not uncommon for packages (drugs) to be carried knowingly or unknowingly through airports this way particularly when the so called "Golden Triangle" was in its heyday & there were plenty of organised baggage handlers or young travellers willing to take the risk for a few bucks despite very often landing in the depths of the Thai and Bail prison hellholes. Basically the question can set the base line for which way you'll plea once you get caught I suspect. Personally I'd rather be asked this question than get the dreaded SSS and go through the drama that that entails.

    1. Skdxb Member

      The only sensible comment

  21. IrishAlan Member

    I once had similar questions at AC check-in for a flight from CDG-YUL. Not sure if that is something AC does due to the large number connecting to the US? Or for Canadian gov purposes?

    I’ve noticed that since I became a U.S. citizen in 2015 the volume and intensity of questions has dramatically decreased.

    My favorite inane question used to be on the old I-94 and I-94W forms: “are you a terrorist? Or...

    I once had similar questions at AC check-in for a flight from CDG-YUL. Not sure if that is something AC does due to the large number connecting to the US? Or for Canadian gov purposes?

    I’ve noticed that since I became a U.S. citizen in 2015 the volume and intensity of questions has dramatically decreased.

    My favorite inane question used to be on the old I-94 and I-94W forms: “are you a terrorist? Or do you plan to support terrorist activities?” WHO would check YES on that? A very honest terrorist? lol

  22. Rrapynot Guest

    I flew back from LHR yesterday and nobody asked me. Also surprised that global entry members no longer need a passport. I just had my photo taken at the kiosk and an agents with a tablet said “Rrapynot, you’re in!” And that was it. No passport or paper slip needed.

  23. Don Guest

    These questions are asked as a result of past actions by those who wish to kill. Electronic devices, such as laptops and tablets, can be laced with explosives to be used as the actual weapon. It may be a small explosion, but with a plane, you only need to create a hole. This happened on a flight in Somalia in 2016. Same with gifts or packages that may likely end up in your luggage in...

    These questions are asked as a result of past actions by those who wish to kill. Electronic devices, such as laptops and tablets, can be laced with explosives to be used as the actual weapon. It may be a small explosion, but with a plane, you only need to create a hole. This happened on a flight in Somalia in 2016. Same with gifts or packages that may likely end up in your luggage in the cargo area of the plane. A man once put a bomb in his mother's luggage to collect the insurance money.

    Many dislike the TSA system at airports. I often hear people complaining. Some have valid concerns. The majority of complaints I hear while in line are not, along with the comments made to the TSA Officers. (Don't complain to the officer about the policies. They are caught in the middle between the people in D.C. who make the policy and you, those who are asked to follow it.) Since 9/11, I cannot think of an attack on a U.S. flight that has cleared through TSA. Terrorist have instead attacked U.S. flights that have boarded and cleared security in foreign countries. An example would be the underwear bomber who attempted to blow up a Northwest flight from the Netherlands over Detroit on Christmas Day, Or the Shoe Bomber who was on an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami. Think of the millions of people who have cleared TSA since 9/11 and no one has died. TSA has to get it right 100% of the time....... the terrorist only once.

    I have noticed that many of those who believe that these questions are a waste of time, are usually very good people. Most good people do not think like terrorist or killers. To stop terrorist, we need good people who can think like terrorist.

    If these policies bother you, you can, after you arrive safely at your destination, express your feelings to elected officials ..... but hopefully after you are greeted by the hugs and smiles of those who were waiting for you at the airport to see you.

    1. Frank B Gold

      If you really think that, you shouldn't fly. It's security theater. Anyone who really had the ability to take down a plane is going to be well funded and well trained on how to answer the questions.

    2. Sam Guest

      None of this really answers Lucky's questions about the effectiveness of doing this outside of the US with contract workers just reading a script.

    3. Kelley P Diamond

      The last time I flew out of CDG the security was a JOKE. I can see why terrorists would start their flights there.

  24. Andy Diamond

    My worst experience was when I had to explain the difference between electric and electronical. I responded question about electronics by mentioning my computer and my mobile phone. The interviewer then told me that mobile phones are no electronics … but then asked me if don’t have an electronic shaver? I responded that I have an electric shaver, but not an electronic one. She then responded that all shavers are electronical and should really consider...

    My worst experience was when I had to explain the difference between electric and electronical. I responded question about electronics by mentioning my computer and my mobile phone. The interviewer then told me that mobile phones are no electronics … but then asked me if don’t have an electronic shaver? I responded that I have an electric shaver, but not an electronic one. She then responded that all shavers are electronical and should really consider responding correctly …

  25. Bagoly Guest

    "Did anyone give you anything to take?" is from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hindawi_affair
    It wasn't that that question caught that bomb, saving 370 lives, but it did get the question established as Important.

  26. Andrew Guest

    I fly about 4 times a year from the US to France. Every single time with skyteam at CDG its the same questioning thing by their contracted staff at baggage drop. Sometimes its quick and relatively easy few questions, but sometimes like the last time in December I got a lady on a power trip with a terrible attitude. They should just dismantle the program, its useless and costs everyone extra time at an already...

    I fly about 4 times a year from the US to France. Every single time with skyteam at CDG its the same questioning thing by their contracted staff at baggage drop. Sometimes its quick and relatively easy few questions, but sometimes like the last time in December I got a lady on a power trip with a terrible attitude. They should just dismantle the program, its useless and costs everyone extra time at an already chaotic CDG. Anyone with half a brain trying to do something illegal would be able to lie to get past these clowns.

    1. Icarus Guest

      Then just don’t fly there. You know what they will ask and it takes a few moments. On my last trip, perhaps 20 seconds.

    2. Andrew Guest

      Good idea, I will just stop visiting my family that lives in France. /s

      But seriously the thing that is most bothersome besides the time inconvenience is that its all security theater. We have a similar theater issue in the US, as the TSA routinely misses weapons through an X-Ray machine when the gov conducts their tests. And so I just think that these European airports like CDG with contracted security questioning staff is a...

      Good idea, I will just stop visiting my family that lives in France. /s

      But seriously the thing that is most bothersome besides the time inconvenience is that its all security theater. We have a similar theater issue in the US, as the TSA routinely misses weapons through an X-Ray machine when the gov conducts their tests. And so I just think that these European airports like CDG with contracted security questioning staff is a wasted resource and they ought to put that money towards things that actually help their security instead of giving an illusion of heightened security. Maybe thats more advanced bag scanning machines or explosive sniffing tools or something…

  27. Khatl Diamond

    To your point about the bag being in your possession the whole time, I'd suggest that most people cannot actually say that a bag was in their possession from the moment they packed it through to arriving at the check in counter/bag drop. Examples:
    1 - If the bag was packed at home the night before was it left in the bedroom or was it, say, in the kitchen overnight and there were other...

    To your point about the bag being in your possession the whole time, I'd suggest that most people cannot actually say that a bag was in their possession from the moment they packed it through to arriving at the check in counter/bag drop. Examples:
    1 - If the bag was packed at home the night before was it left in the bedroom or was it, say, in the kitchen overnight and there were other people in the home at the same time? If yes, then certainly was not in possession the whole time, and people could absolutely have tampered with it
    2 - Was the bag to a hotel shuttle person, and when that happened did the passenger wait by the shuttle until the bag was loaded, and the doors to the baggage compartment were closed, or did they drop the bag with the driver and then proceeded to get on the shuttle like everyone always does?
    3 - Did the passenger ask a hotel to store your bag at any time since they last thoroughly inspected the contents?
    And so on...

  28. Todd Guest

    I find it interesting that it is the US-flagged airlines that do this. You go through the theatre if you are flying Delta out of LHR, but if you are flying Virgin Atlantic they don't make you do it. Same with Delta out of Paris, but not Air France. So clearly the European airlines have decided they aren't paying for the fake security thretre that has no value! And this is why I prefer flying them versus US-flagged carriers back into the US.

    1. LarryInNYC Diamond

      It certainly used to be true that all airlines did this. I haven't noticed the change but now that I think about it I'm not sure I can remember the last time I was asked these questions. I'm guessing that this used to be mandated and the mandate was removed, but Delta elected to keep the process in place (all the complaints about this being US airlines only seem to focus on Delta).

    2. Ella Guest

      I got interviewed leaving Iceland, flying IcelandAir. The person asking questions was Icelandic.

  29. SadStateofOurCountry Guest

    Wow, what a pair of "don jrs" triggered by the article.

    If daddy hadn't lost (which he didn't), he would make the questions much harder for some groups...

    1. David Browning Guest

      Um..Yes, Trump lost. Get over it

  30. Johnny Guest

    In Frankfurt once I asked the guy why he was asking me these questions because if I had bad intentions I wouldn’t answer honestly. He said it’s not you I’m worried about. I’m worried that you may have innocently accepted some bad guys offer to carry something for them

  31. Bruce Member

    There are political reasons for this. And no, I don't mean policy issues. I mean ideological. This is all a symptom of the American approach to foreigners which is 'we are superior therefore we will subject you to unnecessary questioning that you wouldn't get elsewhere to make sure you know we're safer, better, superior, etc.'

    1. Dublin Guest

      Ding ding. Ding! You win, stupidest comment ever.

    2. Icarus Guest

      Not really. I guess you’re American judging by that response

  32. Santastico Diamond

    Those questions are head scratching. Sometimes it takes them into a rabbit hole that they have no way of getting out. They try to go too deep into details and it shows they have no idea what they are going to. I love the questions about cash. I have an old friend that is very old style. He always says he is bringing $9,900 in cash (which is less than the $10,000 allowed). He says you should see the faces of the officers. LOL!!!!!

  33. Alex77W Guest

    Presumably, they are simply looking for your behavior. Usually, AA security is fine but the LHR staff is really annoying. About 5-6? years ago I was coming from a business trip in Italy. I addition to the usual questions about the purpose of the trip and who packed your bags, I was asked about which hotel I stayed in Padova. After I answered that it was Sheraton I was asked which street it was on....

    Presumably, they are simply looking for your behavior. Usually, AA security is fine but the LHR staff is really annoying. About 5-6? years ago I was coming from a business trip in Italy. I addition to the usual questions about the purpose of the trip and who packed your bags, I was asked about which hotel I stayed in Padova. After I answered that it was Sheraton I was asked which street it was on. I said I do not know nut it was next to big Ikea and the street name was in Italian. After that, I was where I went to grad school and after answering the followup question was who was the dean of the College at that time. At that time I have politely asked what was the point of all this and how she would possibly know the name of the dean as that was 25 years ago... The result of this was another set of questioning at the gate and a full search of my carry on at the gate resulting me boarding the very last to my seat in J. I did get the same treatment next time coming through LHR. Lesson learned.

  34. Santos Guest

    About 10 years ago I was driving home to NYC from a bachelor weekend in Montreal. I was dreading the border crossing, as a few days before, the Canadian agents detained me for about 2 hours and thoroughly searched the car. This time, the US agent looked at my NY driver's license a little skeptically and said "You live in Queens? Who's your favorite player on the Mets?"

    I reflexively said, "The Mets stink" and he handed my license back with a smile. Free to go.

    1. LarryInNYC Diamond

      Good answer, but I feel it was 50/50 that it could have gone entirely the wrong way.

    2. Ben Guest

      If the agent was a Mets fan, it was a 100% correct answer (in substantially all years since the Mets have existed as an entity) that proves that you're as much of a New Yorker as anyone else on the planet.

  35. LarryInNYC Diamond

    Since the issue of annoying questions has been raised, the most annoying question I deal with on a regular basis is the one that ends every post on this blog. I assume it's intended to encourage engagement but it's hard to imagine that it actually has any measurable effect. Indeed, it gives a kindergarten feel to the entire thing: "So, Billy, what do YOU think Peter Rabbit was feeling when Farmer John cut off his...

    Since the issue of annoying questions has been raised, the most annoying question I deal with on a regular basis is the one that ends every post on this blog. I assume it's intended to encourage engagement but it's hard to imagine that it actually has any measurable effect. Indeed, it gives a kindergarten feel to the entire thing: "So, Billy, what do YOU think Peter Rabbit was feeling when Farmer John cut off his foot and wore it on his keychain?"

    Nonetheless, I have to assume that Ben knows his business better than I do.

    If you really want to know what happens if you say "no" to the bag question, I know how you can find out.

    I did exactly this once when I (honestly) answered "Yes" to the question "have you been on a farm" when my family returned from Iceland. We were sent to secondary agricultural screening where the lady tried everything she could think of to get rid of us:

    "August 5th? That's more than ten days ago."

    "No, that's only eight days ago."

    "Well, but you didn't come into contact with any livestock, right?"

    "No, we went in the barn and petted the cows."

    "Okay, go home and brush off your shoes. And next time say "No"."

  36. Dave Chappelle Guest

    Going Back to your comment about Israeli airports. They only concenterate on people with "Muslim or Arab " names. If you have a name like Jonathan Pollard or Rosenberg or Lieberman, you are waived through as a matter of Fact they have a Garland for you.

  37. Icarus Guest

    These questions are asked on behalf of most airlines when customer are travelling to most destinations.

    Am surprised, as it is such a ridiculous article

    1. Steve Guest

      I can count on one hand how many times I've been asked these questions by non-US carriers.

    2. LarryInNYC Diamond

      You know, it certainly used to be true that these questions were universal. But now that I think about it, they seem to have largely disappeared recently.

    3. Khatl Diamond

      Not true. Never been asked these questions by a third party when traveling on BA or Virgin. Conversely, always get asked these questions when flying Delta from Europe.

  38. hc Guest

    i was studying abroad in italy and had to return home the third week of semester for a funeral in the states. the security contractor at FCO check in asked me to list the names of all the professors whose classes I was taking. Between the multi-syllable italian surnames I couldnt spell nor pronounce and my, shall we say imperfect, class attendance, I was unable list more than 2 first names. Was fine in the end, but definitely caught me off guard.

  39. Justin Guest

    This seems to be an optional practice as it always happens on Delta, yet United I don't think I've encountered it (int'l travel is primarily delta though). It's happened to me on some foreign carriers also, but definitely not all. I do remember once, though, the agent asked if I was traveling alone - I said yes as I was 'traveling' home alone, although had been with friends on the trip who had left a...

    This seems to be an optional practice as it always happens on Delta, yet United I don't think I've encountered it (int'l travel is primarily delta though). It's happened to me on some foreign carriers also, but definitely not all. I do remember once, though, the agent asked if I was traveling alone - I said yes as I was 'traveling' home alone, although had been with friends on the trip who had left a day earlier. A few questions later the agent asked where I had been and I said "we"... that set off a whole new line of questioning. I remember being surprised the agent picked up on that.

    At least delta flights in AMS have lightened up. Remember when everyone had to queue at the same 'gate' for questioning? I almost missed a flight because of that.

    1. Ryan Guest

      I don’t miss that old delta setup at all, where they would make everyone go to gate D1 and do those dumb questions…. And then give you your real boarding pass and gate number. How pointless.

      As mentioned below, Delta still does this at the gate in AMS but KLM does not do it on flights to the US.

    2. NFSF Diamond

      United still does this out of CDG

  40. Steve Guest

    The best part: nearly all the non-US carriers flying to the US don't participate in this BS. Meanwhile, Delta does it ALL...THE...TIME! The moment they put that sticker on my passport, I instantly remove it. I have yet to encounter it on UA/AA.

    1. Scudder Diamond

      That’s certainly not a universal truth. Iberia definitely does it departing MAD for the US.

    2. Steve Guest

      Hence my usage of the word "NEARLY"
      Have never been questioned all the times I've flown Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, Condor, Lufthansa, American, United, Austrian, Air France, or KLM in the past dozen years of trans-Atlantic hops...just Delta. I know there are others, but it's a joke that it's either not universally enforced, or just one airline continues to universally enforce it (Delta).

    3. Andy Diamond

      True, but IB only asks whether you have accepted anything from anyone else, not the rest of the questions.

  41. Donna Diamond

    Before Global Entry I was often asked upon entry was why I traveled alone overseas. The absolute worst place for me personally was Geneva, always sent to secondary and everything searched. At Rome they continue to this day doing random bag searches upon boarding international flights to the US.

  42. Inspector Clouseau Guest

    I binge watch "To catch a smuggler" on National Geographic, so I consider myself an expert. The questions (except maybe the repair one) are more for identifying smugglers. They ask those questions up front so the passenger takes ownership of everything and its easier to charge them when the inevitable contraband is found.

  43. George Romey Guest

    I think the purpose is to engage people in conversation to identify anyone acting nervous/inappropriately. Now, whether identifying strange/unusual behavior does anything to reduce threats is another matter onto itself.

  44. Alexander Guest

    I used to work as a Marine Electrical Engineer for many years, homeporting mostly in the USA when on cruise ships. I never had an issue or refused boarding. Dealing with immigration officers could be stressful due to the practice of secondary checking when they check your employment documents, i.e. C1 /D Visa,Letter of Employment, phone calls to office...). I did miss connecting flights in the USA a few times, even when the layover was...

    I used to work as a Marine Electrical Engineer for many years, homeporting mostly in the USA when on cruise ships. I never had an issue or refused boarding. Dealing with immigration officers could be stressful due to the practice of secondary checking when they check your employment documents, i.e. C1 /D Visa,Letter of Employment, phone calls to office...). I did miss connecting flights in the USA a few times, even when the layover was 4h+.

    There was a moment that still itches me, when an immigration officer asked me about my wages and I responded saying that it was confidential, between the company I worked for and myself. He then explicitly told me to answer his question or I would not be given clearance. I felt abused, honestly. I wanted to go home after months at sea, so I told him how much I make when at sea. For the balance, most of the immigration officers were professional. Few did wish me calm seas or safe travels.

    1. Kelley P Diamond

      The Immigration agents basically have unlimited power. They can seize your electronics, force you to enter passwords, search without a warrant, etc. And there's not a thing you can do about it. It's absolutely un-American.

  45. Kenny Guest

    Why don't you actually do some research and find out if these people have any sort of behavior training instead of just guessing? Then reading this post may have actual value.

  46. snic Diamond

    " For example, when you’re asked if your bag has been in your possession the entire time since you packed it, can most people claim with 100% honesty that this is the case? I mean, when you see people in airline lounges, they don’t typically walk to the buffet while dragging their carry-on, so technically it seems that most people don’t. Yet what happens if you were to actually admit that?"

    You don't understand. This...

    " For example, when you’re asked if your bag has been in your possession the entire time since you packed it, can most people claim with 100% honesty that this is the case? I mean, when you see people in airline lounges, they don’t typically walk to the buffet while dragging their carry-on, so technically it seems that most people don’t. Yet what happens if you were to actually admit that?"

    You don't understand. This is security theater, with all actors, including you, playing their part. A play is not written to accommodate the possibility that the actors will go off-script. Asking "what happens if I answer "no"?" is like asking "what happens if I skipped 7 when counting from 1 to 10?"

  47. Steven M Guest

    Ben's analysis is correct. For 25 years these questions have been largely fluff. Even pre-9/11 anyone who had mala fide intent would know how to answer these questions to satisfy these poorly-trained contractors. Come on, even college students knew then and still know today it's a farce wrapped up as security theater.

  48. Bob Guest

    I wonder if it is linked to the contractors Air France hire.

    I assume you were in terminal 2K for your AF fligth to NY with the picture of your post.

    I had almost identical questions for the flight I took to London with AF from Paris. The funny things is that I do not had those questions with British Airways to London from Paris too.
    This is pre-covid times.
    And also flying,...

    I wonder if it is linked to the contractors Air France hire.

    I assume you were in terminal 2K for your AF fligth to NY with the picture of your post.

    I had almost identical questions for the flight I took to London with AF from Paris. The funny things is that I do not had those questions with British Airways to London from Paris too.
    This is pre-covid times.
    And also flying, when it existed, Orly-London City, with Air France (well Cityjet for AF), was without any questionning. I think AF did not bother paying contractors for that route.

    1. Icarus Guest

      At the gate on flights to the U.K. it’s standard to check documents to verify the right to enter by Securitas. Nothing to do with baggage. It’s to avoid illegal entry if the passengers are in transit and hadn’t been checked thoroughly at the point of origin. It’s surprising how many attempt to do this.

  49. Dublin Guest

    You know Ben I usually like your column, but not this time. If you were really curious as to why the questions are asked there was a much better way to write the article. This is just bashing to bash with terms “silly, not well trained, theater, etc”. The other comments people writing are equally as glib.
    Everyone’s a freaking expert or a victim. Maybe.. just maybe… if one of those questions trigger a...

    You know Ben I usually like your column, but not this time. If you were really curious as to why the questions are asked there was a much better way to write the article. This is just bashing to bash with terms “silly, not well trained, theater, etc”. The other comments people writing are equally as glib.
    Everyone’s a freaking expert or a victim. Maybe.. just maybe… if one of those questions trigger a response whether it’s human trafficking, drugs being smuggled, what have you it’s worth it. Because as soon as the questions are NOT asked, everyone will point figures when some thing, even something small, happens. Answer the questions get on board and move along. It’s such not a big deal and certainly not worth Kvetching about

    1. Steve Guest

      It is when it isn't universally done by all airlines on all flights to the US. It's selective enforcement that serves as a collossal waste of time and resources.

    2. Khatl Diamond

      You'd be right if the person asked different questions and/or demonstrated thoughtfulness and insight based on the response. But that's not the case. No matter which country you get the questions, nor where you've been prior, the questions are nearly always the same, and there's usually about four. It's not a security check. It's people going through the motions to ask four almost identical questions to which, so long as you don't say something dumb,...

      You'd be right if the person asked different questions and/or demonstrated thoughtfulness and insight based on the response. But that's not the case. No matter which country you get the questions, nor where you've been prior, the questions are nearly always the same, and there's usually about four. It's not a security check. It's people going through the motions to ask four almost identical questions to which, so long as you don't say something dumb, will get you a sticker to get on the plane without any secondary security verification.

  50. SRR Guest

    Recently I almost missed my connection in Frankfurt due to this.
    Having traveled to the states 10+ times, being enrolled in Global Entry and with no criminal record I almost lost my temper with that guy. Boarding had started a while before I reached that checkpoint (my inbound was late), I was clearly out of breath from running through the airport, the guy started asking very unnecessary questions like "You are living in X,...

    Recently I almost missed my connection in Frankfurt due to this.
    Having traveled to the states 10+ times, being enrolled in Global Entry and with no criminal record I almost lost my temper with that guy. Boarding had started a while before I reached that checkpoint (my inbound was late), I was clearly out of breath from running through the airport, the guy started asking very unnecessary questions like "You are living in X, why have you arrived from Y?", "Whats the purpose of your trip?" and more... What difference does it make if I'm going on a business trip, holiday or to visit friends? I don't get it...

    1. Dublin Guest

      You don’t have to get it. The whole world does not owe you an explanation on everything that they do. The guys doing his job and you “almost lost your temper”? Way to go cupcake.

    2. Steve Guest

      How cute...calling others names in defense of an anachronistic policy.

    3. Dublin Guest

      It was not a defense of the policy. At all. Point well taken. Should not have said that. [email protected] I just don’t like it when people get angry at others were only doing their job and do not make the rules.

    4. LarryInNYC Diamond

      Well, if I were attempting to devise a plot to get contraband on an airplane, once ruse I would certainly consider would be having the agent arrive at the checkpoint at the very last minute and demand to be put through without the standard security check so as not to miss their flight.

    5. Khatl Diamond

      How is it a security check? Or put another way, what exactly does it do to improve security? The questions are always the same. It's not like you get asked random, thoughtful questions by someone trained to identify unusual behavior patterns that would, maybe, illicit a response that improves security

  51. Jojo Guest

    I had about 8 international flights in a row to the USA ( I'm an American citizen and retired army officer) were I kept getting the dreaded SSSS on my boarding pass. It did not matter where my departure was from any of the 5 other Continents. Finally happy it stopped

  52. Ryan Guest

    Delta employs these people at the gate in AMS to ask if you’ve packed your bag yourself. It’s gotten less intrusive over the years but still seems pointless.

    Ironically, when flying KLM to the US they don’t have the same “agents” or ask any such questions.

    So… apparently flights to SEA on Delta where these questions are asked are safer than KLM flights to SFO…

    I also once had a hilarious encounter in CPH...

    Delta employs these people at the gate in AMS to ask if you’ve packed your bag yourself. It’s gotten less intrusive over the years but still seems pointless.

    Ironically, when flying KLM to the US they don’t have the same “agents” or ask any such questions.

    So… apparently flights to SEA on Delta where these questions are asked are safer than KLM flights to SFO…

    I also once had a hilarious encounter in CPH when the SAS gate agent was rolling her eyes and mocking the fact that she had to ask if I packed the bag myself. We had a nice laugh and bonding moment over the stupidity of it all.

  53. Trey Guest

    (The pack your luggage question) It is entirely possible, especially for those of us flying long complex separate ticket itineraries, that your carry-on luggage was once a check-in bag somewhere along your journey. No matter how you answer, I'd keep a record (bag tag/claim receipt) of that.

  54. Marios Guest

    Family with 3 kids flying from LHR to DFW: adults and 2 older kids normal boarding passes, lap infant 8 months old with SSSS on his passport!!! :-)) luckily i was allowed to help my 8 month old answer the security questions…

    1. JB Guest

      You never know, it's the little ones that are the most cunning

    2. Mark Guest

      Family, two adults, 2 older children and an infant. Infant gets assessed for extra questioning. Sir, are you Peter Griffin? I can understand why they might want to interrogate Stewie, he's a conniving little so-and-so! ;)

  55. MetsNomad Guest

    I think it will depend on who you get as an agent. I vividly remember two particular interviews.

    Coming home from Brussels (on Delta) one time, I had a guy who left no stone unturned and would even switch languages on me to make sure everything I told him was accurate:

    (IN FRENCH)
    -Good morning, sir!
    -Good morning!
    -Where will you be flying to today?
    -New York.
    -What is the...

    I think it will depend on who you get as an agent. I vividly remember two particular interviews.

    Coming home from Brussels (on Delta) one time, I had a guy who left no stone unturned and would even switch languages on me to make sure everything I told him was accurate:

    (IN FRENCH)
    -Good morning, sir!
    -Good morning!
    -Where will you be flying to today?
    -New York.
    -What is the purpose of your trip?
    -I'm returning home. I was on vacation.
    -That's great! How long did you stay? Where did you go?
    -I was here a week and I stayed here in Brussels, but I also went to Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp.
    -Fantastic! What did you think of Belgium? (While I'm answering his question, he looks at my bags and sees some boxes in a shopping bag I'm carrying that have the French word ASSORTIMENT written on them) An assortment of what, exactly, sir?
    -Oh! Of Belgian chocolates.
    -Are you in the chocolate business?
    - Not at all. These are gifts for my family.
    -Lucky people! May I see your passport please?
    I had him my (U.S.) passport

    (SWITCHES TO ENGLISH)
    -Who packed your bags?
    -I did.
    -And after you packed your luggage, where has it been?
    -In my possession.
    -Are there any electronics in your carry-on?
    - Yes. I have an iPad.
    -Is it fully charged? Would you be able to turn it on? They might ask you to do that at Airport Security, would that be OK?
    -Yes. It won't be a problem.
    He then opens up my passport to the data page. I'm guessing he reads the place of birth.

    (SWITCHES TO SPANISH)
    -Wow! So you're Dominican?
    -Why, yes!
    -That's great! Do you still have family there?
    -My parents are in the USA, but I do have many relatives there.
    -Do you visit them often? Do you travel there regularly?
    -I suppose so. In fact, I was there this past January.
    He flips through my passport. Stops at the page with the Dominican Republic stamps from January.
    -That's really nice! Well, sir, thank you very much. Please proceed to check-in. I wish you a good trip home!

    Another time, I was returning home from Madrid (also on Delta) and I could swear that female agent worked for El Al! I was half expecting her to ask me whether or not I spoke Hebrew. Some of her questions I particularly remember were:

    - (When I told her the purpose of my trip was tourism) Tell me all the tourist sites you saw on this trip. Describe them for me.

    - (When I told her I had taken the Metro to the airport) Tell me at which station you boarded the Metro. What lines did you take? Where did you change trains?

    Most of the time I get the "Did you pack your bags yourself?" "Was your luggage in your possession at all times?", but these two times particularly stood out!

    1. Chatter Guest

      This is impressive from the agent! Wow.

  56. Jim Guest

    My understanding of the did you pack this yourself / has it been in your possession / etc. is so that in the even they find something nefarious, you can't claim you didn't know it was in there.

  57. JB Guest

    My father was a Pakistani Muslim immigrant who didn't get his U.S. citizenship until 2017. Before that, it was always interesting traveling with him. We would get endlessly questioned on out way back to the U.S., especially if we had visited Pakistan. I remember that at DXB, Emirates would have individual rooms in the sterile gate area where they would question and search you and your belongings. Though the questions we get asked are typically...

    My father was a Pakistani Muslim immigrant who didn't get his U.S. citizenship until 2017. Before that, it was always interesting traveling with him. We would get endlessly questioned on out way back to the U.S., especially if we had visited Pakistan. I remember that at DXB, Emirates would have individual rooms in the sterile gate area where they would question and search you and your belongings. Though the questions we get asked are typically more in depth than the ones others get asked.

  58. bruh Guest

    I had questions asked when I was flying from the US as well last year. I was flying from Boston to Doha, and everything went well. However, an officer was standing right at the entrance of the jetbridge and asked me quite a few questions, about my destination, my origin, purpose of visit to my destination, my length of stay, the amount of cash I am carrying with me and the source of the cash...

    I had questions asked when I was flying from the US as well last year. I was flying from Boston to Doha, and everything went well. However, an officer was standing right at the entrance of the jetbridge and asked me quite a few questions, about my destination, my origin, purpose of visit to my destination, my length of stay, the amount of cash I am carrying with me and the source of the cash that I had and if I had any credit cards or so, and the reason why I was flying business class. I got anxious because that was the first time I was questioned like that in my quite a few years of flying alone so maybe the officer was trying to comfort and talk politely with me (I was just 17 back then though so I guess they were checking up on me in a good way??).

    1. DenB Diamond

      With younger people they are sometimes preoccupied with prostitution and trafficking. I (male, 60s) drove into the US at a bridge crossing from Canada with one 20yo male companion. I think the US officer just returned from the human trafficking seminar. Asked our relationship, how long we've known each other, purpose of trip, how we orignally met. To a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

  59. Richard Guest

    See also: the question on an ESTA form that the US asks (and some other countries ask it too) about whether you have or are planning terrorists acts against the United States. Who is foiling their own terrorist plot when asked on an online form if the are planing bad things.

    1. snic Diamond

      Who knows? Maybe the US has prevented thousands of terrorist acts by asking this question.
      (And yes I am being sarcastic.)

  60. Sean M. Diamond

    In 2003, I misconnected at CDG and was rebooked by Air France onto the Delta 5th freedom flight CDG-BOM.

    At the Delta check-in counter, the contract security staff went through my passport and saw a stamp for a trip to Laos the previous year. They asked why I had taken the trip and I said it was for a client. They asked who the client was and I declined to answer. A supervisor was called...

    In 2003, I misconnected at CDG and was rebooked by Air France onto the Delta 5th freedom flight CDG-BOM.

    At the Delta check-in counter, the contract security staff went through my passport and saw a stamp for a trip to Laos the previous year. They asked why I had taken the trip and I said it was for a client. They asked who the client was and I declined to answer. A supervisor was called and I again declined to answer, citing client confidentiality. I was subsequently denied boarding on the flight for refusing to answer that question.

    Since the original missed connection was due to Air France, they kindly took on responsibility to provide me with overnight accomodation at the Hilton CDG with meals, etc.. (alas pre-EU 261/2004 so no other compensation). However, the point remains that Delta's contract security staff can and do deny boarding if you fail to answer their questions to their satisfaction, no matter how intrusive.

  61. Daniel Guest

    I completely agree with this and have had similar thoughts. I find it a waste of time, and offensive as a US citizen.

    The only question I can consider appropriate is “has your bag been with you.” None of the others are anyone’s business.

    I have the same feelings with US border patrol at ports of entry. No questions should be asked of US citizens; after all, there is no question they could ask that...

    I completely agree with this and have had similar thoughts. I find it a waste of time, and offensive as a US citizen.

    The only question I can consider appropriate is “has your bag been with you.” None of the others are anyone’s business.

    I have the same feelings with US border patrol at ports of entry. No questions should be asked of US citizens; after all, there is no question they could ask that could deny me entry. I hold another country’s passport, and never experience this entering or exiting that country

    1. Ace Johnson Guest

      I disagree with you on border patrol. While the CBP cannot deny entry to a U.S. citizen, they are also trying to sort out whether you are bringing any contraband or dutiable goods into the country. Never tried it myself, but I'm told that a U.S. citizen is allowed to hand over their passport and decline to answer any other questions. CBP is required to let you into the country, but they also have the...

      I disagree with you on border patrol. While the CBP cannot deny entry to a U.S. citizen, they are also trying to sort out whether you are bringing any contraband or dutiable goods into the country. Never tried it myself, but I'm told that a U.S. citizen is allowed to hand over their passport and decline to answer any other questions. CBP is required to let you into the country, but they also have the right to direct you over to the secondary inspection area and take their time performing a very thorough search of your vehicle and your person. I see answering inane questions by the border agent as the lesser of two evils in that situation, you're certainly free to disagree.

  62. Michele Guest

    If I fly out of Dublin we get pre-clearance, so the questions are a bit different.
    Flying via Paris or Amsterdam I've been pulled for secondary checks more than once, though I've never understood why.
    Ultimately as I'm not a US citizen and am travelling on an ESTA I just have to respond politely to whatever questions I'm asked and just hope that my trip isn't delayed.

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MetsNomad Guest

I think it will depend on who you get as an agent. I vividly remember two particular interviews. Coming home from Brussels (on Delta) one time, I had a guy who left no stone unturned and would even switch languages on me to make sure everything I told him was accurate: (IN FRENCH) -Good morning, sir! -Good morning! -Where will you be flying to today? -New York. -What is the purpose of your trip? -I'm returning home. I was on vacation. -That's great! How long did you stay? Where did you go? -I was here a week and I stayed here in Brussels, but I also went to Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp. -Fantastic! What did you think of Belgium? (While I'm answering his question, he looks at my bags and sees some boxes in a shopping bag I'm carrying that have the French word ASSORTIMENT written on them) An assortment of what, exactly, sir? -Oh! Of Belgian chocolates. -Are you in the chocolate business? - Not at all. These are gifts for my family. -Lucky people! May I see your passport please? I had him my (U.S.) passport (SWITCHES TO ENGLISH) -Who packed your bags? -I did. -And after you packed your luggage, where has it been? -In my possession. -Are there any electronics in your carry-on? - Yes. I have an iPad. -Is it fully charged? Would you be able to turn it on? They might ask you to do that at Airport Security, would that be OK? -Yes. It won't be a problem. He then opens up my passport to the data page. I'm guessing he reads the place of birth. (SWITCHES TO SPANISH) -Wow! So you're Dominican? -Why, yes! -That's great! Do you still have family there? -My parents are in the USA, but I do have many relatives there. -Do you visit them often? Do you travel there regularly? -I suppose so. In fact, I was there this past January. He flips through my passport. Stops at the page with the Dominican Republic stamps from January. -That's really nice! Well, sir, thank you very much. Please proceed to check-in. I wish you a good trip home! Another time, I was returning home from Madrid (also on Delta) and I could swear that female agent worked for El Al! I was half expecting her to ask me whether or not I spoke Hebrew. Some of her questions I particularly remember were: - (When I told her the purpose of my trip was tourism) Tell me all the tourist sites you saw on this trip. Describe them for me. - (When I told her I had taken the Metro to the airport) Tell me at which station you boarded the Metro. What lines did you take? Where did you change trains? Most of the time I get the "Did you pack your bags yourself?" "Was your luggage in your possession at all times?", but these two times particularly stood out!

6
Dublin Guest

You know Ben I usually like your column, but not this time. If you were really curious as to why the questions are asked there was a much better way to write the article. This is just bashing to bash with terms “silly, not well trained, theater, etc”. The other comments people writing are equally as glib. Everyone’s a freaking expert or a victim. Maybe.. just maybe… if one of those questions trigger a response whether it’s human trafficking, drugs being smuggled, what have you it’s worth it. Because as soon as the questions are NOT asked, everyone will point figures when some thing, even something small, happens. Answer the questions get on board and move along. It’s such not a big deal and certainly not worth Kvetching about

5
Sean M. Diamond

In 2003, I misconnected at CDG and was rebooked by Air France onto the Delta 5th freedom flight CDG-BOM. At the Delta check-in counter, the contract security staff went through my passport and saw a stamp for a trip to Laos the previous year. They asked why I had taken the trip and I said it was for a client. They asked who the client was and I declined to answer. A supervisor was called and I again declined to answer, citing client confidentiality. I was subsequently denied boarding on the flight for refusing to answer that question. Since the original missed connection was due to Air France, they kindly took on responsibility to provide me with overnight accomodation at the Hilton CDG with meals, etc.. (alas pre-EU 261/2004 so no other compensation). However, the point remains that Delta's contract security staff can and do deny boarding if you fail to answer their questions to their satisfaction, no matter how intrusive.

5
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