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My "hands" set off TSA pre-screening at security!

Level Contributor
6,524 posts
190 reviews
My "hands" set off TSA pre-screening at security!

Hi All,

I finally have a minute to write an interesting tidbit to my re-entry in the US from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. We have been home now for 4 days (boo hoo!)... Anyways, here is my story- (it may help you too).

We had the TSA Pre-check with Alaska Airlines which allowed us to not have to take off our shoes, etc. (We were in LA on the second leg of our flight). However, they decide if they want to, to select people randomly (who have a clearance for TSA Pre-check) to go through the regular security where you have to do all that. They picked my husband and he went to do that. I went through the TSA Pre-check as usual. I walked through and the security guy asked me to step aside. He said, "show me your hands." I did. He got out a little white cloth that was something like 1 inch by 4 inches and swiped my hands (especially my left hand) methodically in 4 specific swipe directions. He said, "I want to see what you had for lunch." (huh?). Then he put that piece of cloth into a slit in a machine and it was there for a few seconds and then brought it out to look at it.

So- while this is going on I realized the reason he may be doing this. I looked at my left hand and saw there was still a little "black on it." Just before we left to the airport, I ran over to get a quick peek at Vallarta Sun Hotel. (so cute!). When I left, the desk guy buzzed the gate to un-lock and I grabbed the black rail and opened it and walked through. Thought nothing of it. Then I realized my left hand was really "sticky" and I couldn't open it well without trying really hard. Oh dear! They must have painted that gate! I ran over to Playa Los Arcos Hotel and the front guys tried to scrub it off with soap and water and it would not work. They said, "follow me." Took me over to Los Arcos Suites Hotel to an underground parking lot (never knew that was there) and lots of spanish was being spoken to another guy. Then they opened up a "locked door" and one guy went in to a big open barrel and poured some liquid onto a cloth. He came out of the room. They looked at each other and each started scrubbing my hand. Then the one guy said, "Don't light a match!" hahaha. Finally we got most of it off but there was still some black coloration in one of my fingers.

We walked out and there was a guy right there pressure washing the sidewalk and I asked if I could put my hand under the streaming water. He turned the nozzle and I immediately put it under because I had to get that stuff they used off of it. It really stunk bad (turpentine? paint thinner?). So after that I ran over to Playa and we had to throw our bags into a taxi and take off to the airport.

So that's why my hands set off the security at the airport. Interesting how such a little thing could be detected a few hours later.....

98 replies to this topic
Brisbane, Australia
Level Contributor
5,172 posts
97 reviews
1. Re: My "hands" set off TSA pre-screening at security!

dogs and technology are amazing when it does to odours/smells:)

Ottawa, Canada
Level Contributor
780 posts
24 reviews
2. Re: My "hands" set off TSA pre-screening at security!

I gather the security guy accepted your explanation?

Calgary, Canada
10 posts
3. Re: My "hands" set off TSA pre-screening at security!

I actually had a TSA agent swipe my shoes at LAX and tell me they came back testing positive for explosives, I was dumbfounded, I had no idea what he was talking about. The agents then swabbed my hands and went thru my entire purse and swabbed every item inside, at which time I was told that if anything else came up testing positive I would have to have a body search - yikes!

My purse was fine and I asked in passing if the fireworks at Disneyland would create a residue on the ground that might be on my shoes and he says " Yes, that would definitely affect the reading." This really bugged me, the only reason I was pulled over for further testing is because I have a prosthetic leg, I always get the pat down and/or the xray machine plus the swab so I am used to being singled out, but what I don't understand is why at LAX, where there must be thousands of tourists who have been to Disneyland, that, that wasn't there first conclusion with regard to my shoes.

When I asked him if he planned on swabbing the shoes of all the tourists, most of whom had probably been to Disneyland in the line behind me, or was that something he just reserved for handicapped people, he shut up and quickly handed me my purse and said I could leave.

In my opinion everyone should go thru either a pat down or the machine, singling out handicapped people and then feeding me some bullsh*t line like "you have been randomly selected for further screening" every single time is ridiculous. I totally agree and appreciate that the TSA is there to help protect us, but it takes seconds to be x-rayed and if they were really trying to be fool proof instead of just putting on a show, then everyone should be treated and screened in exactly the same manner!

Deana, when you say that you have been TSA pre-checked, what is that? I have a Nexus/Global Entry Card, when shown at our security lines in Canada it allows me to use the Nexus line which is usually either empty or significantly smaller than the regular line but other than the actual line up, I have not found the actual process of going thru security any different than the regular security., I still go thru the pat down or the machine every time, and my husband whom also has nexus still has to remove shoes etc , Does you pre-check allow you to progress thru security any differently than the regular Joe?

Edited: 12:56 am, May 04, 2014
London, United...
Level Contributor
23,013 posts
28 reviews
4. Re: My "hands" set off TSA pre-screening at security!

I very much doubt your hands set anything off, you were simply randomly selected. They swab hands, I've had it done numberous times on exiting the US. . They are checking for traces of explosives. It's no different to having your bag randomly swabbed. I can also assure you I look like the least likely person who would have explosives on her hands and they are always clean. It's just random selection.

As for his comment on what you ate for lunch he was just making a joke.

Anyway, it's no big deal, there is nothing to " set it off" as such, and it's just a routine part of the security screening. I think you have maybe filled in some blanks, added two and two together and come up with five:-))

Level Contributor
6,524 posts
190 reviews
5. Re: My "hands" set off TSA pre-screening at security!

No, two and two did not come up to five. It was four and I do believe they detected something (turpentine or paint thinner) on my left hand. Not random at all. He was quite concerned before he swabbed me. Then after my story he laughed and let me go through.

We do not have global entry. When I printed out our boarding passes at home TSA pre-check was added in above it. It just appeared. What it did was allow me to go in a separate line which hardly anyone was in and I didn't have to take off my shoes. Less security clearance for us to go through because we had already been pre-cleared.

London, United...
Level Contributor
23,013 posts
28 reviews
6. Re: My "hands" set off TSA pre-screening at security!

Ok, sure, but as said, it is routine practice and mainly people are just randomly selected. You show them your hands, then they swab them with the little cloth, run it through the machine and send you on your way, it's normally done before you go through the check with your bags.

Normally I think they try to put the person at their ease, I know I was quite bemused the first time I was pulled aside for it, then i was amused and curious when he told me what it was he was doing.

Magog, Canada
Level Contributor
33,186 posts
714 reviews
7. Re: My "hands" set off TSA pre-screening at security!

This is a random check. I see it done all the time and happened to me regularly.

London, United...
Level Contributor
540 posts
28 reviews
8. Re: My "hands" set off TSA pre-screening at security!

Every time I wear a particular pair of ankle boots I set off the metal detector (including pre check).

These boots have no metal on or in them, yet when I wear my creepers with 2" soles and metal lace retainers I breeze straight through, go figure !

Really I don't pay much attention to the scrutiny I get from security, I am just polite and pleasant regardless of the security persons mood. I find this works fine for me it's just part and parcel of modern air travel.

As a middle aged white woman I seem to get lots of attention, it may be down to my choice of dress but it's all water off a duck's back. :-D

Watford, United...
Level Contributor
4,816 posts
13 reviews
9. Re: My "hands" set off TSA pre-screening at security!

I have had my hands swabbed before... Nothing on them and no big deal for me.

This guy always seems to have his hands looked at when he goes through security. Not sure why? http://m.imdb.com/title/tt0099487/

Level Contributor
2,682 posts
20 reviews
10. Re: My "hands" set off TSA pre-screening at security!

I also had hands swabbed and mobile phone, last time on way to Italy to watch my team play football, the bloke told me he stopped us because he was an Arsenal supporter ( arch enemies) but was all taken in good faith and banter.

It is part and parcel of traveling to today, you just have to get on with it.


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