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4 Airport Rights You Should Know About
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January 4, 2020
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Travel Trivia Editorial
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There's a lot more to air travel than booking a flight, boarding the plane, and settling in for the journey. For many of us, getting through airport security is more taxing than the dentist. We're hemmed in by restrictions, even down to the size of the shampoo bottle we're allowed to bring on board. Amidst the stringent levels of security, it's easy to forget that we passengers have rights. Here are four you may not realize.

The Right to Data Privacy

A couple using cell phones in an airport lounge
Credit: iStock/ izusek

So much of our modern lives revolve around devices and digital screens. Our phones, tablets, and laptops contain photos, emails, and files pertaining to our personal and professional lives. Imagine someone going through all that data: it would be the equivalent of that person performing a thorough search of your closets and personal spaces. Fortunately, recent laws place limits on the circumstances in which airport security can access your data.

A recent court decision in Massachusetts ruled that it's unconstitutional for CBP (Customs and Border Protection) officials to search your electronic devices without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. This is similar to restrictions placed on police officers who search your vehicle or home without a warrant.

Keep in mind, however, that this ruling applies only to CBP, which processes foreign travelers entering the United States and American citizens returning from abroad. It doesn't apply to the TSA (Transportation Security Administration), which screens passengers before they get on flights (both domestic and international).

Still, when it comes to your mobile device, you're protected. TSA officials will only ask you to place your electronic devices in bins. Those devices will then be scanned to determine whether they are triggers for explosive devices.

This process doesn't allow the TSA to access the data on your devices. According to Reuters, TSA officials don't, as a matter of policy, extract data from passenger phones.

The Right of Mothers to Receive Reasonable Accommodations When Nursing

A mother boarding a plane with her nursing baby
Credit: iStock/ lizalica

In 2018, the Friendly Airports for Mothers (FAM) Act was signed into law, as part of the FAA Re-authorization Act. This legislation requires all large and medium-sized airports to provide private and sanitary lactation rooms in every terminal. This act also requires airports to provide changing tables in both men's and women's restrooms. And, finally, breast milk is exempt from the maximum limits for carry-on liquids; this means nursing mothers can carry reasonable quantities of breast milk, formula, or juice through airport security.

The Right to Refuse Face Scans

A woman undergoing a face scan at an airport security checkpoint
Credit: iStock/ metamorworks

Facial recognition technology has advanced by leaps and bounds in recent years. Cameras are now connected to databases that help the TSA identify specific individuals, from passengers to law enforcement officials.

Not everyone, however, is comfortable with airports and government officials tracking their every move. There are certain dangers associated with facial recognition, such as hackers gaining access to all that data. Whatever your reasons for eschewing face scans, you do have the right to refuse them at the airport. In airports where biometrics are used, you still have the option to present paper or mobile documents in place of having your face scanned.

The Right to Receive Practical Accommodations at Airport Checkpoints

A male passenger going through airport security
Credit: Shutterstock/ Igor Karasi

You can't refuse a screening by a TSA agent when you go through airport security. There are, however, limits on how TSA officials can search you.

Typically, screenings are performed publicly, unless a passenger is singled out for a particular reason. That said, some passengers find it embarrassing to be screened in front of others. In that case, you have the right to request a "private screening" by someone of your gender in a private place. You can do the same if you worry about the health risks associated with electronic scanners.

In addition, the TSA can't demand that you remove items worn for religious reasons such as headscarves or burkas. Special equipment is used to accommodate such travelers. For example, Sikhs can opt to be screened at a special machine called a Puffer rather than remove their turbans.