TSA scanner didn’t read my boarding pass

TSA scanner didn’t read my boarding pass A few weeks ago I got an email from a friend, who had a great experience with TSA (/sarcasm). He10-1-14-1 has Global Entry (and therefore TSA Precheck), and had his boarding pass on his phone for a trip to Nashville. When he tried to scan his boarding pass the TSA machine wouldn’t read it. The agent tried a couple of times, then told my friend he had to either go through the regular (much longer) security line or go get a paper copy.

My friend was very frustrated, as you can imagine. He asked for the agent to wipe off the machine with a cloth or something, like you would a smudged cell phone. The guy refused and my friend had to go through the regular line. He was really mad, and when he emailed me to vent I could definitely sympathize. But to be honest, I thought it was part of the risk you take with using your phone as your boarding pass–sometimes they’re just not easy to read. So while I totally understood how frustrating it was for him, I figured it was a one-off and didn’t see it as that big of a deal.

Until today.

This morning I got stuck in bad traffic and was running super late. I got off the shuttle, dashed to print out my boarding pass, then flew to the security checkpoint. I handed over my ID and boarding pass and waited to hear the three beeps that would send me quickly on my way. Silence. I see the agent frowning as he again ran my boarding pass over the scanner. He could see that it said TSA Precheck on the corner, but without the machine he couldn’t (wouldn’t?) let me through. Just like with my friend, he told me I could go get a new boarding pass or go through the regular security line.

Just then I heard the final boarding announcement for my flight. There was no choice. A nice lady let me get in front of her in the regular security line, and once through I grabbed my laptop and sprinted to my gate. I made it about one minute before they closed the aircraft door.

It makes me slightly crazy that I paid $100 and drove to Houston to be interviewed and fingerprinted, while TSA can’t be bothered to keep their machines in working order. In this case it would have saved me about five minutes, not a ton of time. But had the nice lady not let me get in front of her, or had the guy in front of me taken a little more time, I would have missed my flight. I accept that I won’t get to go through the Precheck line every time, but I don’t want it to be because their stupid scanners aren’t working. And if this has happened to me and to someone I know, it must have happened to others as well.

Readers, have you witnessed malfunctioning TSA scanners?

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  1. Presuming that others were able to have their boarding pass scanned, it sounds more like a problem with your airline’s BP printer (or their encoding on the BP). A scanner fault would be more likely to reject lots of passengers. Any reason to think that this was actually a problem with TSA?

  2. Just because you have the symbol doesn’t mean you get it every time. There’s a random element involved. You might get the symbol to get in the LINE… but have a barcode that puts you through regular screening. From the TSA: TSA will always incorporate random and unpredictable security measures throughout the airport and no individual will be guaranteed expedited screening in order to retain a certain element of randomness.

  3. I agree that they shouldn’t let you go through if you don’t beep. It would be easy to print a fake ticket or show a graphic on your phone. The TSA agent shouldn’t be forced to try to clean a screen. How do they know that what they’re doing would not cause someone to fake their way through. On your other question, I saw this happen last week in Baltimore. The boarding pass didn’t scan for the person in front of me and the agent explained they would need a new boarding pass or go through the regular line. The agent was quite polite and the person took it well. Technology is a curse and a blessing. Over time it will get better, but griping over it does nobody any good.

  4. @Mike R-This doesn’t sound like a situation where the author’s inspection status was downgraded; if that was the case, there would be a single beep. In this case there appears to have been no beep at all.

  5. That is why I always ask for boarding passes to be printed as a back up to my electronic boarding pass. This could happen, phone battery can die. I would be really frustrated if this happened to me as those of us with TSA Pre arrive with the understanding that we’ll be processed through the expedited line.

  6. @JEM That is definitely a possibility, and if this hadn’t happened to my friend using his phone a few weeks ago I would tend to agree with you. But it seems really strange that it would happen to two different mediums on different days. Different airlines, too, now that I think about it.

    @Mike R That is a great point–as I mentioned, I know that I may not always get to go through the Precheck line. In fact, it happened a couple of weeks ago coming home through Phoenix and was super annoying. But I would rather not get to go through Precheck because it’s part of the randomized process, not because my boarding pass won’t scan.

    @Kevin B Now that I’ve had a chance to cool down (I was pretty mad this morning, especially since I had to run to catch my plane!) I agree that it’s good that they didn’t just let me through. I still want the darn machines to work though!

  7. @roadwarriorette Two different media on different days makes it MORE likely that it’s a BP problem, not less. Phones and BPs use different encoding. For your friend’s and your problems to be related, there would have to be a common mode failure, and one that didn’t affect anyone else’s access media. Not likely at all. It’s hardly surprising that occasional glitches happen – probably hundreds of times a day given the volume of passengers that pass through security – especially with printed media (and anecdotally, I’ve had a failure to scan on my iPhone when I accidentally expanded the code when I brought it up. Resetting it to normal cleared the problem).

  8. This has happened to us twice in the last year. The first time the boarding passes would not pass TSA scan after I printed them at home. I blamed it on my printer. Then we got a new printer and printed our boarding passes for a trip a few weeks ago. My wife’s was OK but mine failed. I thought we would avoid the problem by printing them at the airport from now on(we always do carry on and do not check in with an agent) but now I am wondering if it is worth the risk to get in a long line and miss a flight.

  9. It happened to me twice in the past month. Different airports, different airlines. I used paper passes both times, one printed at curbside check in, one printed by me. I was careful not to fold them thinking they would be more reliable than phone pass. I am concluding it is the TSA machines. Frustrating because I can’t control that.

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