Requirements for Airport Security Screeners

Note: This page was originally posted in November 2001. Since then, the oversight of airline security has changed considerably, and the statements on this page may no longer be current. For current security rules, refer to the TSA link at the bottom of the page.

Since the hijackings of 11 September 2001, there has been an intense focus on the role that airport security screeners play in protecting passengers and crew from hijacking. The quality of the security screening that passengers face is due in part to the federal regulations regarding airline security. According to Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR) 108.13, airlines are responsible for providing screening of passengers and their baggage, including the training and testing of persons responsible for the screening. The federal government also sets minimum requirements for screener training, and prevents some convicted criminals from jobs as screeners or screener supervisors. Given the following key information from those regulations, it is likely that most passengers would hope that the airlines exceed these minimum requirements.

Educational Background
FAR 108.31(a)(1) requires that screeners possess a high school diploma, a General Equivalency Diploma, or a combination of education and experience which the certificate holder has determined to have equipped the person to perform the duties of the position. This implies that the airline can decide that a screener does not have to successfully complete high school.

Criminal Background Checks
FAR 108.33(c)(5) does not require criminal records checks for every screener applicant, only for those applicants who have specific deficiencies in their employment history, if there are other deficiencies in the application, or if the air carrier finds out that the applicant may have been convicted of certain kinds of crimes. The required criminal records check is with the FBI, but the regulations do not say anything about records checks from other countries.

Criminal History
Surprisingly, a conviction for a crime, even a violent felony, does not disqualify someone from working as a screener. FAR 108.33(2) states that a criminal records check must not disclose that the applicant had been convicted or found not guilty by reason of insanity, in any jurisdiction, during the previous 10 years of a number of crimes such as aircraft piracy, interference with a flight crew or cabin crew member, assault with intent to murder, rape or aggravated sexual abuse, or armed robbery. This list of crimes include sedition, treason, extortion, or distribution of a controlled substance. This regulation implies that so long as the conviction were at least 10 years old, almost any convicted criminal could become a security screener.

Transportation Security Administration Requirements
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will in time take over the screening at over 400 U.S. airports. Below are the requirements for TSA security screeners:

Civil Aviation Security Screeners protect air travelers and commercial aviation by identifying dangerous or deadly objects in baggage or cargo and preventing those objects from being transported onto aircraft. They may use various types of electronic detection and imaging machines for this purpose, for example, they may use X-ray machines, trace detection machines, walk-through metal detectors, and hand-held metal detectors. They may also perform physical searches of baggage or cargo and pat-down searches of airline passengers. Screeners facilitate the orderly flow of passengers through screening checkpoints, communicate and advise supervisors on security weaknesses or vulnerabilities related to their areas of work, and assist in inquiries/investigations of security issues related to airports.

All Civil Aviation Security Screeners must pass training and be certified to use the machines employed in their jobs. They must also pass recurrent training and certification exams on a periodic basis. Failure to pass any phase of training or a certification examination is grounds for termination of employment. Civil Aviation Security Screeners may participate in or attend meetings where classified or security-sensitive information is provided. They must be able to pass a background investigation and maintain a security clearance appropriate to their positions.

Level 1 screeners are trainee screeners who must attend and pass both classroom and on-the-job security screener training administered by the Transportation Security Administration. Once they pass training, they conduct screening of passengers, baggage, and/or cargo under the close supervision of a Federal Civil Aviation Screening supervisor. Individuals in Level 1 screening positions must progress to Level 2. Level 1 screeners who cannot pass training and perform well enough to progress to Level 2 will have their employment terminated.

Level 2 screeners are fully trained and certified journey-level screeners. They conduct screening of passengers, baggage, and cargo. They have completed all training and certification requirements established for Level 1 screeners and have, additionally, completed at least one year of work equivalent to Level 1.

Level 3 screeners are fully trained and certified advanced screeners. They have the equivalent of at least one year of experience as Level 2 screeners and may perform Level 2 screener duties. Additionally, they use specialized explosives detection equipment (EDS) to screen checked baggage and cargo. They must have additional training and certification beyond that of Level 2 screeners in order to use EDS equipment.

Manager Level 1 Screening Supervisors are first level supervisors of screeners who provide direct day to day supervision of Level 1, 2 and 3 screeners, may fill in for screeners when they must leave their posts, and handle more difficult problems which may occur. They perform the full range of supervisory duties, including approving leave, scheduling work, and managing performance. Manager Level 1 screeners must have experience, training, and certification as screeners as well as the ability to supervise others.

Manager Level 2 Screening Supervisors supervise the Manager Level 1 screening supervisors and their subordinates. They must have experience as journey level screeners and experience as first level screening supervisors.

Manager Level 1 and 2 Screening Supervisors are required to be certified on all screening equipment.

Those promoted from journey or advanced level positions must obtain training and certification on any equipment they have not yet been certified on within timeframes established by the Transportation Security Administration in order to continue in supervisory positions.

Related Resources
U.S. Government Airline Safety Information
11 September 2001 Related Rumors and Hoaxes
Airport Security Statistics (CNN)
Transportation Security Administration

Airport security screener requirements -- -- Revised 9 June 2015