Dirty Little Secrets Airports Don’t Want You to Know

Traveling is the best. Dealing with airports? Not the best. You’ve likely encountered long waits in security lines, baggage issues, and other stressful situations if you’ve ever flown.

To make matters worse, airports have some secrets they don’t want flyers to know. Read about them and weep — or, read them and use them to improve your airport experience.

1. Airports know when you’re most likely to spend

Dubai International Airport, UAE

There are so many tempting ways to spend your money before a flight. | Aksphoto/iStock/Getty Images

When you arrive at an airport early, you have options. You can work from an airport, check your email, play on your phone, or … visit the airport shops and poke around.

The “golden hour,” is known as that hour or so you have to kill before you board, according to Grunge. And that hour, according to The Economist, is when travelers are most likely to open their wallets to buy concourse items. Sure, you might decide to get a sandwich for the flight or a book to read, but airport retail has entered the luxury item market — and travelers are willing to buy.

Airport stores do everything they can to capitalize on captive travelers’ shopping habits. They do everything from offering customers a free glass of champagne at a boutique to maintaining rewards programs to entice frequent fliers to spend money in the concourse to basing sales strategies on flight schedules.

Next: Don’t get robbed at the airport.

2. Airport employees could rob you

Baggage handler conveyor belt

You’re better off keeping valuables with you. | Tim Boyle/Getty Images

Let’s face it: When you get on a plane, you’re in for what’s likely an experience that rivals a visit to the dentist. You have to trust when you board a plane. You have to trust that your pilot wasn’t out all night the evening before the flight. You have to trust that you won’t pick up an exotic virus. And you have to trust the baggage handlers, which is where you might run into problems, reports Grunge.

Employee thefts at airports have been an issue since 2003, according to ABC. Between 2003 and 2012, 381 TSA employees were fired for stealing from travelers’ baggage. One thief, Pythias Brown, admitted to stealing more than $800,000 worth of items during his four-year stint at Newark Liberty International Airport. In addition, he claimed that employees use luggage X-rays to help them decide who to rob.

Baggage handlers at Miami International Airport were caught on camera in 2015 stealing from passengers’ baggage, according to CNN. And a TSA employee at Orlando International Airport actually stole money from a passenger when he did a security pat down in 2017, according to the New York Daily News.

If you love to fly and you have to check a bag, put the important stuff in your carry-on luggage. Better yet, forego the checked bag and just take carry-on — less is more, particularly when traveling.

Next: Leave extra early to make your flight.

3. Many airports don’t have enough TSA officers

Give yourself enough time in case of staff shortages. | Win McNamee/Getty Images

As much as TSA agents annoy us, we have to remember that they are there to help us. But are they really there? Sometimes they’re not, according to Grunge.

Many airports are operating understaffed, with too few TSA employees, which can cause longer waits — and missed flights. In fact, more than 1,000 people in the U.S. missed flights at Chicago O’Hare Airport in May 2016 due to waiting in line for a TSA check, according to the Chicago Tribune. And because of budget issues, the number of TSA screeners decreased by 15% between 2011 and 2016, according to TSA.

Do yourself a favor and don’t make like O.J. Simpson running for a flight. Leave extra early so you’ll make your flight regardless of how long the TSA lines are.

Next: Is your privacy being invaded?

4. Somebody’s watching you

US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers inspect airline passengers

Facial recognition scanners may be at work. | Robyn Beck/Getty Images

Maybe a TSA agent has patted you down, but that’s nothing. If you think that invaded your privacy, check this out: Grunge uncovered that facial recognition scanners might track you when you get into the terminal.

The Department of Homeland Security has already installed the software that checks faces against IDs at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta. And by the end of 2017, they should be in seven more airports in the country. Be aware.

Next: See where those baggage fees go.

5. Baggage handlers might kick your baggage to the curb — literally

Passengers waiting for luggage at baggage claim.

Another reason to just go with a carry-on | Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images

If you’ve ever gotten your bag off a carousel and it looks like it was beaten half to death, it might have just been thrown around the plane’s luggage storage space. Or, a baggage handler got mad at it and threw it around, says Grunge.

A former airline employee granted the Independent an interview in 2017 and unearthed some scary secrets. According to the employee, baggage handlers intentionally kick and throw passengers’ baggage around.

Sure, some of that was because of time constraints, reported the source, but some was not. So you have to pay to fly your baggage to your destination — and this is what you’re getting for your money. Just one more reason to take a carry-on only.

Next: Don’t get sucked into duty-free purchases.

6. Duty-free items aren’t taxed, but they’re not always cheaper

Duty free shop in airport, Munich, Germany.

It’s not necessarily less expensive. | InnaFelker/iStock/Getty Images

Everyone knows you’ll pay twice as much — or more — when you buy something at an airport. They have you over a barrel, right?

If you choose to buy at the duty-free shop because you need something last minute, OK. But if you’re shopping there because you think you’re getting a better deal, not OK, says Grunge. Duty-free shops don’t always offer customers the lowest prices, according to CBS.

In fact, some duty-free shops actually charge duty fees, according to the Independent. Some retailers advertise tax-free items but don’t adjust their prices accordingly — then the retailer keeps the difference.

If you must buy at a duty-free shop, choose items like alcohol and tobacco because they sell for much less than in non-airport stores, according to CBS. Stay away from cosmetics, electronics, and anything else you don’t really need but think you do at the moment.

Next: This could land you on the TSA’s radar — and not in a good way.

7. You might lose your cash

Airport lines, travel

If you pay for your ticket in cash, you might raise some suspicion. | iStock/Getty Images

Here’s a tip: Don’t buy your airplane ticket with cash. If you do, you might send up a red flag to the TSA — and the DEA — according to USA Today. Other red flags include simply buying a one-way ticket to the wrong airport can put you on the “suspicious” list.

Here’s another tip: If you do buy your ticket with cash, don’t arrive at the airport with a suitcase full of money. The DEA can take it from you even it just thinks you’re up to something — and they don’t even have to charge you with a crime.

Case in point: Christelle Tillerson, 2014. Tillerson flew one way from Detroit to Los Angeles with her boyfriend’s retirement savings so she could buy a semi-tractor truck.

When she got to the airport, DEA agents — who suspected her of drug trafficking because she bought a one-way ticket to Los Angeles — met her and asked to search her bags. Tillerson agreed and that was that — agents took her $25,000 and she was out one semi-tractor truck. To get the money back, Tillerson would have to sue the government.

To avoid that headache, just keep your cash at home. Use credit or traveler’s checks instead.

Read more: 19 of the Most Ridiculous Fees Airlines Are Scamming You With

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