While the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) provides an exhaustive list of what items are good to fly on its website and myriad web pages detailing information on topics like what passes as acceptable identification and how to apply for the expedited screening program TSA PreCheck, every once in a while you may run into a travel-related question you just can’t find the answer to.
Beyond emailing, calling (855-787-2227), or tweeting at the AskTSA Twitter account, another lesser-known option available to travelers is simply sending TSA a text message. Here’s how to text the agency and why you might want to.
How does texting TSA work?
To start a chat, text the word “travel” to the AskTSA number (275-872). You’ll receive a message explaining that automated responses are available 24/7, though for questions the algorithm cannot answer, live employees staff the line from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET. From there, users can pick from six topics:
- TSA PreCheck
- What’s Allowed
- Medical Questions
Once you pick a topic, the following text from TSA will offer subcategories to choose from; for example, after selecting Damages/Claims, the next round of options includes claim status, damaged locks, damaged property, and how to submit claims. You’ll continue to get further subcategories until the service thinks it’s answered your question, at which point the subsequent text will ask, “Were we able to answer your question? You can say: YES, NO.” If you respond with “no,” the next text reads, “Please write your query here, and a Social Care Specialist will be in touch soon.” If it’s during the hours the line is staffed, a TSA employee will respond when they’re able (we tested the service and the average response time was roughly 10 minutes). You’ll have to ask again later if it is outside working hours. However, after selecting “Medical Questions” the subcategories offered are help with screening, medication, CPAP, and other. Any choice there will be met with the number for the appropriate department to call, like TSA’s Passenger Support Specialists department.
Why travelers might want to text TSA
Given how extensive the “What’s Allowed” category is (and also what’s previously been asked on the AskTSA Twitter), it’s safe to assume determining what is allowed to be in carry-on bags (especially related to food) are the most common questions. Some no-go’s that might surprise even the most seasoned traveler include snowglobes and Magic 8 Balls (because they contain too much liquid) or cast iron skillets and tent pegs (because they could be used as a weapon).
While offering travelers another avenue to determine whether they can bring cheese in their carry-on (the answer is yes, if it’s solid cheese, and a maximum of 3.4 ounces if it’s creamy cheese) or fireworks (which can’t fly, period), the text program can be a bit clunky. Responses can take several minutes if too many people use the service at once, and the answers often aren’t as detailed as what you’d find online.
Some questions got satisfactory answers (like the rules for milk, which is fine under 3.4 ounces, and ice, provided it’s frozen solid, otherwise it needs to follow the 3.4-ounce rule), while others fell flat (foam swords, for instance, aren’t allowed as carry-on items, but there’s no explanation about why).
In some cases, it may be faster to search online for answers to questions travelers might have. However, if you think of something to ask that doesn’t provide a sufficient Google-able answer or needs additional context (like why bowling balls are allowed as carry-ons, but bowling pins aren’t), having access to a real person relatively quickly (at least during business hours) could make your travels go smoother. Or at the very least could save you from wasting time (and potentially being embarrassed) due to having your bag pulled for additional screening.