I have been to multiple airports, and no matter what I do I always seem to walk through the metal detector, have it go off randomly even though I have no metal on my person and have to undergo pat-downs and swabbing. Why are these "random" searches always happening? And if I were to fail the drug test (from holding coins and bank notes) then what other searches would the airport force me to undergo?

  • 1
    Possible duplicate of travel.stackexchange.com/questions/93463/…
    – JonathanReez
    Dec 26, 2017 at 21:09
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    Swabbing is not "drug test", it checks for explosives. In the USA the ACLU states that TSA cannot test you for drugs.
    – George Y.
    Dec 26, 2017 at 21:20
  • @GeorgeY. But I live in the UK. I was at a Spanish airport when this happened. They had a small tester strip that they used around my waist, phone and jumper. Dec 26, 2017 at 21:33
  • @GamingWithAltitude Doesn't matter. The sniffers are looking for explosives, not drugs. Dec 26, 2017 at 23:14
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    I don't think anyone here can realistically tell you why you experienced random searches.
    – George Y.
    Dec 27, 2017 at 0:10

1 Answer 1


I have news for you:

  • Even if the metal detector doesn't go off, the staff have a right to pat you down.
  • The swabs are for trace detection; they detect many things (explosive residue, drugs, etc.)
  • The rhyme or reason why anyone is pulled over is not known to the general public. It can be based on any number of things including but not limited to:
    • How you paid for your flight
    • Your travel history
    • Your appearance
    • Other passengers on the flight
    • Your luggage
    • Your name
    • Your age
    • Your itinerary

And if I were to fail the drug test (from holding coins and bank notes) then what other searches would the airport force me to undergo?

There are no drug tests such as the one you are referring to (they don't test you personally for drug consumption - unless suspected as a drug mule, even then they would just run you through a specialized scanner).

The swabs are done to detect residue of explosives and other materials. If you get a positive hit (like I had once, on a laptop bag, that I purchased at the duty free), it simply triggers questioning about the item and perhaps manual search of your carry-ons.

(In my case, it was something to do with the silica packet and the plastic used to wrap the item that caused the false positive. After a supervisor came over and removed the plastic and swabbed again, I was allowed to board with the item).

Sometimes these are truly random - as I was once swabbed while going through the security check while transiting in Dubai.

After swabbing my hands and making me wait, they took my passport and boarding pass to notate in a log book the scan. I have a feeling they must do at minimum a certain number of scans (the scanners are usually third party contractors - in this case it was G4S) so they just pick random passengers to fill their quotas.

Bottom line - just chalk it up to the new reality of air travel and the security theater that comes with it.

  • 1
    How do security agencies know how you paid for your flight? Is that info on your boarding pass? Dec 27, 2017 at 19:57
  • No, its part of API (Advanced Passenger Information) and is also part of your ticket information; any agency that has access to the GDS can get that information. Dec 28, 2017 at 5:15

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