Going through TSA, after my carryon had passed through, I was pulled aside and my Tim Hortons coffee can was being re-examined with their tools. Meanwhile, I was told to remove my shoes; I answered I was 77 and didn’t have to. I was told to, and to step over and place my feet in the outlines where I was frisked or patted down with my husband, children and grandchildren watching. Then the agents were still examining the sealed coffee can.

What did I do wrong, bringing coffee in my carryon; no liquid, no gel, just coffee. Nothing was posted against it, nor having to take out all the cookies etc. I carried in my bag for my family’s Christmas. I prefer not to go through this again, being treated as a criminal at my age of 77.

  • 1
    Was it liquid coffee or coffee beans / powder...?
    – Joel B
    Commented Dec 28, 2017 at 3:38
  • 4
    Being pat down at airport security is not 'being treated as a criminal' and if you had looked around you you would have seen many people being pat down, as the security agents are doing their work well.
    – Willeke
    Commented Dec 28, 2017 at 10:28
  • 1
    I flew out of FSM yesterday. EVERYONE got a thorough pat down—except me. Not complaining, but I found it weird. I was neither the oldest nor the youngest, and I am not “pre-check.”
    – WGroleau
    Commented Jan 1, 2018 at 7:06

2 Answers 2


You did nothing wrong. And you were not "treated as a criminal".

Airport security, like most forms of security, is not black and white. There is no magic button the security agents can press to know if you are 'good' or 'bad'. Instead, they rely on a number of indicators to determine if a person is likely to be a threat or not.

In your case, you are already given a 'generally good' score as a starting point. Anyone over 75 years old (or under 12) in a US airport is automatically treated as a lower risk than the average person, and as a result is given "TSA Pre" where the checks carried out are generally fewer and less intrusive - including as you stated the ability to leave your shoes on.

This does not mean that nobody over the age of 75 years old is a threat to security, so there are numerous triggers that can cause the TSA agents to carry out further screening on a passenger. This isn't just the case for passengers over 75, but for ALL passengers passing through the airport.

These triggers are varied. Some of them are random (eg, the metal detector machine will randomly select one-out-of-every-X passengers for additional screening). Some of them will be behavioral - such if the TSA staff see you looking or acting suspicious.

And some of these triggers will be based on the items you are carrying through the checkpoint.

Coffee - especially ground coffee - is an item that is of interest from a security perspective. Ground coffee can be used by criminals for transportation of drugs (eg, here and here) - partially because they look similar on an X-ray, and partially because the smell of the coffee can mask the smell of the drugs from sniffer-dogs.

Once one of these triggers has occurred, TSA still will carry out additional screening on the passenger and/or their bags. This could involve anything from a simple hand-swab for explosives, right up to a full strip-search of the person and checking the entire contents of their carry-on (and even checked) bags.

In your case, it sounds like that involved a frisk search of your body, and a further investigation of the coffee tin. Once the officers had concluded that you and your luggage were not a threat, they let you continue on to your flight.

As a part of this, the TSA officers should have given you the option to have the frisk carried out in private, which would have avoided your "husband, children and grandchildren watching", but I can only presume you said no to this.

You don't have to like that this occurred, but you were not in any way treated like a criminal. At any time you could have opted out of the security, however this would have resulted in you not being given access to the terminal and not flying that day.

(As someone that flies almost every week I've been through this numerous times. Never due to coffee, but numerous other triggers ranging from a bottle of water in my bag, to triggering the metal detector, to simply being randomly selected)


You are right about not having to remove your shoes, but if further screening is required, you may be asked to remove anything.

The pat down could have been a result to a verity of things, and it may have had nothing to do with your coffee can. You could have been flagged for something, or you could have been randomly selected for a pat down.

When further screening is required, the TSA should offer you to be searched in a private room. If they didn't offer you a private room, you could in theory file a complaint, but that may not actually result in anything.

I have precheck, and I have been patted down many times in the past, either because I was randomly selected or because I was flagged for something. In all cases I was asked to remove my shoes even though you don't have to remove your shoes for the standard precheck screening. I was always offered a private room, which I usually decline. There has been a time that I was forced to have the search in a private room, but I never experienced the opposite (where I was forced to be searched in public).

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