Recently I attempted to check in 50 minutes prior to a US domestic flight. But I was denied checking my suitcase and was told by the airline employee that I could only check baggage up to 1 hour before a flight1. I was given the choice of taking my (full sized) suitcase on my original flight as hand luggage or rebooking on another, later flight. For various reasons I opted for the re-booking (which in hindsight made for a horrendous travel experience due to unrelated issues).

But I am curious to know how the TSA should have handled me attempting to take my suitcase through the TSA checkpoint. Being a full sized suitcase it would not have fitted through the X-Ray machine, and I am not even sure that they would have even allowed me to proceed through security with it2. I assume that there are probably hand search policies that they can apply, but this is so far out of my experience that I have no clue.

Can anyone explain what the TSA should3 have done in the case of me attempting to get a full-sized suitcase through a TSA security checkpoint when said suitcase would not fit through an x-ray machine?

Note that there was also nothing in my suitcase that I could not have taken onto the plane in hand luggage.

I am also guessing that taking my suitcase through security is actually less secure than checking it. My belief is that after a bag is checked that there should be some sort of automated scanning applied to it, but at the TSA checkpoint they could not do a similar level of scanning and would have to rely solely on visual inspections.

Can anyone tell me if I am right or wrong in this respect?

1. In subsequent emails with the airlines customer service, it was pointed out that this was a TSA rule and not an airline rule.

2. I have previously seen airlines/security aggressively enforce size and weight restrictions on standard carry on sized luggage before even getting to the TSA checkpoint. So I can't imagine what they would have thought seeing me dragging my "hand luggage" along

3. Note that I say should rather than would because I know how capricious the TSA can be.

  • Is there any reason to think that opening the suitcase and checking it by hand would not have worked? – DJClayworth Jun 14 '17 at 15:41
  • TSA didn't refuse, the airline did, saying it was a TSA rule, right? And you didn't attempt to go through the passenger security checkpoint with it, correct? It sounds like it's the automated below ground system through which baggage is screened; that's what has a 'clock,' depending on the facility, determining the time between check in and loading onto aircraft. – Giorgio Jun 15 '17 at 14:11

From the scenario you've presented, it seems that there was a conflation of the airline's time requirements to ensure your bag gets on your flight, and the TSA-mandated screening.

Depending on the airline and the airport facility, its size, most will advise customers that, when checking baggage, it must be done within a time minimum. Airline policies for late check in time vary, from Southwest's 45 minutes to Delta advising that baggage check-in time requirements vary by airport.

And the iFly.com discussion of baggage cutoff times:

As far as checked luggage goes, there is a cutoff time during which airlines will no longer accept your luggage. You likely know that you have to arrive at the airport in the time allotted to catch your flight, but you must also arrive prior to your airline's baggage cutoff times as well.

Most major airlines require that you check your luggage t least 30 minutes prior to departure; if you attempt to check your luggage with less than 30 minutes to departure you will not be permitted to do so. This rule applies to most major airlines, but each airline has exceptions to the rule. If you are traveling internationally you must check your luggage at least 60 minutes prior to departure. Again, every airline has exceptions.

Additionally, the airport from which you depart has its own rules regarding your checked luggage. There are a few airports that require you check your luggage in accordance with their checked luggage cutoff times, rather than following your airline's checked baggage cutoff times. For more information you must check with the airport from which you are departing.

Major airlines such as Delta Airlines, American Airlines, United Airlines, JetBlue and Southwest Airlines require that passengers check their luggage 30-40 minutes or more before departure for domestic flights and 60 minutes or more for international flights. Passengers departing on any of these airlines out of Chicago, Orlando, New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Atlanta, Dallas, Miami and other major airports must check their luggage with additional time before departure; some of these airports require you check baggage at least 40 minutes, 45 minutes or 60 minutes prior to departure.


From time to time, passengers have to take unusually large items as carry on. For example because they have some fragile item or because they were delayed and had to carry on luggage they'd intended to check. You can be fairly sure that the airline wouldn't allow you to try to take something through security if security would refuse to screen it. (Though staff are not infallible and they may have suggested that you do something impossible.)

I have once had to carry on a large bag that I'd intended to check. However, it was small enough to fit through the X-ray machine so there was no issue with that. If a bag wouldn't fit, I see no organizational reason why security couldn't just open it and search it by hand. Obviously, if everybody had bags like that, screening them would take forever but, in reality, it's probably only a few bags a day. I've flown a couple-few times a year for the last fifteen years or so and I don't recall ever seeing somebody have a bag or other carry-on that wouldn't fit through the machine.

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