News center
Our company strives to provide superior goods, on-time order fulfillment, and personalized assistance.

Vets flying with service dogs face ‘challenges’

Jul 13, 2023

The TSA has a mission to “Protect the nation's transportation systems to ensure freedom of movement for people and commerce,” according to its website. So, here are a few items you should avoid packing in your carry on for a more seamless airport experience.

CEDAR RAPIDS — Trent Dirks removes his belt, shoes and items from his pockets and places them in a plastic airport screening bin, while his service dog, Tracer, sits patiently at his side.

A transportation security officer ushers them to a walk-through metal detector and explains the screening process. The white Labrador playfully licks Dirks’ as he listens.

The man and dog walk through the metal detector together, which alarms from Tracer’s leash and harness. The security officer directs them to turn around and walk back through. Dirks tells Tracer to sit and puts the leash in the Lab’s mouth to hold as he walks through the detector by himself. It doesn’t alarm this time.

Sergeant Trent Dirks and his service dog, Tracer speak with LTSO Doug Slagle as he gives instruction to complete his security check on Monday, Aug. 28, 2023, at the Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Iowa Republican U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson, of Marion, and TSA officials staged a walk through at the Eastern Iowa Airport showing how passengers with service dogs can navigate security. Hinson is working with TSA officials about challenges veterans face when traveling with service dogs, namely inconsistencies in how airports treat passengers with service animals. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette)

Dirks rejoins Tracer, who has been sitting patiently 6 feet away. Dirks takes the leash out of Tracer’s mouth. The officer kneels down and gently pats down and inspects Tracer’s harness. The pair then walks through the detector again together.

The officer swabs Dirks’ hands with a cotton cloth to test for possible explosives residue.

The walk-through Monday at The Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids was part of a screening demonstration organized by Iowa Republican U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson. Hinson, of Marion, has been working with TSA officials to ease challenges veterans and those with disabilities face when traveling with service animals.

Dirks, a Grundy Center native and retired U.S. Army sergeant, served in Afghanistan and, like many veterans, suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder following his deployment. He found support through Retrieving Freedom in Waverly. The organization trains service dogs for veterans, and Dirks was paired with his canine companion, Tracer, who accompanied him to a hospital for intensive treatment and now lives with him.

Hinson met Dirks and Tracer when she visited Retrieving Freedom in 2021. The duo has inspired her efforts in Congress to improve veterans’ mental health care access, and she invited Dirks as her guest at this year’s State of the Union address. Hinson said she learned of some of the challenges Dirks and other veterans with service animals face when going through airport security.

“TSA is intimating, regardless of who you are,” Dirks told reporters. “Or it can be really intimidating, but then you add disabilities or traveling with a four-legged service animal and it just creates additional challenges. You want to make sure that your service animal is properly trained going through TSA or any public space.”

One particular worry for those with service animals, Dirks said, is being separated from their animal during the screening process — even if just by feet.

“You want to make sure that service animal is properly trained, so you can separate 6-foot between that dog so you can walk through without alarming the metal detector, and the dog behaves and stays in a sitting position,” Dirks said. “That’s one of the biggest challenges that I face going through TSA. Obviously, Tracer is pretty well trained … but that is a concern, I would say, for someone going through TSA.”

TSA will not separate owners from their service animal. Passengers, though, must tell the screening officer that they are traveling with a service animal, and both they and their service animal must go through a metal detector and/or be patted down, according to the agency. If the metal detector alarms, the owner and the service animal will undergo additional screening.

Iowa TSA Federal Security Director John Bright said those who have concerns about screening can ask to speak with a supervisor or passenger support specialist during the process. TSA also offers screening information and assistance to travelers through TSA Cares at (855) 787-2227 and at

Service dog Tracer waits patiently to pass through security on Monday, Aug. 28, 2023, at the Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette)

Hinson said one of the reasons she engaged Dirks and the TSA was to establish a standard, “so everywhere you travel you’re going to experience that same procedure so we make it as easy as possible for veterans and service animals to travel.”

Bright said TSA uses a standard operating procedure at all airports when processing service animals through the checkpoint.

Bright encouraged passengers with service animals to contact TSA Cares within 72 hours of their flight so they know what to expect during the airport security screening process, and to provide advance notice to local TSA officials.

With the COVID-19 national emergency over, “we want more people to be traveling” and feel comfortable doing so, Hinson said.

”No matter what challenge you may face, whether it’s a disability that requires you have a service animal, or a medical challenge (such as insulin pumps) … we just want to make sure people feel comfortable traveling and know what their options are,“ she said.

Overall, Dirks said his experience going through TSA security Monday went well. Beyond TSA screening, Dirks said there are also inconsistencies among airlines “and it can be very challenging trying to navigate an airlines policies and procedures” flying with and registering a service animal.

“And each airline is different in what they require” to register a service animal to fly, he said.

The Transportation Security Administration usually shuffles airline passengers' clothing, laptops, and shoes with little to no contention. According to the TSA, 5.5 million carry-on bags go through its security checks every day. Flagged items tend to be oversized bottles of liquids, gels, aerosols, lighters, or sharp objects.

But occasionally, TSA gets an item that would shock even the most seasoned agent. These items go through screening and come out somewhere unique: Instagram.

TSA's Instagram account shares stories of strange things that may raise eyebrows but successfully make it through screening, like this zombie-looking movie prop that went through Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. The account also shares examples of some items that don't make the cut and must be confiscated. Some stir up great debates, like a jar of peanut butter that TSA counts as a liquid and therefore can't fly in a carry-on. Other confiscated items aren't quite as…wholesome and often leave the traveling public asking, "Someone tried to bring THAT on a plane?!"

Bounce combed through TSA's Instagram account to compile a list of 10 of the most unusual things confiscated during security checks across the United States.

TSA officers at the Tampa International Airport probably wished that "Snakes on a Plane" was just a fictional movie when they found a 4-foot boa constrictor stashed in a roller bag. Coiled among shoes and toiletries, the reptilian stowaway was promptly discovered by agents as a passenger attempted to send it through the X-ray machine.

This very strange combination had Honolulu International Airport TSA officers scratching their heads when they found bundles of plastic-wrapped breadfruit in a passenger's carry-on. The fruit itself was not so much the issue as what the passenger had stuffed inside one: a bottle of baby oil that was more than 3.4 ounces.

A passenger in Miami found out the hard way it's eel-legal to travel with a bag of live eels—yes, the elongated fish. Also along for the ride in the smuggler's bag were 163 fish and 22 invertebrates. The Fish and Wildlife Service came to the rescue, collecting the sea creatures before the fish took flight.

Oversized ceremonial scissors are a must-have for ribbon-cutting ceremonies at groundbreakings and other celebrations. While they were likely needed for a good photo op rather than a malicious purpose, Nashville International Airport TSA officers still had to confiscate them for safety reasons from a passenger.

In an attempt that was no doubt uncomfortable for both the reptile and its owner, a live turtle was hidden inside a passenger's pants at Spokane International Airport. TSA points out that typically, small pets are allowed through the checkpoint—with a proper carrying case and checking for your airline's rules ahead of time, of course.

Here's another screening straight out of a horror movie: A traveler moving through security at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport security tried to bring their Freddy Krueger-shaped glove through a checkpoint in Silicon Peach. The passenger learned an important lesson that day: gloves with knives attached are, unsurprisingly, not allowed in carry-on luggage.

According to TSA agents who stopped this suitcase at LaGuardia Airport, if the smell didn't get you, the sight of maggots spilling out of the bag would. Everyone in the area needed to vacate, and an entire cleaning crew came in to decontaminate after this foul discovery.

TSA agents at Syracuse Hancock International Airport stopped someone from boarding with a small shark inside a jar. It wasn't the shark that was fishy, but the liquid in the container. First, it was more than 3.4 ounces; second, the liquid chemical preservative was deemed hazardous and, thus, not permitted.

History buffs or not, passengers are still discouraged from bringing historic weapons. One passenger decided to bring an old cannonball and antique flare gun through security at Hawaii's Kahului Regional Airport. While they no doubt had an interesting history, they were promptly held by security.

This story originally appeared on Bounce and was produced and distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.

Get local news delivered to your inbox!

The TSA has a mission to “Protect the nation's transportation systems to ensure freedom of movement for people and commerce,” according to its…

Listen now and subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify | Stitcher | RSS Feed | Omny StudioListen now and subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify | Stitcher | RSS Feed | Omny Studio