Every passenger at Canada’s airports must pass through security screening, which includes:
- Placing personal items in bins. Check our What Do I Put in the Bins? page for tips.
- Sending your bin(s) as well as your carry-on bag through the X-ray machine. Check our How to Pack your Carry-on tips to make this process easier.
- Passing through the walk-through metal detector.
Once this process is complete, you may retrieve your carry-on baggage at the X-ray machine.
If you trigger an alarm at the walk-through metal detector or, if your bag triggers an alarm at the X-ray machine, or if you or your bag are chosen at random, you may be asked to undergo additional screening. This may involve:
- A screening officer using a hand-wand device that detects metal objects.
- A partial or full physical search (pat-down) of your person
- A partial or full physical search of your carry-on bag
- A scan of the body using a full-body scanner.
- Swabbing using explosive trace detection.
There are different screening procedures for head coverings depending on your flight’s destination.
Domestic and international flights:
- You will be asked to remove your head covering and place it in a bin for X-ray screening. If you do not remove your head covering, you will need to remove it after the walk-through metal detector for a physical search if it is not worn for religious or medical reasons.
- Any head covering worn through the walk-through metal detector that causes an alarm to sound will require additional screening. If a physical search is required, it may be conducted in a private search room at your request.
Flights to U.S.:
- You will be asked to remove your head covering and place it in a bin for X-ray screening. If you do not remove your head covering and alarm at the walk-through metal detector, additional screening will be required. If a physical search is required, it may be conducted in a private search room at your request.
- If there is no alarm at the walk-through metal detector, you will be asked to pat down your own head covering and present your hands to the screening officer for Explosive Trace Detection.
- If you remove your head covering at any point in the screening process, trace of the head covering is no longer required.
Why does CATSA do random additional screening?
Random selection for additional screening helps us ensure the highest standards of security. We use an automated process to select people for random screening, which ensures that everyone has an equal chance of being chosen.
Be sure to review our tips for a stress-free screening!
CATSA uses Explosive Trace Detection (ETD) on a random basis. Screening officers may swab your carry-on baggage, laptop, shoes, clothing or hands and then use ETD technology to test for explosives.
Your carry-on baggage and bins will go through the X-ray machine so that a screening officer can examine their contents. Sometimes carry-on bags require an additional search if screening officers see items that aren’t permitted.
- If you are not sure what items are allowed in carry-on, check our What Can I Bring? Complete Item List before you pack.
- Ensure you can easily remove your laptop computer, video and film cameras from your carry-on.
- Place personal toiletry items in a clear plastic bag. Only bring liquids, aerosols and gels that are packaged in containers with a capacity of 100 ml / 100 grams (3.4 oz) or less. All these items must fit into one transparent, closed and resealable plastic bag with a capacity of no more than 1L (1 qt).
- Exempted liquids – like medication, baby formula or breast milk– should be packed so that they can easily be removed from carry-on baggage for inspection.
- Avoid packing gifts and souvenirs containing liquids, aerosols and gels in your carry-on. These include: liquor, wine, beer, snowglobes, cans of condensed soup, maple syrup, perfume, and lotion. Put them in checked baggage or ship them separately.
Follow these tips to make the screening process less stressful and more efficient for everybody:
- Tag your carry-on and checked baggage with your contact information.
- Give yourself plenty of time to get through pre-board screening, especially during peak travel periods (early morning, noon, and early evening).
- Leave empty baggage carts outside of the screening checkpoint.
- Have your boarding pass ready to present for verification. You may need to show photo identification. At some airports, the validation of your boarding pass will be done automatically by a scanner.
- NEVER joke or make “small talk” about bombs, firearms or other weapons while going through pre-board screening – you could be charged with an offence under the Canadian Aviation Security Regulations.
- Understand what to expect during a physical search.
Screening officers scan boarding passes - including electronic boarding passes - to validate information quickly. The scanner captures information such as your name, flight number, flight date and gate number. CATSA also uses this scanner to calculate wait times at security. See Frequently Asked Questions: Boarding Pass Security System for more detail.
- Screening officers are trained to use common sense and courtesy when screening people carrying or wearing objects of religious or cultural significance.
- You can undergo security screening while wearing a head covering for religious reasons. For more detail, please see Screening of Head Coverings.
- When you enter the screening checkpoint, let the screening officer know if you are carrying an item of religious or cultural significance, so that it can be screened separately.
- Certain items are not permitted through the pre-board screening checkpoint because they are sharp objects – this includes ceremonials knives and swords (e.g. a kirpan). These items should be packed in your checked baggage, unless they are on Transport Canada's list of prohibited items for passengers on all flights.