The TSA (Transportation Security Administration) requires extensive background checks for all aviation personnel in the United States before they may access restricted areas in and around airports. These checks became more rigorous after 9/11 to close any security gaps that could compromise the safety of an airport or airplane.

In 2015, there was a significant update to the TSA background check process. Since then, the TSA has conducted real-time, recurring background checks on existing aviation personnel to ensure they keep their records clean. Today, pilots and crew must also undergo security checks when flying as passengers. Previously, TSA employees could bypass airport security, even when taking a personal flight.

How does the TSA look in a background check?

  • Fingerprinting and fingerprint processing to check against FBI criminal databases and FBI terrorist watch lists.
  • Felony and misdemeanor criminal searches at county, state, and federal levels.
  • Federal Aviation Administration record checks to verify pilot licenses, medical certificates, and more.
  • Air carrier record reviews to ensure personnel have gone through proper training processes.
  • Searches for drug- or alcohol-related crimes or incidents dating back two years.
  • Driving record checks – past motor vehicle violations, license suspensions, or other red flags.
  • Social Security Number validations to check for fraud and verify a candidate’s current residential address.
  • License or certificate verifications to make sure the candidate is qualified to work in a TSA-approved capacity.
  • Check workers’ compensation history to see if the candidate or employee has a history of workplace accidents, injuries, or settlements.
  • Reference checks to verify information provided by the candidate or employee.

What would make me fail a TSA background check?

You cannot pass a TSA background check if you’ve served jail time (foreign or domestic) for longer than 365 consecutive days. You may also fail if you have a history of security-related offenses that violate transport safety regulations, for example, intimidating flight crew members. Finally, the TSA will not consider your application if you have previously been deemed mentally unfit to stand trial or pleaded insanity in court.

The TSA will permanently disqualify you from employment for the following felonies:

  • Espionage, sedition, or treason.
  • Terrorism or conspiracy thereof.
  • Transportation security incidents. A TSI results in significant loss of life, environmental damage, transportation system disruption, or economic disruption as defined in 46 U.S.C. 70101.
  • Improper transport of hazardous materials.
  • Any explosive-related crimes.

You will fail a TSA background check for employment if you‘re convicted of any of the offenses listed above. For lesser offenses, you may need to wait up to seven years before you can work in a TSA-governed position. Visit the TSA’s official website for a comprehensive list of disqualifying offenses.

How long does a background check take for TSA PreCheck®?

PreCheck® allows all aircraft passengers with United States citizenship or permanent residency to move through airport security faster. It is also available to Mexican nationals. PreCheck® requires you to pass a background check before joining its known traveler’s list. A PreCheck® background check typically takes 3 - 5 days. However, some may take up to 60 days.

What About Background Checks for Ground Transportation?

The TSA governs hiring practices for aviation personnel. You must refer to the Department of Transportation (DOT) for employment in the ground transport or trucking industry. Compliance with DOT regulations is essential for all US Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) operators.

To qualify as a CMV, the vehicle must have a gross weight rating (GVWR) of over 10,000 pounds (4,536 kg). Drivers who transport hazardous materials or more than nine passengers may also qualify as CMW operators, regardless of the type of vehicle.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) enforces DOT regulations, which include background checks for drivers. According to FMCSA, all commercial drivers must pass a pre-employment background check before participating in interstate commerce. DOT background checks validate driver qualifications by checking the following:

  • Driving records for the past three years.
  • Investigating prior road accidents.
  • Substance abuse records.

Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) requirements also include pre-employment drug testing. Employers have the right to test for drugs and alcohol in a driver’s bloodstream through employment.

Get monthly updates on  background check news, industry trends, and changes in laws and regulations.

Jim Daxner

About Jim Daxner The author

Jim is a Consultative Senior Executive with 25 years of experience pioneering strategies, programs, systems, and products to drive superior client experiences, boost customer loyalty, capture new revenue opportunities, build strong strategic partnerships, and expand into new channels.

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