I was told recently that if you are flying on your own private jet, you can drive your car directly on to the runway, park next to your plane and board without any security checks.

This can't be true can it?

I don't own my own private jet so I'm afraid I can't check for myself.

How does security work around privately owned planes landing in public airports?

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    $\begingroup$ It's worth noting that airport security (as handled by the TSA in the US) is not the same as border control which is also not necessarily the same as customs control. $\endgroup$
    – Dancrumb
    Nov 18, 2014 at 22:04
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    $\begingroup$ Why would you search a pilot flying in their own plane? They already have control of the plane. They have no need to hijack it. The same goes for commercial airline pilots, for that matter. It seems rather silly to search the guys who already have full control of the plane anyway. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Nov 19, 2014 at 9:27
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    $\begingroup$ @reirab not silly at all. The pilot's intention might not always be suicide. He could easily have a kilo of cocaine in his baggage or strapped to his body. Or some other stolen or illegal items. And he may only be travelling from one side of his country to the other, so technically it wouldn't be smuggling, but it would still be a very fast way of moving contraband. $\endgroup$
    – Daft
    Nov 19, 2014 at 9:35
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    $\begingroup$ @Daft I can't speak for all countries, but searching for drugs without probable cause is illegal in the U.S. Also, a private jet would be a seemingly inefficient way to move drugs within a country, since you'd have to move a lot of drugs to pay for the aircraft. Furthermore, we have really good road systems in the U.S. It's pretty easy to move contraband (as well as legal shipments) by road without attracting much suspicion at all and it's certainly much cheaper than using a private jet (or even a light GA piston-engine aircraft.) $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Nov 19, 2014 at 14:20
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    $\begingroup$ Funny anecdote: Steve Jobs once tried to embark his own private jet with some shuriken on his way back from Japan. Airport security blocked him, and ha was forced to throw them away before boarding. Apparently he complained a lot about the stupidity of being denied boarding in his own plane and promised never to get back to Japan. $\endgroup$
    – Antzi
    Nov 24, 2014 at 5:49

6 Answers 6


Here in the US (you didn't specify where, and this is different in other countries), traveling domestically in your own private aircraft is much like traveling in your own private car.

Except in very specific situations, you are not generally required to go through security, and at many, many smaller general aviation airports airport security is almost non-existent, or at the very least they are not checking passengers and their luggage.

If the police have a reason to suspect that something illegal is taking place (they have reasonable cause) then they can search the airplane, but again, much like in your car, this doesn't usually happen.

International flights are a very different matter though, and the airplane, crew, passengers, and luggage must all clear customs at departure and arrival airports where they will be inspected.

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    $\begingroup$ It very much sounds as if smuggling drugs, weapons, etc would be fairly easy with a private jet! I suppose I was naively expecting security to be just as thorough as a commercial flight $\endgroup$
    – Daft
    Nov 18, 2014 at 18:47
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    $\begingroup$ @Daft: The word smuggling refers to illicit transport of goods over an international border. If you land in another country in a private jet (at an airport), you will have to clear customs (and immigration). $\endgroup$ Nov 18, 2014 at 19:05
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    $\begingroup$ And this is exactly why I have vowed to own my own plane someday. $\endgroup$
    – zkent
    Nov 19, 2014 at 3:43
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    $\begingroup$ @rbp: I bet I wouldn't. $\endgroup$ Nov 19, 2014 at 15:45
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    $\begingroup$ @Daft Just as easy as carrying those things in a private car. $\endgroup$ Apr 8, 2016 at 0:40

The reason the TSA searches baggage going onto commercial flights is to prevent people from hijacking or destroying commercial airliners1.

If you are going on your own private plane, you can bring scissors or just about anything you like on your own plane, since you're already the pilot and if you want to fly it to Cuba or crash it into Monsanto headquarters, a baggage search won't stop you.

1 Informally, other reasons are also to milk money and perpetuate perverse political ideas and acceptance of pervasive security.)

  • $\begingroup$ This seems terrifying to mention, but hopefully terrorists are too poor to be buying their own private jets then! $\endgroup$
    – Michael
    Nov 19, 2014 at 22:27
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    $\begingroup$ I think if/when they have that much money on hand, they probably spend it more efficiently and locally. Somehow we've been sold the idea that we need to try to protect ourselves from a world of terrorists by adding lots of domestic security, as if this is effective and needed. Meanwhile there will always be all sorts of things a creative suicidal person could do, and even the supposedly secure places such as airports are frequently penetrated by curious reporters (or Mythbusters accidentally taking giant razors through security). $\endgroup$
    – Dronz
    Nov 20, 2014 at 17:13

In the US this is (sort-of) true: For private aviation the responsibility for security of the flight falls on the operator of the flight, which usually means the crew is handling any "screening" of passengers.

Typically if you're flying on a private aircraft you're a known quantity: Executives flying around in GM's jets are going to be GM employees (or their guests), folks flying around on a sports team's jet will probably be the players and coaches, etc.
In both of those cases chances are the passengers have met the pilots before, and neither they nor their guests are likely to try to hijack the flight so there's no need for TSA-style searches and confiscation of the bottle of 30-year-old Glenlivet they brought to share on the flight.

Similarly for charter flights the folks renting the plane will have spoken to the company extensively in arranging the flight. There may be some additional level of scrutiny here to make sure someone's not bringing a propane camp stove or something else prohibited on board, but chances are you will not be asked to remove your shoes and belt.

The level of security for the airport itself will vary depending on the airport (and this is what usually determines if you can drive right up to the aircraft).
Let's consider three examples (for the sake of a prison metaphor we'll call them maximum security, medium security, and minimum security):

A maximum security airport would be the "big" airports (like JFK or O'Hare) - At these airports chances are you will not be driving your car or limo onto the ramp to board your plane. You will park (or be dropped off) "landside" (outside the airport fence / operations area), and authorized persons will take your bags and escort you to and from the aircraft.
When not on the way to or from the aircraft you'll be in a nice terminal building (like this one)

The medium security airports are typically the larger general aviation fields and/or the smaller commercial/airline fields. If your aircraft is based at one of these airports you will typically have reasonably unfettered access to it (subject to a few restrictions, such as the need for a background check and ID badge). You will usually be able to drive out onto the ramp and go directly into the aircraft. If you're not based at the field (for example on the return leg of a business trip) you may be allowed to drive out on the ramp with an escort from someone at the airport who is authorized to do so, but visiting crew and passengers will be under some level of supervision from airport personnel (either directly escorted or visual observation).

Minimum security airports are more associated with light general aviation than business jets, though you'll find private jets based at some of these fields.
Security is generally much more relaxed at these airports, and at most of them you simply sign in and drive through a gate right onto the ramp.
Good common sense says passengers will usually be escorted by some qualified personnel at these fields (after all you don't want them walking into a propeller or getting sucked into a jet intake), but the supervision is probably going to be provided by your flight crew rather than airport personnel.

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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, I was just referring to your statement that "A maximum security airport would be the kind of place major airlines fly from..." which makes it sound like all airports that major airlines fly from fall into this category. You may want to clarify that. $\endgroup$
    – Lnafziger
    Nov 18, 2014 at 23:06
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    $\begingroup$ Another minor point: GM no longer has their own private jets because of the bad PR that was generated when they flew them to Washington to ask for a bail out.... $\endgroup$
    – Lnafziger
    Nov 19, 2014 at 6:27
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    $\begingroup$ @Lnafziger Yeah, I remember that. What was perhaps even more ridiculous was that for their next trip they all drove cars from Detroit to D.C. If you consider what the CEOs of a company the size of Ford or GM make, the extra 2 days to drive there and back probably cost the company more than the private jet flights. This is, of course, why we have these cool things called 'airlines.' $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Nov 19, 2014 at 9:23
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    $\begingroup$ @reirab Well, they knew that but it was a publicity stunt for the press/voters, lol. $\endgroup$
    – Lnafziger
    Nov 19, 2014 at 11:22
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    $\begingroup$ @Lnafziger Yeah I just like picking on GM (and they can still sign a long-term contract with a charter operator and have the same kind of relationship :) $\endgroup$
    – voretaq7
    Nov 19, 2014 at 14:30

I worked at a general aviation airport for 10 years. At that one, security consisted of three strands of barbed wire around the perimeter and a chain across the gate. The priority was keeping cows off the runway. The police (and fire) were 30 minutes away, and that's assuming the payphone works.

The paved runway could handle any propeller plane and light jets like a Citation or smaller Gulfstream. You could load them up with absolutely anything and anyone you wanted, and nobody would know about it.

Larger airports in the area did have manned security, although their concern was theft and vandalism rather than contraband.


Depending on the airport you will be checked when entering the airfield itself.

There will be guards at the gate that will do a quick check on your vehicle baggage and person and provide a quick safety brief (as in "don't drive outside designated areas, planes have right of way").

Everyone entering the safe area of an international airport will be checked, even employees.

However small private airfields won't have such checks depending on who owns it.

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    $\begingroup$ (I'm not looking to smuggle drugs and weapons and such) $\endgroup$
    – Daft
    Nov 18, 2014 at 17:39
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    $\begingroup$ @Daft For drug and weapon smuggling, it'd be easier to just land in a field far from everywhere else than to have an established location. And just because there aren't routine checks, doesn't prevent police from getting a warrant to investigate the airfield. $\endgroup$
    – cpast
    Nov 18, 2014 at 17:43
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    $\begingroup$ @Daft (Also not a drug smuggler) but there are many class E and G airports that are very remote, and people don't care about. Not to mention, it is legal to land airplanes on flat ground (anywhere) as long as it's not a populated area. $\endgroup$
    – Keegan
    Nov 18, 2014 at 18:05
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    $\begingroup$ "Planes have right of way" the thought of someone driving a car and deciding to not yield to a plane is terrifying $\endgroup$ Nov 18, 2014 at 18:40
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    $\begingroup$ @DoktorJ no I meant that planes have right of way over cars. $\endgroup$ Nov 18, 2014 at 23:15

As the owner of a 737 VIP I can tell you this much: if security is required it is the plane owner who pays and the PIC who coordinates it.

Most smaller GA fields that have a runway long enough for a 737 do not require a security check and most often you can be dropped off at your plane on the taxiway. Big airports like LAX, JFK, O'Hara, etc each have a protocol that must be followed. If your flight plan starts and stops with in the US, most times no security is required unless the airport you are visiting requires it.

The big airports do not allow private jetliners to be left unsecured. You must provide armed security for the plane the entire time it is on the ground at the airport. I use Security Boston, they are the best. American Airlines, Southwest, Delta, etc all have there own armed security forces to watch their planes on the ground.

You do not have to go through TSA to board your plane and leave for destinations within the US. If you are traveling internationally, this is for big jets, I do not know what the requirements are for GA aircraft, your plane, your crew, your passengers and baggage must go through a TSA screening. Period. When you land at your international destination, everybody must go through that country's security and customs to be cleared. Every country has its procedures for a private jet, and yes, some are just annoying.

Anything needed is the joint responsibility between the owner and pilot.

Hope this helps.


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