Tuesday, October 24, 2006

New TSA rules and a lack of consistency

I’ve traveled many times following the TSA allowing 3oz or smaller items that can fit into a 1qt resealable bag and seem to always run into the following problems:

  • Deodorant — they don’t make my particular flavor of deodorant in a “travel size,” but the regular size is 2.6oz, which, if I’m counting correctly, is less than 3oz; in most airports the TSA representative either yells at me, tells me they’ll “let it go this time,” and/or removes the deodorant from the bag to read the size information even though it’s in a clear plastic bag.
  • Cologne — the cologne that I use comes in a 2.5oz “travel size,” but the size information is not printed on the side of the bottle, rather it is printed on the bottom of the bottle.  TSA people seem to get angry when I tell them where to look for the size and in some cases have to find a supervisor to come and approve the cologne, which is silly.  The simple fact of the matter is that the cologne I use does not allow me to remove the cap to pour it into a smaller or different container.

My worst experience was in Denver this past Sunday — Denver is my home airport so I go through security more times in Denver than in any other city.  I have put my hair gel, lotion, etc. into Nalgene leakproof containers that are 3oz or less and I know that there are tons of other people using them because I see lots of people using them for their products going through security and they are basically sold out in 3oz and smaller sizes at the Container Store and REI.  A TSA agent in Denver stopped my toiletries from going through the conveyer, opened my plastic bag, and told me that the Nalgene containers were not allowed because they did not have the size stamped on them and did not have a manufacturer tag on them.  Shocked, I informed her that I had flown out of Denver at least 6 times and other airports at least 6 times without a single mention from the TSA, I pointed out that the Nalgene containers were factory-stamped with the size on the bottom of the container, and then I asked her to show me the policy from the TSA that stated the containers had to have a manufacturer label.  The TSA agent’s response to me was that I was lucky she wasn’t throwing my items away and that she would “let it go this time.”  Next the TSA agent attacked me about my plastic bag of over-the-counter medication and eyedrops, telling me that I was only allowed one 1qt plastic bag, not 2 bags — I informed her that I only put my OTC medication and eyedrops into the bag to make it easier for me to declare and easier for her to inspect and she shook her head at me, threw my items back into the bin, put the bin into the conveyer, and walked away.

Now here’s the thing: security is inconvenience or inconvenience is security; the aforementioned phrase that applies to you depends upon how you view the world.  I truly have no problem with the inconvenience of having to put my toiletries into a 1qt bag and have everything in a 3oz or less container — I would prefer not to have to do this, but I understand the security justification for the inconvenience.  What I cannot understand and do not agree with is the overwhelming lack of consistency that is tolerated by the TSA.  The TSA encourages people to read their rules before traveling, and below are the rules as listed on the TSA site:

  • All liquids, gels and aerosols must be in three-ounce or smaller containers. Larger containers that are half-full or toothpaste tubes rolled up are not allowed. Each container must be three ounces or smaller.
  • All liquids, gels and aerosols must be placed in a single, quart-size, zip-top, clear plastic bag. Gallon size bags or bags that are not zip-top such as fold-over sandwich bags are not allowed. Each traveler can use only one, quart-size, zip-top, clear plastic bag.
  • Each traveler must remove their quart-sized plastic, zip-top bag from their carry-on and place it in a bin or on the conveyor belt for X-ray screening. X-raying separately will allow TSA security officers to more easily examine the declared items.

Nowhere in the language above does it state that a container must be clearly marked as 3oz or less by the manufacturer, though you could make a reasonable argument that the container probably needs to be marked so that the traveler can prove that it is 3oz or less.  Further, nowhere in the language above does it say that you cannot use packages and containers that do not have a manufacturer product label — the TSA agent in Denver was simply flat-out incorrect and totally inconsistent with actual TSA policy.  Finally, nowhere in the language above or in the further language on the site does it restrict you from putting OTC medication or other items that are required to be declared into a plastic bag; I had actually just flown back from Vegas to Denver on the same day and a TSA agent in Vegas thanked me for putting my OTCs and eyedrops in the plastic bag because “it makes it so much easier.”

Link — TSA


Anonymous said...

I travel a lot for buisness my self and was currious as to why the 1 qt bag is required. I understand the 3oz is a limiting number to keep people from bringing overwhelming amounts of exploding shampoos and lotions onboard the aircraft. But they why do they make more of a stink about the bag it is in then they do about the product it is carrying. I decided to take a look for the answer on the TSA website and this was their answer.


Anonymous said...

Hi. The one quart bag is required because it limits the ammount of liquids you can carry on. The TSA doesn't want you to bring a trashbag full of liquids.

RedHeadGo! said...

Travel about 2-3 times a month on business out of Charlotte and on this last trip home for the holiday I about had it with the complete lack of consistency with the TSA. On the way from CLT to IAD, had brought some lemon butter I brought from a recent trip from Houston. The TSA took it because it was gel-like, although it was vacuum sealed and obviously food. This item made it from Houston with no problems.

On the way home the screener at Dulles took away 2 bottles that were under 3oz. but were not labeled (bought at dollar store to transport items that were too large). These, of course, made it through Charlotte. They really need to get their act together. If they want us to comply, fine, but be consistent about it. Argh!

Ross said...

Just did some traveling during the Thanksgiving holiday as well. In Denver we had to pour out juice we had brought for our daughter, which was fine, but the TSA lady told us we should have brought juice boxes as they were perfectly fine to bring on board. When we were coming back to Denver from San Francisco, TSA didn't even glance twice at the items we had pulled out and I saw the TSA agent allow the lady behind us bring a full 1 gallon freezer bag of cosmetics and toiletries through.


Anonymous said...

This may not actually help since most of these posts are very old. I think i can provide some insight to why TSA is so inconsistent. The first blog i read stated the TSA agent was "flat out wrong" that is inaccurate. The TSA agent was actually correct. Passengers that carry bottles that are liquids, gels, or aerosols, must have manufacturer labels on them so the item can be identified to what is in it as stated in the standard operating procedures. The inconsistences come from the fact that the SOP allows each and every screener to make a decision on there own, it is their discression to what goes and what doesn't based on the SOP rules. Some screeners go by the rules more then others. some let everything go, and some do not, it is their decision. It is a bad policy, but thats the reason for the inconsistences. hope that helps

Ross said...

It sounds like you or someone that you know works for the TSA, so I appreciate your comment.

Can you point me to where it says that liquids and gels have to be in manufacturer containers? I can't find that anywhere on the TSA or Homeland Security site. Further, do the containers have to be factory-sealed? How would a TSA agent know if I put something other than what the manufacturer label says is supposed to be in the container? At least the containers that I use are clear and agents can very easily see what's in them.

I have to say that I am a little surprised that the SOP allows for so much gray area for the agents; I would think that there should be a lot me black and white to ensure that certain rules are enforced in a consistent manner.

Thanks again for the comments.