I’m at the OKC airport and decided to skip checking my bag this time, as I’ll be pressed for time to catch my next plane in the Kansas City airport. Thus I decided to try out TSA’s new liquids-and-gels-in-a-baggie rule. The nice TSA agent at the front of the checkpoint directed me to the nearby news store where I could get a quart bag. Armed with the bag, I loaded it up with the liquids and gels in my travel kit.
Now, I went out a week ago and bought the appropriately-sized bottles and sizes. By the way, the allowed sizes used to be 4 ounces though this size was changed to officially 3 ounces with little fanfare. Figuring I was legit, I confidently marched up to the screening line.
As I approached a screening point with a couple of passengers in it, another TSA agent kindly directed me to a line down the hall. Working under the assumption that this line would somehow be shorter than the one in front of me with two people in it, I blindly followed his directions.
Big mistake. In my new line a new X-ray screener was being trained, and she insisted on spending a full minute on every bag that crossed her path. The line soon ballooned to 30 passengers. I’m not used to getting to know the fellow passengers in the screening line, so I took advantage to chat while we all waited for the rookie to figure out what she was doing.
After ten minutes, it was finally my turn to go. In went my baggie into the bin with my shoes. Laptop, laptop bag, and roller bag followed. I breezed through the X-ray machine without breaking my stride and waited to collect my bags.
That’s when things turned ridiculous. A TSA agent approached the end of the belt, waving my baggie in the air.
“Whose bag is this?” he asked rather loudly.
“Uh, its mine. Is there a problem?”
I expected to see something really dangerous that I’d forgotten to remove, like my nail clippers. Nail clippers are to airplanes as icebergs are to the Titanic, you know. I was surprised instead to see him dangling my nearly empty tube of toothpaste: one with perhaps one or two molecules of toothpaste left in it.
“You can’t take this with you,” he announced in a voice designed for other passengers to hear.
I tried to suppress a smile. “But it’s practically empty! What’s wrong with it?”
“Its too big,” he told me. “You’re limited to 3 ounces.”
While the tube was indeed a full-size tube, it was so empty it probably wouldn’t even tip the scales. I decided to probe the depths of this insanity.
“I’m pretty sure it has less than 3 ounces of toothpaste in it. Couldn’t you weigh it?”
“No sir,” was the all-too-serious reply. “We go by what’s printed on the tube.”
Aha. So if a container actually has the size printed on the side, it gets scrutinized. But all those anonymous plastic travel containers
with no size printed on them at all can pass right through scot-free.
“All right. Go ahead,” I relented, knowing I would’ve tossed the tube in a week anyway. Knowing he had kept the skies safe from clean teeth, the agent smugly dropped the tube into the trash.
The irony is that if I’d left the tube in my roller bag, it almost certainly would’ve passed through without detection. TSA winds up punishing the people who try to follow the rules.