Plastic Bags & Airport Security

BA's Baggie

I spent last week in Las Vegas sadly missing the lip balm I had to give up
when I went through security, since I neglected to put it within the now
required plastic baggie. The entire process seems absurd, but at least I now
have plenty of bags after purchasing some and also getting one mailed to me
today by British Airways.

There was much discussion of the new rules among those I talked with out at
Pubcon. Everyone seemed to have a different story. Mine was being mildly annoyed
that my lip balm couldn’t just go in one of those plastic bins without being in
a bag. What exactly did putting the balm into a bag for scanning do that made it
more acceptable?

To be clear, I couldn’t drop the balm on its own in a plastic bin. However,
if it was security encased within a clear plastic bag, then dropped into the
bin, that was acceptable.

My friend found her plastic bag was verboten because it used an actual zipper
top, rather than a plastic zip. Another said she was told by security that the
bag had to be Ziploc brand. This produced
many chuckles that Johnson, which makes Ziploc, must have some secret deal going with
the government. "How we gonna get sales up? I know, let’s start a security scare
that only Ziploc bags can solve."

Another friend had a plastic bag, but it was an ordinary sandwich bag that
couldn’t be resealed. That wasn’t acceptable. Why? Security told her she’s not
really supposed to open it after going through. That was clearly mistaken, but
the idea that the bag needs to be resalable makes no real sense.

In fact, the purpose of the bags themselves remain a mystery. I want to know
exactly how the new rules are stopping potential terrorist activities, but I’m
afraid that the response would be that if I was told, that might help the

Over at the US TSA site, I was bemused

to read

Please keep in mind that these rules were developed after extensive
research and understanding of current threats.

Honestly, I want to see the lab where the testing happened, where by placing
these items within a plastic bag, they were rendered harmless.

Another friend turned up all smug that he’d been to the TSA site and was all
hip to 3-1-1. That’s the
TSA trying to communicate that you can have:

  • Liquidy stuff in containers that are 3 ounces or less
  • Items in 1 quart bags
  • 1 bag per person

If you don’t deal in ounces and quarts, then I guess it’s 100-20-1, for 100ml
containers in a 20x20cm bag, one bag per person.

Many of us wondered why the TSA doesn’t provide bags right there at screening
points that can be
used. You aren’t required to keep this stuff in the bag after going through
security. The only purpose to the bag, says the TSA in its
Why The
page, is:

Consolidating the bottles into one bag and X-raying separately enables
security officers to examine the declared items. By reducing clutter in the
carry-on bag, security officers can more easily find prohibited items within
the bag.

Fine — make bags available for the people who might suggest, instead of the
incredible waste that continues to go on where all this stuff is dumped. Once
the bag is used for screening, let people leave it for the next person to use.
If by chance you get a bag flagged as possibly having explosive contents, then
don’t reuse that bag.

Providing bags might also gain more support for separation of these items.
Several people I know simply left lip balms or other liquid-like items in their
bags either on purpose or accidentally, and these weren’t caught. Those doing it
on purpose might have complied if bags had been offered, which ultimately helps
the TSA. Those who got stuff through accidentally further highlight that these
rules seem more about making us feel safer rather than actually making us safer.

Then again, who feels that safe when after getting through security, I was
later allowed to board my aircraft without showing any picture ID. Just a
boarding pass was enough. I know that supposedly I was in a "secure" area and
checked once getting through security, but it still felt odd that no one did a
further check that the person who was supposed to be getting on the plane
actually was that person.

One of my friends, wanting to keep her lip gloss, went back from security and
found a gift shop selling bags for 25 cents. Matt Cutts made me chuckle when he
saved his toothpaste

by finding a baggie
in his luggage at the last minute. He even managed to
get a 7 tube through, rather than the 3
ounces you’re supposedly limited to per container.

Actually, it turns out the TSA agent wasn’t bending the rules for Matt. If you
do have something bigger than three ounces by mistake, the guidelines say:

  1. Separate these items from the liquids, gels, and aerosols in your
    quart-size and zip-top bag.
  2. Declare you have the items to one of our Security Officers at the security
  3. Present these items for additional inspection once reaching the X-ray.
    These items are subject to additional screening.

Of course, what the guidelines say and what the TSA actually does are two
different things. Back during that brief time when the remove your shoes rule
was relaxed, I actually tried going through with them on. Naturally, I got
stopped. I said, as politely and meekly and in as non-terrorizing manner as I
could that I read on the TSA site that morning that shoe removal was voluntary.

The TSA guy agreed it was. Then he said he also had discretion to stop anyone
for further screening. So I could wear my shoes and have a pretty good chance he
might decide to stop me for a further look afterward, I was told.

I removed my shoes.

By the way, I now have the perfect shoes that I’ll wear on my next trip to
SES Chicago
in a week, just for the airport. These are some Vans slip-ons I was trilled to
find out in Las Vegas:

Patriotic Vans

See, I’m no threat! Should you need a pair, you’ll find there

at the Vans online store.

Back to baggies, on my return home to the UK, I was fully equipped. During my
regular Target run for the usual essentials (some DVDs, pack of Oreos, Goldfish
crackers, a Zune), I grabbed a pack of baggies. Yes, quart-sized. Yes, I even
went for Ziploc brand.

For the record, none of the brands I looked at said "Meets TSA requirements"
on the boxes. That’s inevitably going to happen. I give it a month to three
months before we see that on boxes all resealable bags, as they discover an
entire new market.

The bag worked a charm. I got my lip balm, a deodorant stick and some
toothpaste through just fine. I’ve also put about five extra in my backpack, so that I
can distribute them to poor lost souls without. Heck, I’m tempted to carry an
entire box around to leave behind at security checkpoints for others to use.

BA's Baggie

In the mail today, what kicked off this post was yet another bag. This came
to me from British Airways, which I thought was pretty nice. I don’t know if
every frequent flyer with them gets one or only certainly levels (I’m in the
middle as a silver member). But the bag contained a flyer explaining all the

Unfortunately, while this baggie might work to get my stuff out of the UK, it
technically won’t meet the US rules to get stuff back out of the US. The UK

8 inch by 8 inch bags. The US
allows "quart" bags,
where the sizing is 8 inch by 7.5 inch. I doubt the extra 0.5 inch will be a
problem, but sheesh — how about some consistency.