Milberg's Musings: TSA - Travel Size Arsenal?

Knives, yes; Hairspray, no

By Glenna Milberg - Reporter
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SOUTH FLORIDA - You know what's coming when a  TSA agent calls out, "Whose bag is this?"

Yes, that's mine, and yes there is a bottle of perfume inside.  

And so began a dilemma that took two agents some 10 minutes to solve, examining the bottle from several angles, even calling a supervisor.

The bottle's sticker reads 3.4 ounces.  The bottle was less than half full, obviously well under that three-ounce rule limit.  Such a dilemma: Reject it as contraband and throw away my perfume?  Agree that the amount of liquid inside is within the guidelines and let it go?

Some tasks are just not worth the effort. 

And that is exactly the rationale for the Transportation Security Administration policy change this week that now allows travelers to bring – not perfume – but knives! aboard airplanes.  Pocket knives with almost two-and-a-half inch blades are apparently too small to make the search for them worthy of the effort.  TSA calls that decision "risk assessment."  What do you call it? 

Wait.  Don't answer yet.

About six years ago,  under the same "risk assessment" calculation, aka "not worth the effort," TSA decided to re-allow butane lighters aboard flights.  Those lighters, banned from airplanes after passenger Richard Reid tried to use one to ignite explosives in his shoe, are now welcome on board.

The TSA is freeing its agents from the drudgery of spotting small, potentially-dangerous items, and is providing speedier service by allowing fire-starting tools and knives aboard aircraft. 

But not my hairspray.

Whenever I fly on assignment, the first stop on the ground has to be a store where I can replace the can of hairspray TSA has taken away pre-flight.  That important tool of my trade is on the TSA's banned and dangerous list, and vigilant agents have confiscated several cases worth during my travels.

Anyone who follows news knows that the TSA alters its rules after terror-related activities to prevent repeat methods of attack.  That's why we take off our shoes; that's why they limit liquids to what you can jam into a plastic baggie.  They probably should have banned underwear, but haven't yet.

Box cutters are still on the banned list.  Those small and dangerous blades are believed to be the 9/11 hijackers' weapons.  Box cutters are about the same size as the knives now permitted on board.

Most TSA agents I have encountered are more than gracious, pleasant, even personable.  But they have rules to follow, and are not empowered to question or flout those rules.  And currently the rules allow knives and lighters containing combustible materials that can create fire in a pressurized cabin at 36,000 feet.

The rules, though, ban hairspray, water bottles, Starbuck's and 3.4 ounce perfume bottles.

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