10 Feb Speak Softly and Carry a Quart-Size Plastic Bag
When you’re waiting in the screening line at the airport, silently admonishing yourself for not giving yourself more time to get to the plane, those may be the worst words you can hear.
Oh, it’s a simple enough process on paper. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screener operating the X-ray equipment yells it, and as the line comes to a dead stop a supervisor comes over to look at the screen. If he or she agrees that there’s a problem, the offending bag is pulled out to be opened and visually inspected, and the line resumes movement at the normal glacial pace.
But wait. That’s your bag. Don’t panic. There’s still… no, your watch is metal so it’s in the bin. You have no idea how much time you have to get to the plane. Not enough.
All of this is lost on the TSA worker who’s inspecting your bag. He or she is explaining in a cheerful voice that your bag is going to be opened, and that swabs will be used to detect the presence of explosives.
Explosives? Can’t they just look at whatever caught their attention?
You don’t ask. It wouldn’t help if you did. The TSA worker has a checklist to follow, and now that your bag has been opened, it has to be checked for explosives.
Once the light flashes and your bag is determined to be free of Claymore mines, plastique, and Molotov cocktails, the search gets underway. Every compartment is opened. They find it in the outside zipper pocket: that small bottle of mascara you bought this morning, still factory-sealed.
“You can’t bring gels or liquids through without a quart-size, zip-top, plastic bag.”
But mascara isn’t a gel or a liquid.
“We’ve decided to classify it that way. That means it can’t come through without a quart-size, zip-top, plastic bag.”
Why? If it were dangerous, wouldn’t it still be dangerous in a quart-size, zip-top, plastic bag? If it’s safe, isn’t it just as safe outside of the bag?
The TSA worker launches into a list of the merits of quart-size, zip-top, plastic bags. They’re see-through, so their contents are easier to see. They limit the total quantity of gels and liquids per passenger. Setting them aside makes screening go faster than if each item had to be individually checked.
Sure, okay. But your mascara has already been taken out and individually checked. And it’s still in its factory-sealed packaging.
“I understand, but you can’t bring it through without a quart-size, zip-top, plastic bag.”
Does TSA provide such bags?
“No, we don’t have any.”
It’s ridiculous. You can’t take your physically inspected mascara that was bought just this morning and is still sealed beyond security because you don’t have a quart-size, zip-top, plastic bag. If you did, you could take that same bottle of mascara and drop it into the bag right in front of the agent, hand it back, and it would be allowed.
How does this make America safer?
But then you remember the plane. You’re running late, and it’s only a bottle of mascara. You’re just not prepared to deal with the hassle of missing your flight.
“Fine. Toss it.”
The mascara goes into the trash, the TSA agent cheerfully hands you your bag before turning to walk back to the line, and you rush off hoping you’ll make it to the gate on time.
But that same night, you make a wise decision: you pack one quart-size, zip-top, plastic bag into your bag to make sure that this never happens again.