Last week I traveled from Washington, D.C. to Hartford, Connecticut and then back again on a business trip. I’m also really annoyed at recent Transportation Security Administration (TSA) regulations prohibiting liquids in carry-on luggage, as it’s inconvenient to have to separate everything out into a clear plastic bag, and even then, the total amount you can carry is heavily limited (not even a normal sized tube of toothpaste, for instance). For a business traveler who’s only gone for four days and doesn’t want to risk losing anything in checked luggage, these restrictions are limiting. And they’re not making us safer by any means; it’s really just yet another way in which we’re letting the terrorists win by making us afraid.
So on the return trip, I decided to check out just how stringent the liquids regulations were. Would they really know if I tried to bring a tiny little bit of liquid through the scanner? So I grabbed a single 1 oz bottle of shampoo from the hotel and put it in my luggage, then confidently strode through security.
Unfortunately, they did pick up the shampoo, leading to a hand inspection of my luggage. I just played dumb, acting like I didn’t know both that it was even in there and also that it wasn’t allowed. The TSA woman, who wasn’t much older than I am, let me through with the shampoo immediately after finding it (I guess because I’m white and was wearing business attire, hardly the stereotypical terrorist). Funnily enough, the woman in front of me was stopped trying to take back half a dozen mini bottles of shampoo from a hotel. Obviously this kind of thing happens all the time at TSA scanning stations, while as far as we know, no one has ever tried to bring through liquid explosives.
So, yeah, the X-ray scanning machines are indeed good enough to pick up even a tiny bit of liquid, and if the TSA employee manning it is going their job “properly”, you will get your luggage searched. Having abandoned that avenue of search, I don’t know where to proceed next, as there’s no way to get through while wearing shoes or leaving a laptop in a bag (the one time I tried the latter, I ended up getting the laptop swabbed for traces of explosives). And I dare not try to bring a knife through security, both because I don’t want to be arrested and because I don’t want to lose a good knife.