Recent crackdowns in airport security, incited by reports of terrorist plots involving small amounts of concealed liquids in airplane cabins, have restricted the transportation of toiletries in carry-on baggage. The new security policy requires non-medicinal liquids to be carried in containers of less than three ounces and placed into a clear plastic zip top bag, which is to be removed from carry-on bags and X-rayed separately by carry-on bag screeners. Airport security will not permit liquids in containers that hold more than three ounces, nor containers of liquids not placed in plastic zip top bags.
Although these new restrictions are ‘intended to enhance security and balance human needs,’ according to the Transportation Security Administration’s Web site, they are fundamentally flawed, hypocritical and annoying.
Under the guidelines, which were supposedly enacted to safeguard passengers from potentially volatile smuggled substances, passengers may still bring liquids aboard the plane if they are contained in a zip top bag. Potential terrorists may still sneak volatile liquids aboard a plane and have easy access to them, so long as they are in a zip top bag.
Safe and dangerous chemicals are often very similar in appearance, regardless of whether they are contained in a plastic bag, making it very difficult for baggage screeners to judge the safety of any given liquid by merely passing it through an X-ray machine.
However, after a bag of toiletries passes through the X-ray machine, it is returned to the passenger with no further questions asked.
Although it appears that the bag is only meant to make the liquid screening process quicker by gathering all of the passenger’s liquid toiletries into one convenient parcel, the bag is apparently of some security importance.
Items such as tubes of toothpaste and lipstick, when not inside a plastic bag, will be refused by airport screeners, confiscated and disposed of, as if a plastic bag were a security measure.
The end result, aside from several discarded toiletries and possibly a slight rise in the sales of plastic zip top bags, is a more complicated screening process that does not actually protect against anything.
It would be much more reasonable and probably no more time-consuming, but certainly more expensive, to place bomb-sniffing dogs at the end of each security line.
However, the American public will have to entrust its safety to a plastic bag and the assumption that baggage screeners can tell the difference between three ounces of lighter fluid and three ounces of water by simply X-raying a container.
What is even more shocking than the fact that non-bagged liquids are prohibited is the fact that pointed scissors and corkscrews are still permitted in carry-on luggage. Despite recent security crackdowns, corkscrews and pointed scissors exceeding no more than four inches in length are still allowed on planes.
Although it is unproven, it is widely believed that the terrorists who were involved in the September 11 hijackings used short blades such as box cutters to take control of the planes. In effect, the federal government has acknowledged that a tube of toothpaste presents a greater threat than a four-inch-long cutting tool.
Next time you fly, should you encounter long security lines, rude or invasive baggage screeners and embarrassing screening procedures, know that you are safe from what truly threatens America: three-ounce containers of toothpaste not properly stored in a zip top bag.
Michael Palzes is a first-year undecided/undeclared major.