Monday, May 25, 2009

Marmalade is a gel. (Or a liquid.)

Coming through security a few minutes ago, I discovered two things:
  1. I didn't transfer the marmalade that I bought this morning at Glasgow Airport into our checked bag when we briefly retrieved it to clear U.S. customs; and
  2. Marmalade is considered either a gel or a liquid by the TSA.
To those who follow my writings, it won't be a surprise to learn that I dislike the TSA. I know their protocols well, and the annoyance of having to remove shoes and such has long since dissipated for me over the course of the hundreds of flights that I've taken.

In other words, what I dislike about the TSA is not simply that their screening slows me down. I'd accept that to achieve real security. What bothers me is that the TSA standards do not provide security.

Take the prohibition on gels and liquids, for instance. Everyone is allowed one quart-size bag containing gels and liquids in individual bottles of not more than 3 oz. each (250 mL for those outside of the U.S. Standard system of weights and measures, which today is basically everyone). Within this bag, apparently, and segregated into individual containers, whatever substances one might be bringing onto a plane are innocuous.

That'd be fine, except the bag of liquids will remain in my possession during the trip. So, what is the functional difference between my having a bag with four 3 oz. bottles of liquid and an empty 12 oz. bottle into which I combine them after screening, or a single 12 oz. bottle that I bring through? Nothing.

Situations like my marmalade add insult to injury. I bought that marmalade inside a secure area at Glasgow. If I didn't have to clear customs and enter the general population for re-screening before boarding my connection--in other words, if after customs there were a pathway for transfer passengers that just kept them inside the secure area--I would neither need to be rescreened nor could I possibly have obtained any dangerous substance in the U.S. upon my arrival.

This model would be cheaper (fewer screenings without duplication), and it would be safer (because I already went on a flight after getting through the foreign screening, so if I had bad intentions, why would I wait?). But TSA doesn't enforce such a model.

And so, after paying £3.50 (abut $6.00 USD) for my marmalade, I lost it. The world is not safer, but I am without my marmalade. And that is why I dislike the TSA.

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