TSA’s answer to mom reluctant to open baby food jars? Give her a pat-down

TSA’s answer to mom reluctant to open baby food jars? Give her a pat-down
No escape Big Brother
No escape Big Brother

There’s an app for that. For the Transportation Security Administration, whenever its officers are confronted with a situation not covered in their training, the app is a pat-down. A bit of airport security theater from Consumerist will serve to illustrate.

It should be emphasized at the outset that the TSA’s initial reaction was consistent with its stated policies. Whether passengers agree or not, it is up to them to know these policies and comply or face the consequences. It should not be too much to hope at the same time that the consequences follow logically from the situation at hand.

So having stipulated, on to our playlet, beginning with the the cast of characters: The protagonists are Daniel, his wife, their 10-month-old child. The antagonists are the trusty TSOs at Logan International in Boston. The props include a baby bag filled with jars of homemade baby food and containers of expressed breast milk. The conflict is over the dubious contents of said receptacles.

As Daniel explained to Consumerist, he knew that the TSA is within its security purview to open jars said to have baby food or breast milk to ensure they don’t also contain explosives. Daniel’s complaint — that unsealing the food jars risks spoiling the contents and that the family still had miles to go to reach its destination — is quite beside the point.

But here’s where the plot thickens. When Daniel expressed his hesitation the agent, he was given an ultimatum: Either open up the jars or he or his wife would be subjected to a pat-down. The logic was lost on both adult protagonists. If the security concern was containers of food, how would a pat-down mitigate those concerns? In addition, why threaten to pat down only one of the parents? What if the TSA chose the parent not carrying the plastic explosive?

Daniel recalls:

When I asked the agent for the reason, pointing out the obvious flaw in their logic, he responded that we were now suspicious as passengers, and had to undergo extra screening. Of course, that suspicion only extended as long as we refused to open the jars — if we changed our mind, we could be on our way, grope-free.

Consumerist followed up with a representative for the TSA and received this official response:

TSA allows passenger’s to travel with medically necessary liquids and gels, including medicines, baby food and breast milk, in excess of 3.4 ounces and we ask passengers to show these items to our officers at the checkpoint so they can be screened separately. TSA uses technology called a Bottled Liquid Scanner (BLS) to screen these items at the checkpoint. Use of this technology does not require that the jars or bottles be opened. If, however, the jars or bottles cannot be screened with the BLS, like in this case, because the food labels completely covered the jars, TSA officers will employ liquid test strips to screen the contents. Use of the strips requires that the jars or bottles be opened. TSA does note on our website that officers may need to open these items to conduct additional screening. If the passenger refuses to allow officers to screen the liquids or gels in the manner necessary, standard protocol calls for the passenger to undergo secondary screening, which includes a pat down and swabbing of his/her bags and possibly his/her hands with our Explosive Trace Detection (ETD) equipment. Absent the proper screening of the liquids or gels, the secondary screening and use of ETD will alert officers if the passenger has been handling explosive materials.

That may not answer your questions but pursue the topic at your own peril, especially if you plan to be flying soon.

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Howard Portnoy

Howard Portnoy

Howard Portnoy has written for The Blaze, HotAir, NewsBusters, Weasel Zippers, Conservative Firing Line, RedCounty, and New York’s Daily News. He has one published novel, Hot Rain, (G. P. Putnam’s Sons), and has been a guest on Radio Vice Online with Jim Vicevich, The Alana Burke Show, Smart Life with Dr. Gina, and The George Espenlaub Show.

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