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Response to “Bag Check” Cartoon

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Friday, October 23, 2009
TSA logo

On the surface, this cartoon resonates with many passengers who’ve had to abandon their liquids or adjust their travel to adhere to TSA’s 3-1-1 liquid policy.

This cartoon compares the allowance of laptop batteries with a bottle of water. It leads the reader to believe batteries are more dangerous than the water. While that might be true, it leaves out the reasoning behind 3-1-1. The batteries may be more dangerous than a bottle of water, but they are not more dangerous than a water bottle filled with liquid explosives.

When you show us a bottle of liquid, we can’t tell if it’s a sports drink or liquid explosives without doing a time consuming test on it. We’re developing the proper technology to allow us to expedite the screening of all liquids, but in the meantime, to screen everybody’s various types of liquids over 3.4 oz. would cause gridlock at the checkpoints.

Why is 3.4 oz. and below OK and what’s up with the baggies? To date, I think those questions were answered best in an interview with Ars Technica’s Jon Stokes. I highly suggest you read it to get the big picture of what lead to 3-1-1.

Additional information on Lithium (laptop) batteries: They’re permissible in checked and carry-on luggage when they’re in the devices they are intended for. Spare batteries are not permissible in checked baggage, but they can be transported in your carry-on luggage if they are packaged properly.

You can read more about the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) rules on traveling with batteries at the SafeTravel web page.

(Cartoon Courtesy of XKCD)

Thanks,

Bob Burns
TSA Blog Team

Comments

Submitted by Jeremy on

Forgot the title-text:

A laptop battery contains roughly the stored energy of a hand grenade, and if shorted it ... hey! You can't arrest me if I prove your rules inconsistent!

Submitted by Anonymous on

I think the sentiment behind the cartoon is that these annoying restrictions don't actually make us feel safer. In fact there have been an increasing number of these ever since 1989 -- and I was at Syracuse University and did feel the impact of Pan Am 103. Lately it simply seems we turn every attempted act -- like the shoes? C'mon! -- into some kind of general menace that we must now vigilantly guard against. Frankly, to me it seems like a lot of Candid Camera style theatre in the airports.

Submitted by Eric G on

You said: "When you show us a bottle of liquid, we can’t tell if it’s a sports drink or liquid explosives without doing a time consuming test on it."

How about a non-time-consuming test: Let the passenger DRINK SOME.

Submitted by Berrydewd on

I think the comic was trying to lead the reader to laughing at a Logic Rules The Universe nerd trying to change policy by debating with a person that has no real control over that policy and instead is tasked with enforcing said policy. But, that might just be me.

Submitted by Anonymous on

The restrictions neither make use feel safer nor make us feel safer. The point about laptop batteries made in this cartoon is irrefutable, and you do nothing to argue with it. This is similar to TSA and its apologists' refusal to address the irrefutable fact that countries without mandatory shoe removal have not experienced any harm to aviation as a result of shoe bombs or other shoe-based threats, or that no such bombings took place before August of 2006 when TSA completely lost all credibility with Americans.

By the way, Bob, why do you refuse to give a yes or know answer as to whether the images posted on this blog and in airports from TSA's strip-search machines are of the same size and resolution as those seen by the operator of the machines?

Submitted by Anonymous on

Did you people read the post?!?!?!?! This is an FAA rule. The FAA is responsible for many of the things you can't bring on a plane. Go see if they have a blog and bash them.
Bob is just trying to explain the really really really really big difference between lithium-ion batteries and water.

The comic would have been funnier if it was the screener saying "Oh God not another armchair expert."

Submitted by Bob on

Nice observation Berry. Seriously...

But I wasn' trying to get in the mind of the artist, I was trying to get in the minds of those who are re-tweeting and posting it.

Thanks,

Blogger Bob
TSA Blog Team

Submitted by KBCraig on

The liquids rule was apparently promulgated by people who don't understand basic math. "Class, if we need X amount of liquid explosives to bring down an airliner, and each person is allowed to bring 3.4 ounces, how many conspirators are needed to total X?"

Or, there's the even easier route: "Oh, it's a quart of breast milk? Go right ahead!"

Submitted by Anonymous on

"When you show us a bottle of liquid, we can’t tell if it’s a sports drink or liquid explosives without doing a time consuming test on it. We’re developing the proper technology to allow us to expedite the screening of all liquids, but in the meantime, to screen everybody’s various types of liquids over 3.4 oz. would cause gridlock at the checkpoints."

.......................
So using all the wisdom in the world TSA tosses the potentail explosive bottle of liquid in common trash bins exposing everyone near the checkpoint to the hazard of a bomb.

How come 2+2=7 at TSA?

Submitted by Jim on

A lot of you people must love the feeling of flying into landmarks and burning alive, you seem to have such a problem with people trying to prevent that.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Why is it that only in the US do air travelers have to take off their shoes? I have flown to many parts of the world and it is only in the USA that I am required to remove my shoes and have them screened.

Submitted by PatrickD on

"When you show us a bottle of liquid, we can’t tell if it’s a sports drink or liquid explosives without doing a time consuming test on it."

How time consuming is it to ask the person to take a drink to prove that it is not really explosive?

Submitted by Anonymous on

You're linking to the interview with As Technica's Jon Stokes DOES NOT make your point. In fact, it just reinforces how silly this all is. Nice try, but I suspect there to be hundreds of comments similar to mine in this entry within a few hours.

Submitted by Jim Huggins on

PatrickD (echoing many others) writes:

How time consuming is it to ask the person to take a drink to prove that it is not really explosive?

Well ... there are other problems with that procedure. It presupposes that the container is already open ... do you really want to have to open all your sealed beverage bottles? It presupposes that the beverage is intended for you ... what if the liquid in question is breast milk, and the intended recipient isn't boarding the aircraft? It even presupposes that the liquid is intended for ingestion.

I'm as annoyed by the liquids policy as anyone ... but I agree that in the long run, we're better off finding a better way to admit all liquids without requiring someone to take a drink from each one.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Liquids were banned when it was suspected that there was a terrorist plot to use liquid explosives. Laptops batteries would be banned if there was evidence of a terrorist plot to use them to blow up a plane.

We are safe from the kind of terrorist ideas they have already tried, and now won't try again. They just keep comming up with new ideas which are not being screened.

This strikes me as not good.

Submitted by Anonymous on

The subhead under your blog title states, "Terrorists Evolve. Threats Evolve. Security Must Stay Ahead. You Play A Part."

Too bad the TSA hasn't learned anything to allow it's policy to evolve. It's gotten more restrictive, but hasn't evolved for the positive.

Submitted by TSORon on

PatrickD said...
How time consuming is it to ask the person to take a drink to prove that it is not really explosive?
-------------------------
Patrick, that does not prove that it is not an explosive, only that the person is willing to drink it, whatever it is. My oldest daughter drank PineSol one day, it didn’t prove that it was dangerous, only that she was silly enough to take a swig.

Submitted by Carp on

@PatrickD
> How time consuming is it to ask the
> person to take a drink to prove that it
> is not really explosive?

And if the contents are Urine? Or ink? or toothpaste? (you do NOT want to swallow toothpaste!... in case you didn't know)

I think there is a better test: None at all.

The entire rule is silly, has been demonstrated silly, and should be treated as such.

But there is no need to beat people here up about it, this is just a distraction... write your congressmen about it! Believe it or not, Washington is kinda old school, they respond to letters of all things.

Write them about 3-1-1 and how ridiculous the entire concept of having a TSA when airport security did a fine job for so many years.

Its time for some roll backs!

Submitted by Anonymous on

"A lot of you people must love the feeling of flying into landmarks and burning alive, you seem to have such a problem with people trying to prevent that."

No, we have a problem with nonsensical measures that do nothing to make anyone safer, like the liquid nonsense and the shoe carnival.

Submitted by Anonymous on

"Why is it that only in the US do air travelers have to take off their shoes? I have flown to many parts of the world and it is only in the USA that I am required to remove my shoes and have them screened."

Because TSA is run by hysterics who continue to overreact to one failed attempt that took place over seven years ago and cannot face the overwhelming evidence that their policy is a waste of time that makes no one safer.

Submitted by Anonymous on

@PatrickD: I don't know about you, but I don't have a burning desire to drink my shampoo. I mostly agree that the liquids ban is badly done, but drinking the liquids in question isn't really a solution.

Submitted by Anonymous on

@Jim People disagree with the way the TSA goes about trying to prevent that, not the general purpose.

Submitted by Anonymous on

"When you show us a bottle of liquid, we can’t tell if it’s a sports drink or liquid explosives without doing a time consuming test on it."

Why, then, does TSA toss these dangerous explosives into open containers in the middle of airports?

Why, then, does TSA dispose of these dangerous explosives as if they were exactly what is indicated by their labels?

Why does TSA treat a bottle of Pepsi like soda when it's time to dispose of it, but as a dangerous explosive when it transits the checkpoint?

How does TSA screen the liquids sold past its checkpoints?

Does TSA test a random sampling if confiscated liquids to determine how many liquid explosives people are attempting to bring through checkpoints?

Why can't TSA point to a single piece of independent, peer-reviewed research to support its liquid policies?

Why does TSA continue to post inaccurate signage about the liquids policies in airports?

Why do you keep lying to us, and how stupid to you think we are?

Submitted by Kumar on

TSA, you missed the point. Forget batteries, there are lots of ways to bring a bomb on a plane. Disallowing water is like amputating one finger on a prisoner hoping that he doesn't use the other NINE fingers to escape with. In other words, why even bother? It's a huge hassle and it makes me so mad every time I fly.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Jim said...
A lot of you people must love the feeling of flying into landmarks and burning alive, you seem to have such a problem with people trying to prevent that.

October 23, 2009 3:07 PM
................

I don't want to burn at the checkpoint either but TSA seems to have little concern about tossing possibly dangerous explosives into common trash.

If the bottle of liquid is safe enough to go into common trash it probably is safe enough to pass through the checkpoint.

Submitted by Randall Munroe on

> The batteries may be more dangerous than a bottle of water, but they are not more dangerous than a water bottle filled with liquid explosives.

Hey! I'm the author of that cartoon, and was delighted to see your reply. Thanks!

Certainly, a bottle of water is harmless, but I was actually assuming the water bottle was also an explosive.

Laptop batteries have relatively high energy density. The two batteries I travel with (which I've never had anyone object to, contrary to your stated policy) combine to hold roughly the same energy in a 6-oz bottle of pure nitroglycerine. This energy cannot all be released quite as rapidly, but my friends have made laptop batteries explode with enough violence to, in one test, take the top off a small tree (when nestled in a fork of the trunk).

I understand that practicality plays into the decision of what to ban, and the joke of the comic was mainly how silly it would be to explain to a security guard how you could make a bomb with the expectation that it would have a good outcome. The laptop battery is a borderline case at best.

But I really do think there are some pretty serious problems with our approach to airport security, and that the rules we've come up with are more the result of a desire to do something than out of a practical assessment of what would make us safer. Articles like this one make the point better than I could: http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200811/airport-security

I mean, when liquids are confiscated, what happens to them? Are they destroyed with explosives, tested, or just thrown away? If they're just thrown away (or set aside until days later), what's the point of confiscating them at all? The terrorist can just try to sneak some through again the next day, since there are no consequences to failing.

Yet if you don't put on the show, I suppose the airline industry might collapse. I really don't know what the solution is, but I get frustrated dealing with restrictive security procedures whose practical intentions are simply to reassure me.

Submitted by Dave on

re: "Bob is just trying to explain the really really really really big difference between lithium-ion batteries and water. "

This is true. TSA doesn't know if a bottle of water is water or explosive. However, with the LiON battery they know (yes, it's potentially explosive)

With this uncertainty removed, the battery is of course safe to take on the plane.

Submitted by Anonymous on

The only reason Richard Reid (shoebomber)didn't blow up his plane is because he slept in the shoes overnight and drenched the fuse in sweat from doing so. What do you think will happen as soon as TSA allows people to keep their shoes on again? Those who mean to do us harm would do so using SHOES!!! Why is it so hard to comprehend that? Terrorists have abandoned these tactics because they HAD to because TSA policies forced them to try something new.

Submitted by Anonymous on

To quote a wise redditor called jingo04, "I think the point of the cartoon was more that while the guy was being logical it was likely to win him a date to the back room with a man and his rubber gloves. This highlights the perception that the TSA agents aren't reasonable people and are are actively looking for opportunities to bother people under flimsy pretexts."

Submitted by Paul on

You said, "The batteries may be more dangerous than a bottle of water, but they are not more dangerous than a water bottle filled with liquid explosives.

When you show us a bottle of liquid, we can’t tell if it’s a sports drink or liquid explosives without doing a time consuming test on it."

Sounds great until one realizes that you can't tell if the batteries are really batteries without doing a time consuming test on them either.

We are allowed to take all sorts of things on the plane whose volume could reasonably conceal explosives or weapons.

What we have here is window dressing. I fully appreciate the impression by many travelers that say, "at least they are doing something." As an engineer, I can't help but note that handing everyone their horoscope would be doing something too, and every bit as effective.

The latter would give the traveler some added value that some would appreciate. The former simply costs the traveler time and (when products are confiscated) money.

Submitted by Anonymous on
But I wasn' (sic) trying to get in the mind of the artist, I was trying to get in the minds of those who are re-tweeting and posting it.

That may have been your mistake, Blogger Bob...people who use Twitter don't have brains.
Submitted by Anonymous on

"What do you think will happen as soon as TSA allows people to keep their shoes on again? Those who mean to do us harm would do so using SHOES!!! Why is it so hard to comprehend that? Terrorists have abandoned these tactics because they HAD to because TSA policies forced them to try something new."

Nonsense.

Between Reid and August 2006, the shoe carnival was not mandatory. Yet no one used a shoe bomb to harm or destroy an aircraft.

Today, in counties that do not have a shoe carnival, no planes have been brought down by people using shoe bombs.

TSA hates it when anyone brings these facts up, because they utterly demolish the rationale behind the mandatory shoe carnival. But facts are facts, and these facts show that TSA's shoe carnival is a hysterical over-reaction to an infinitesimal threat. The shoe carnival makes no one safer and wastes the time, energy, and attention of passengers and TSA employees alike.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Liquid Explosives? Are you kidding me. Because a scientist with multi-million dollar equipment and weeks of preparation time was able to make an EXTREMELY unstable explosive in a lab, doesn't mean it is in any way a legitimate threat. Do you take away chewing gum because it might be a plastic explosive?

Submitted by Cindy H on

I travel internationally almost weekly. I have read recently that the EU countries want to have the technology by 2012 to be able to allow liquids. I hope we are on that track as well!
Until then, throw the liquids away people! I don't have time to stand behind someone who wants to talk policy with someone who didn't make the policy. Your disgust has been noted. Move along.
The men who started this whole issue where convicted recently. Maybe the TSA could get that story out again for those who think this is just a half witted idea of the government.

Submitted by Curtis on

Your policy regarding "liquid explosives" is silly in any case, since what you're trying to prevent is the production of AP on board a flight. however, everyone who understands the sniffer technology that you are using to block explosives from being brought on-board relies upon nitrogen compound signatures anyway, so the stupid terrorists could just carry AP in their pockets in the first place. There is no reason to restrict the transport of liquids in carry-on bags if AP manufacture is your concern.

Submitted by Mark on

A lot of people here are stating "Why don't they check such-and-such" and providing all sorts of reasons that the item is deadlier than a bottle of water. Right then, let's follow that logic for a bit.

Laptop batteries. Surely dangerous, given that some have the tendency to catch fire and/or explode, even without tampering. So ok. No more laptop batteries. Wherever you're going, you better have a battery on the ground, or a power cord. Heck, one step further. Anything with a battery in it. Buh-bye cell phones, iPods, et cettera.

Bottles of water, or any liquid for that matter. Yeah, you need your fluids, and of course paying for the stuff on the other side of the security checkpoint makes your wallet scream in agony - been there, done that, bought the T-Shirt for $35 - but let's take a step back. Yes, drinking wouldn't be an effective way of pulling this off, since hey - you're planning on blowing up an airplane. Why should you care if you poison yourself with liquid explosive. And you can just purge it later in the bathroom on the other side of the checkpoint. Even non-explosive but highly flammable fluids can be a problem... even in low quantities. Do you know how many recipes there are out there for napalm? But nobody wants to bother with checking your small amounts of liquid through, so yeah, that's out.

Shoes, or any form of clothing for that matter. You don't need to have the comical belt of TNT around your chest, all you'd need is a zip-lock bag or something thin on the inside. Shoes can be pried open and stuff inserted in them, pockets can contain non-metallic object that can cause harm, et cettera. But we're tired of checking those, so no shoes anymore. Or clothing. Everyone flies naked!

Shal I continue?

Well, your carry on luggage is ok. We've been getting that stuff scanned for years now. So we'll say you can fly with that. But the luggage must have a lock on it that only a trained security guard can unlock at your destination airport. Look at that, we just made a job for our economy. Plus, we wouldn't want someone to hijack a plane with an Anne Rice novel. God knows those things are deadly.

Ok, so right now, we're naked in the airport with our carry-on luggage firmly locked tightly. Think I'm done? Nope!

Your body has holes. Since you yourself aren't slapped onto the X-ray belt, to continue to fly you'll have to subject yourself to a full cavity search, and must have an up-to-date record of your medical files with you. Also, all high levels of body hair must be removed, because your slicked back hair could be slicked back with plastic explosive.

So let's recap: You're naked, violated, and sitting at the gate waiting for your flight. Of course, you got there early so you could get through security (Hopefully. Seriously people. 2 hour rule nowadays works wonders.) so you get bored. You want to read a book, but your books are in your now locked bag. You go to buy a magazine, or a drink, but there are no stores or restaurants. Someone working on the inside could have shipped a bottle of Pepsi, now enriched with the wonderful flavor of semtex.

I hope you all see what I'm getting at. If we go for every little idea that someone could think up, then we'll have absolutely no rights when flying. Of course, a lot of you think that we don't already, and I can relate to that. I'm American. I'm 20 years old. I'm not overly patriotic. If someone screws up, I expect it to be fixed as soon as is feasibly possible. I also have thought of all sorts of ideas that could be considered a gross breach of security and/or dangerous to the populous. I'm not evil, I just think morbid thoughts occasionally. All of you do. All of you think those little 'What If's. It's what makes us human. But if we niggle around with every single possibility, we might as well check ourselves in as luggage. We'd be clothed anyway.

Submitted by Jake on

The cartoon is indeed a bit misleading, a bunch of laptop batteries could be dangerous though.
Also, letting the passenger drink some would be less time consuming and cause less traffic then arguing with them.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Anonymous said...
The only reason Richard Reid (failed shoebomber)

There fixed it for ya!

Submitted by Anonymous on

PatrickD said....

""When you show us a bottle of liquid, we can’t tell if it’s a sports drink or liquid explosives without doing a time consuming test on it."

How time consuming is it to ask the person to take a drink to prove that it is not really explosive?"

**************


So how long should someone be observed after drinking whatever it is they drank to ensure it didn't make them sick or kill them?

Submitted by RB on

Mark said...
A lot of people here are stating "Why don't they check such-and-such" and providing all sorts of reasons that the item is deadlier than a bottle of water. Right then, let's follow that logic for a bit.

..........................
How long you been working for TSA HQ?

Submitted by Anonymous on

Can you think of a single potential explosive that is safe to drink? If a customer would drink from a bottle that they are carrying I think that should excuse them from tossing it out.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Jim said...

"A lot of you people must love the feeling of flying into landmarks and burning alive, you seem to have such a problem with people trying to prevent that."

Sorry, but that was pretty much fixed by armoring and locking the cabin door. What that has to do with liquid explosives is beyond me. "Crash into building X or I'll blow up the plane?" Yeah, right....

Submitted by Mark on

RB Said:
How long you been working for TSA HQ?

I've worked for them for 0 years, 0 days, 0 minutes, and 0 second.

I do, however, work for a travel agency, in their Air Travel Services department. Basically, the guy people talk to when they decide 10 minutes is plenty of time to check in, get through security, and get to their gate in time for boarding.

Submitted by GSOLTSO on

Anon sez - "Nonsense.

Between Reid and August 2006, the shoe carnival was not mandatory. Yet no one used a shoe bomb to harm or destroy an aircraft.

Today, in counties that do not have a shoe carnival, no planes have been brought down by people using shoe bombs.

TSA hates it when anyone brings these facts up, because they utterly demolish the rationale behind the mandatory shoe carnival. But facts are facts, and these facts show that TSA's shoe carnival is a hysterical over-reaction to an infinitesimal threat. The shoe carnival makes no one safer and wastes the time, energy, and attention of passengers and TSA employees alike."

To ignore a possible threat because it has not been utilized is not a good way to conduct business. The shoes are a viable threat to aviation and until we come up with a better way to test them, the removal seems to be the way the agency is going to go right now.

Same thing with liquid explosives, until we deelop a better way to test liquids en masse, we are limited to the way they are done right now. Is the system perfect in either case? No, of course not, but we are working on new tech to combat these possible threats and when there are better ways to do the screening, adjustments to the system will occur.

Until new ways to do business on a nationwide scale, we are going to have to stick to the system we have now and work on newer, better ways to screen.

West
TSA Blog Team

Submitted by Anonymous on

An open society will always be vulnerable to terrorist attack. After August 16, 2006 (When it became clear the liquid ban was not temporary), I decided the terrorists have won: the TSA (and other security agencies) does their work (spreading fear) for them.

Even in our post 9/11 world, terrorists attacks are still rare. The 9/11 attacks themselves probably reduced the threat of hijackings because passengers and crew will assume the worst.

The only Terrorist attack targeting planes that I know of in Canada (Successful Air India bombing in the 80's) involved a bomb in checked baggage, not carry-on.

Submitted by Anonymous on

GSOLTSO said:

"To ignore a possible threat because it has not been utilized is not a good way to conduct business."

And yet the TSA does that every day.

laptop batteries, not screening everyone going into the "sterile" area, not screening all liquids allowed into the "sterile" area, not screening all cargo...

Submitted by Anonymous on

Anonymous said...

Can you think of a single potential explosive that is safe to drink? If a customer would drink from a bottle that they are carrying I think that should excuse them from tossing it out.

October 24, 2009 1:01 AM


*******************************

cause we all know a suicide bomber would never risk drinking something that might make them sick or kill them some time later.... oh, yeah, right.....

Submitted by Anonymous on

Why can't people just do what they're told? When we do our taxes do we ask why line 35 is subtracted from line 22? Do we argue with the judge when he makes a decision or a cop tells us not to stand in a certain place? No.

We are subjects of the government that is supposed to care of us. Whether the rules are stupid or illogical, do what you're told by authorities. The rules are for your own good.

Life will be a lot simpler if you do what you're told.

Submitted by Lynn on

@Patrick D:

How time consuming is it to ask the person to take a drink to prove that it is not really explosive?

I see where you're coming from - you're thinking of water, soda, coffee, etc.

But people also bring breast milk, insulin, prescription medications, and other things they can't drink.

That's what why we have test strips and bottled liquid scanners to test any liquid a passenger has that exceeds the 3.4 ounce limit.

And we are working with the technology industry to come up with an algorithm that will allow us to screen all liquids with existing Advanced Technology x-ray machines so the baggie and 3.4 ounce limits will go away.

Lynn
TSA Blog Team

Submitted by Lynn on

@Anonymous:

Too bad the TSA hasn't learned anything to allow it's policy to evolve. It's gotten more restrictive, but hasn't evolved for the positive.

Thanks for your comment.

I'd like point to two things that might show how we've evolved and how we've attempted to be less restrictive.

1) when intelligence reporting showed that remote control toys could be used to initiate devices in terrorist attacks, we didn't ban them. We just put out an advisory that these items could get additional screening.

and 2) we know that powders can be used in certain types of improvised explosives devices. We didn't ban them - instead we deployed kits to all airports so that if regular screening shows a need for additional screening, the officers will have a kit on hand to do it.

And we're looking forward ending the 3-1-1 liquids policy, just as soon as we have the technology in place.

Lynn
TSA Blog Team

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