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Cupcakegate

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Monday, January 09, 2012
Normal cup cake and a cup cake in a jar.

Cupcake Jar Photo Courtesy of Consumertraveler.com

This will be short and “sweet.” Like many of you, when I think of a cupcake, I don’t think of it being in a jar. However, the photo below shows the “cupcake” that was prohibited from being taken into the cabin of a plane last month.

I wanted to make it clear that this wasn’t your everyday, run-of-the-mill cupcake. If you’re not familiar with it, we have a policy directly related to the UK liquid bomb plot of 2006 called 3-1-1 that limits the amount of liquids, gels and aerosols you can bring in your carry-on luggage. Icing falls under the “gel” category. As you can see from the picture, unlike a thin layer of icing that resides on the top of most cupcakes, this cupcake had a thick layer of icing inside a jar.

In general, cakes and pies are allowed in carry-on luggage, however, the officer in this case used their discretion on whether or not to allow the newfangled modern take on a cupcake per 3-1-1 guidelines. They chose not to let it go.

Every officer wants to finish their shift and go home with the peace of mind that they kept potential threats off of airplanes. They’re not thinking about whether their decisions will go viral on the internet - they’re thinking about keeping bombs off of planes. This incident may seem like a silly move to many of our critics, but when we can’t be exactly sure of what something is, every officer has the discretion to not allow it on the plane. This is done purely for the safety of everyone traveling.

Here are two very real liquid related incidents from the past. This is why we have limitations on liquids, gels and aerosols.

1995 “Bojinka Plot” in Asia where Ramzi Yousef planned to use liquid explosives to bomb 12 passenger carrying aircraft bound for the United States. This was one month after his test on Philippine Airlines Flight 434 where a smaller “liquid” container killed one person.

The 2006 foiled liquid explosives plot in the U.K. This plot demonstrated a real threat and is the catalyst for TSA's liquids restrictions.

What the two plots above and intelligence gathered from all over the world tells us is that unless Wile E. Coyote is involved, the days of the three sticks of dynamite with a giant alarm clock strapped to them are long gone. Terrorists have moved to novel explosives disguised as common, everyday items. Our officers are regularly briefed and trained by TSA explosives specialists on how just about any common appliance, toy or doohickey can be turned into a dangerous explosive. When you think about it, do you think an explosive would be concealed in an ominous item that would draw attention, or something as simple as a cute cupcake jar?

The bottom line is that you can bring cakes, pies and cupcakes through the security checkpoint, but you should expect that they might get some additional screening, and if something doesn’t seem right, there is always the potential you won’t be able to take it through.

Bob Burns
TSA Blog Team

If you’d like to comment on an unrelated topic you can do so in our Off Topic Comments post. You can also view our blog post archives or search our blog to find a related topic to comment in. If you have a travel related issue or question that needs an immediate answer, you can contact a Customer Support Manager at the airport you traveled, or will be traveling through by using Talk to TSA.

Comments

Submitted by Anonymous on

What is the volume of the jar that contained the cupcake? It looks like it is much less than 1 quart per the picture you posted. If the jar is less than 1 quart, wouldn't that be acceptable or would it need to be placed in a zip lock bag? Would it have been acceptable to separate the frosting and place it into 3.4 ounce bottles?

Submitted by Anonymous on

I'm glad the TSA actually had the spine to come out and defend this instead of caving to all the whiners out there. In all my years of commercial air travel, I've never had anything confiscated from me. Don't take anything on the plane that you don't NEED during the flight. I'm tired of people getting up and climbing over me to get their bag of Cheetos, Moutain Dew, stuffed animal, and blanket out of the overhead compartment. I say limit everyone to one carry on and the heck with everything else.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Sorry Bob, but I think some of the TSA needed a cupcake fix. While they're confiscating the delicious confections (thanks to reruns of "DC Cupcakes" and "Cupcake Wars"), people are running around with C-4 in their bags. Which is deadlier: C-4? Or cupcake mix?
Focus on the stuff that can actually *kill* people, not make them obese.

Of course, this could all be part of Mrs. Obama's plan to force everyone to be healthy. If so, wow...

Submitted by Anonymous on

There is no way that should have been allowed on a plane. Get over it -- if you don't like it, get your own plane!

Submitted by Anonymous on

I fly regularly and have been more than hassled by the TSA, however I do it.. I allow them to swab my hands, fondle my rings, belt buckles or whatever else they see fit. They have even confiscated my bubble bath. I know the rules and why they are administered and the bottom line is that these rules are to protect my safety. I say that anyone who wants to 'try' to get around the rules can certainly give it a shot, however it is up to the discretion of the TSA who are trained to protect the passengers. I RESPECT the authority of the TSA, though they have been rude to me. They do not know me personally. For all they know, my bubble bath or cupcake can be something else. Surely someone with ill intent would not do as wiley coyote... and be obvious in their attempt to harm others, as they would find themselves instantly in custody. Get a clue people. You're only in your own way when you argue this issue... that is... if you ever fly on a commercial plane.

Submitted by Anonymous on

"and as usual there are no liquid restrictions in checked luggage as long as it doesnt fall under faa hazmat regualtion."

Wrong. The TSA blog carried a story about fish being detected in a large container of water in checked luggage. The bag was removed.

Submitted by DJ on

typical. "The bottom line is, our policy allows you to carry this item, unless our screeners decide you can't."

And even if the screener's decision is nothing more than gut feel, TSA corporate is going to support it.

it's nice being accountable to no one, isn't it?

Submitted by Peter R Wood on

Grow up, TSA.

Submitted by Tape on

"Icing falls under the 'gel' category."

This statement is completely asinine.

"This is done purely for the safety of everyone traveling."

And this statement is recognized as a joke by anyone who is a mentally functional human.

Why does the TSA still exist again? They're certainly not making anything more secure.

Submitted by Anonymous on

The passenger stated that she had traveled through Logan Airport checkpoints with the offending jar, with no problems.

Will your co-workers be reviewing the tapes to see which TSOs screened the passenger at Logan, so that they may be reprimanded for letting through contraband?

Submitted by Anonymous on

Any item confiscated by the TSA security for exceeding the "3-1-1" rule should be treated as a potential explosive. After all, that is my understanding for the rule, to prevent possible explosives from being carried on to an aircraft. Call the bomb squad and have them determine the hazardous nature of the item and dispose of the product safely if necessary. On the other hand, if the product is determined to not be explosive or hazardous material, let the passenger continue with the cupcake. By the way, how much icing/gel is on a 12" birthday cake? I do not want it confiscated the next time I go through security.

Submitted by Anonymous on

The TSA is a joke, and this action is just proves it. What a waste of taxpayer money.

Submitted by Anonymous on

If something doesn't "seem right" then expect a problem. A cupcake in a wrapper or tupperware - OK. Cupcake in a jar=dangerous!!! That's total crap.

It should have been swabbed and let through.

But it was confiscated. Not voluntarily surrendered. The woman was not allowed to have it back (she could have eaten it or checked it). But it was apparently deemed to dangerous for that, despite not even being swabbed.

(screenshotted)

Submitted by RB on

Bob, how much frosting and filling would you think is on and in the average cake?

How much filling would you estimate is in the typical cherry pie?

In TSA's Bizzaro world would one regular cupcake be ok? Two? A dozen? Face it the amount of icing is going up with each added cupcake.

You have posted some pretty outlandish stuff for TSA on this blog but I think you have reached a new low for yourself with this one.

Submitted by Anonymous on

"Every officer wants to finish their shift and go home with the peace of mind that they kept potential threats off of airplanes."

I call B.S. TSA officers are poorly trained and mainly there, like police officers, to harass the general public. If this "TSA officer" was truly concerned about the passenger then he could have tested the cupcake for explosives like they do TONS of items (such as Air Casts) that go through the airport. However, in this case, he decided to flaunt his authority over the general public (part of that poor training I mentioned) and instead threw it out. Power tripping is not the sign of appropriately trained officers.

The first comments make a good point. If these things are truly things to worry about why are they discarded in a public forum where, if ignited, they would do far more damage then on the plane itself. If you can throw it out in the airport it can go on the plane. Think about it (only keep in mind the TSA would prefer you not...cause when you think...they look bad).

I would also like to make the comment that where there is a will there is a way. You haven't been able to stop prostitution and you probably won't stop someone from getting something on a plane that they are truly determined to bring on the plane. In the face of adversity we find innovation.

Submitted by Anonymous on

WOW, you folks use no common sense at all.

Submitted by Anonymous on

The "Return On Investment" for the tens of billions of dollars spent on the TSA is essentially zero.

I certainly do not FEEL any safer.

I do not believe the TSA actually MAKES us any safer.

There are so many holes and flaws in the system that you should blush to accept your paychecks.

Submitted by Pienoceros on

That makes much more sense. I suppose the people who simply called it "a cupcake" were being deliberately disingenuous.

Submitted by CliffOnTheRoad on

Some of the comments deserve a response from you guys, including the "tested?" and "how was the cupcake disposed of?", or at least a rethink by the TSA.

Corrections needed; the 3 in 3.1.1 WAS 3, and as far as I know, it was me who alerted TSA via email that domestic toothpaste tubes were 3.4 oz. and they soon thereafter revised the textual description.

2nd hand info: Some items (wine) cost $10 a pound to be disposed but other stuff is just thrown out (thankfully.) However, I've seen 2 sealed jars of peanut butter confiscated; I was more upset than the owner. Want a list of stupid decisions?

I was stupid (ignorant) about a 110 volt power drill and almost lost it. But TSA agent explaination was "you might unscrew something on the plane." That was in line with my 9-16-11 loss of a piece of rope "you might tie up the pilot."

I'll put the "drill" paragraph into the "off topic" blog because there's so much more than the cupcake bomber topic to comment on.

I partly agree with Anonymous' comment: ... he had to demonstrate his and TSA's power over an innocent citizen. Plus, the 2006 reference was thought provoking.

"When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail" is akin to "TSA screeners enjoy exercising their power."

Submitted by Mikeef on

Ya know, if once, just once, you admitted that there is a possibility that one of your "officers" overreacted, we might have the slightest willingness to give you the benefit of the doubt.

As for the disposal of the cupcake, I still do not see anything on here to indicate that it was placed in a proper container. Thus, I have a new plan: Every time a TSO confiscates (Yes, CONFISCATES) an item and does not dispose of it properly, I am going to inform a LEO or airport manager. After all, isn't the new rule, "If you see something, say something?"

Submitted by Anonymous on

If you do a google search for "Check point bomb" you will find that all over the world where we have real threats of bombs, the security checkpoints themselves are targets.

Why are we banning cupcakes (even if in a jar) from planes, but not treating them as actual bombs unless we know they really are not bombs?

Why do we at most airports pack people in large groups as they line up to go through security if we are really worried about bombs? Are we not making them a target for a bombing should anyone actually choose to bomb something?

Obviously we don't really think these things are real threats. Why are we pretending that we are?

Submitted by Anonymous on

TSA rationalizations have gone from bad to pathetic. Utterly pathetic.

Submitted by Anonymous on

I'm sorry that my taxes are paying for your wages to defend and do this. This is stupid and the TSA is not protecting American's. It is harassing and groping Americans.

End the TSA.

Submitted by Anonymous on

I think it would make more sense to test such items instead of discarding them. The technology is in place. I understand it would be time consuming but this would be better customer service. Maybe a special testing line or someone assigned just to test such things. There are plenty of whackos out there so I do understand but instead of angering folks why not test the items in question. Best wishes!

Submitted by Anonymous on

I think the TSA agent was probably correct in his interpretation of the rules. That doesn't mean the rules weren't just as stupid as any other "zero tolerance policy" where people aren't permitted to use discretion and common sense, but he followed the rules the way he was told, and I can't really fault him for that. I can fault the TSA itself for having such a ridiculous policy that a man fears losing his job over not taking someone else's cupcakes.

Submitted by Chris on

Wow. If this is how they're treating icing, I'd hate to come through with a sandwich sporting mayonnaise.

Submitted by Anonymous on

So we should not go online and talk about these situations of bizarre policies on the grounds that it may hurt the TSA agent's feelings? How about this - reverse the policies (which don't work) and then people will stop writing about them. Problem solved.

Submitted by William Teach on

So, let me get this straight: Blogger Bob is making light of the fact that TSA is completely out of control, and isn't smart enough to realize that it is a cupcake carried by a middle aged white woman who in no way fits the profile of someone who would blow up a plane?

Perhaps if TSA would use a little more common sense, like they did in Boston, the public wouldn't be outraged by their overreach. But, power corrupts.

Submitted by Anonymous on

"Icing falls under the “gel” category."

If it falls into the gels category, why do you feel the need to quote it...as if it really DIDN'T fall into that category?

Submitted by Anonymous on

TSA did the right thing. It should have been caught the first time. If they really wanted there cupcake then CHECK IT! simple! If you dont want to be scrutinezed by the TSA then dont fly. Common Sense.

Submitted by Roby on

Please, it is not a doohickey, it is a doohinkey. Doohinkeies, as everyone knows, are explosive whereas doohickies are not. Please keep your terms correct so as not to confuse the traveling public.

Submitted by SER on

Discretion would be removing the offensive "gel" (which is not what icing is) and allowing the cupcake to be transported. The TSA officer's actions are typical of the incompetence that typifies government bureaucrats in general and TSA employees in particular.

Submitted by Anonymous on

I would be very interested to know when the last time an actual terrorist plot was foiled by the TSA. Not "woman accidentally packs knife in carry on" or "marijuana smuggled into water bottle" but an actual Al Qaeda or other terrorist operative trying to carry out a plot but stopped by TSA screeners.

Every time there's the slightest, minor incident where the TSA stops something like a knife in someone's bag, a press release is issued and the media alerted, so I think it's safe to assume that if there was an actual major plot foiled, it would be HUGE news that the agency would want to trumpet far and wide. What could be better for their credibility and to reassure the public that they are, indeed, keeping us safe?

So why haven't we heard about this? Ever?

Submitted by Anonymous on

TSA, really ?

From a cupcake ?

You have got to be kidding !

Submitted by Anonymous on

The TSA, a part of US Homeland Security, is blogging about cupcakes passing through airport checkpoints. It would be funny if not so utterly pathetic.

Hopefully average Americans will elect leaders in November that believe departments like the TSA should address real issues concerning a majority of Americans like radiation health concerns and privacy instead of silliness like the cupcake story.

Submitted by Anonymous on

I would appeal to every one reading this to contact their representatives and have the TSA disbanded. Other than circular proof, there is no evidance that would stand to any measure of peer review that the TSA has accomplished any thing to improve your safety. Remember the underware bomber? He made it through TSA screening with no effort and it was citizens that stopped him. TSA is a WASTE of tax payer money.

Submitted by Anonymous on

TSA the fact that you wouldn't let this on is bad, the fact that you are defending this is worse. You have become the agressor and are viewing the American people as the enemy. It is time for you to go home and stop making war on us.

Submitted by Anonymous on

In the private sector this would be considered a failure. TSA failed to see that the cupcake was harmless and not a threat.

Submitted by Tramky on

This explanation does nothing to quell the underlying problem with the TSA. The argument remains the same: the ends justify the means. I would like an estimate of the annual total value of items confiscated by TSA at airports in the United States, by category: food items, real firearms & ammunition, bladed objects, liquids, toys, replica firearms.

We need to understand the economic damage done by the TSA to Americans.

It is not enough to convince yourselves that because a commercial airliner did not blow up today, that TSA has done a good job, or that its mission it acceptable. You get PAID money and receive retirement pensions for what you do at TSA--we the flying public have our property stolen from us under financial and legal threats of every agency of the Federal government AND by the airlines. It is mass coercion, in the end literally with a gun to our heads.

When we go to an airport the Constitution of the United States no longer applies. And we know that the guns are there.

Submitted by Eileensideways on

this is so insane. a cupcake? really? yet i was allowed to fly with an EpiPen, a syringe filled with epinephrine, and no one at any airport questioned it. gimme a break.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Aviation continued for over a decade after the Bojinka plot without any absurd overreactions like banning all liquids and without any planes falling out of the sky due to liquid bombs. Food for thought.

Also, the device used in the "test" (that did result in a fatality) for the Bojinka plot more resembled wet cottonballs in a contact lens solution bottle than a cupcake, tube of toothpaste, sports drink, peanut butter, or any number of other liquid/gel/aerosol items TSA insists on banning.

Oddly enough, neither contact-lens solution nor wet cotton balls are prohibited by TSA's war on water. More food for thought.

Submitted by Anonymous on

I recently traveled to Paris, Amsterdam, and Scotland. The airport screeners were thorough and professional. I felt more secure getting on the plane.

Here, the TSA folk and procedures appear to be a joke. Arbitrary rules and procedures, people who do not seem to know what they are doing, and then doing it badly.

I do not feel more secure, just insulted and violated.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Until "We the people" address these outrageous issues with our elected officials (i.e., Congress men & women, and Senators), we can continue to have our 4th amendement rights violated. Sitting on the blog and complaining to "Bob" the talking head will not do any good.

Write your representatives in DC, then attend town hall meetings and have them take action, or have them removed from office. Belittling "Sideshow Bob" is pointless. Your vote as well as who is in office does matter. Elect someone that will work for you, and not just to get your vote!

Submitted by Anonymous on

A few years ago I was escorting an exchange student through security and TSA personnel confiscated a jar of JIF peanut butter that was found in her carry-on. He politely explained it wasn't allowed and apologized. On my way out of the airport he allowed me to pick it up and take it home (I later mailed the jar to her through USPS). I feel the cupcake in a jar should be held to the same expectations and there's no need to get all butt-hurt about the situation. Just because a small percentage of people do not wish to cooperate with the rules (I'll admit to believing that many of them are silly and unnecessary) doesn't mean that they are empowered to make everyone else waiting in that 2-hour-long-security-line listen to them complain about how TSA should make an exception for them because they're "special".

Submitted by Joshua Cohen on

Wait, this isn't a joke? That is really your defense? Instead of owning the fact that your TSA agent made a mistake, which would raise the stature of the TSA in the eyes of Americans for being mature enough to admit mistakes and move on, you turtle up and defend this ridiculous action by citing the 3.1.1 rule? Thank you for confirming what most American's believe, the TSA is a group of power hungry morons who can't get hired with any other LEO in the country. The screener who extorted the cupcake from this citizen, did she eat it and does she weight over 200lbs?

We think you are clowns because you act like clowns.

Submitted by J K on

You don't professionalize until you federalize....what a joke. Please put the safety of all American travelers back into the hands of people that can be rational, not minimum wage wannabe power mongers.
DO YOU WANT FREEDOM OR DO YOU WANT SECURITY? The more security you get the less freedoms you have.

Submitted by Anonymous on

So how is the TSA going to deal with the serious security lapse that occured at Logan when, per your agent's statement, "the officer (screener) there did not do his job?" Like with the purse with a revolver-like emblem on it, which flew one way just to be banned from the return flight, obvious irregularities and the defense of one action without correcting the error that such a defense clearly indicates, that undermines the trust and confidence of the public in TSA's performance and procedures.

Submitted by Ayn R Key on

It's Still a Cupcake!

Oh for crying out loud...

Submitted by Ayn R Key on

By the way, why did you reference the 2006 plot as support for your failed policy?

The plot involved a bunch of people sitting around saying "yeah that would be cool." They had no recipe, they had no plane ticket.

In other words, there was no 2006 plot.

Curtis, tell the truth. I know it is possible for you to do so, even though it is against the SSI policy manual.

Submitted by Anonymous on

In all fairness, a canned cupcake labeled a peanut butter "surprise" is a little disturbing.

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