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Clarification on Ice Packs and Empty Bottles

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Thursday, March 08, 2012
Ice pack

We were very concerned when we learned of the incident in Kauai, Hawaii last week where a passenger was told by one of our Officers that she couldn't bring an ice pack and empty bottles on the plane. She should have been permitted to bring the ice pack and bottles whether the bottles were empty or not since they were for her breast milk.

It was a result of a miscommunication on our end and those involved are going to undergo retraining and corrective actions.

Leadership at that airport has since spoken to the passenger and apologized, but we wanted to take it a few steps further and try to help our advisements at make a little more sense. So we have updated the website to help clarify the procedures for traveling with ice packs, breast milk, juice, and water.

"Additionally, empty bottles and ice packs are permitted..."

If you find yourself in a situation such as this where you're being advised to do something that you feel is incorrect, please ask for a supervisor or manager.

You can also contact TSA through the following channels:

Mistakes such as this happen from time to time and for that we are truly sorry. However, we can and have learned from mistakes in the past, so please be sure to let us know when you think or know something could have been handled differently. When it all comes down to it, we're just trying to keep passengers safe.

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.


Submitted by Anonymous on


I certainly appreciate the change of tone in this blog post (it seems that these screeners weren't the only employees to get some retraining this week). However, two serious problems remain: 1) It has been frequently reported that TSA staff do not care whether or not something has been clearly stated on the website when they are imposing their own understanding of the rules; 2) It has been frequently reported that polite requests to speak to supervisors are treated as defiant behavior. The result for the passenger is a needlessly tense situation at best.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Ask for a supervisor? Why so I can be singled out for even more harsh and pointless treatment like the other time I asked for a supervisor when both TSA regulations and my rights were being violated? No thanks. I'll be taking the train. You haven't totally ruined it with your security theater yet. Also, why are you telling journalists not to write about your expensive, flawed, and pointless scanners having a HUGE flaw?

Submitted by Kat on


Do the TSOs on the line understand that empty bottles and cold packs, including, apparently blue ice, are now permitted through the check point?

Do the TSOs on the line understand that liquids over 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters), NOT the three ounces your website proclaims, are permitted through the check point if there is a medical requirement for them?

Do the supervisors know this?

What recourse does a passenger have when an ignorant TSO and his or her equally ignorant supervisor refuse to follow the stated procedures?

If an "improperly trained" TSO steals my food and my beverages, I am medically unable to "just buy some more in the sterile area."

Read my lips. The stuff they sell in the sterile area can make me stop breathing. I happen to like breathing.

So when that "improperly trained" TSO claims what's on the website is "out of date," and demands I throw out medically required food and drink, how do I get to fly today?

Submitted by Lordstrom on

What corrective actions were taken? Shouldn't the agent be arrested?

Submitted by Russell on

Hi Bob,

You wrote; "Leadership at that airport has since spoken to the passenger and apologized." But airport leadership didn't make this mistake; the TSA did.

It seems that this post serves to deflect the blame rather than accept it. It's not until much later in the post that the TSA sort of apologizes for its actions. And the admission is so vague, I couldn't see it.

It does the TSA no good when they can't admit a mistake at face value. Just say, "we screwed up and we'll try really hard not to do it again." That would at least give us some measure of faith that there are actual humans with faults running the program.

It would serve the TSA well to apologize when their officers make mistakes rather than try and hide behind cleverly worded sentences.

Submitted by Clay S on

It is of huge importance that both, passengers and officers know and act in harmony with the rules. The rules are what protect us, and obeying the rules differs the ordinary passengers from bad guys. From the passengers side, it is not necessary to know the entire set of rules by heart, but only the part that relates specifically to our own situation (empty bottles for breast milk) - and that is what everyone can do - for our own security and safety.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Sure, ask for a manager or supervisor and before you know it you will have airport police by your side, you will be arrested for "Disturbing the peace" or "disregarding a federal agent" or some crap. Come on Bob...are you serious!?!?!

Submitted by Anonymous on

This would be all fine and dandy if we passengers were told that it doesn't matter what the website says or that the website is out of date.

Frankly, I'm more surprised it took you this many days to address this particularly egregious violation of a passenger's dignity and of your own rules, but you jumped within hours with that horrible post about Jon Corbett's video. Amazing. Just absolutely amazing that our tax dollars are used for your salary and this kind of "communication".

Screenshot - there are no offensive words in this post nor does it violate the comment policy.

Submitted by Anonymous on

The confusing part here is much more primary: There is absolutely no justification why the TSA is so concerned specifically with the liquid state of matter.

Furthermore, ice packs are frozen solid, and therefore should always be permitted (as indicated by the Britney incident).

Submitted by Anonymous on

You forgot the part where the officer then forced the passenger to pump her milk or leave the kit behind.

“There was a TSA agent in there using the restroom and I asked her if there was a private place to pump, and she said no,” Strand said. “I had to stand at the sink in my heels and dress pumping as travelers came and went. I was humiliated and fighting back tears. It confuses me why an ice pack and breast pump were a threat to national security.”

What if, hypothetically, she had shown the TSO your updated language on the website right there at the airport? Do you honestly think the TSO would have said 'oh, gee, I was wrong, please go through'? No. and they wont in the future.

Cargo goes on planes unchecked, airport personel go to work un-scanned and you're stopping mothers with *empty* bottles. Security theater at its finest.

Submitted by RB on

If anything you wrote in this blog piece is true why did TSA Administrator John Pistole blame the passenger during his comments at the National Press Club?

Submitted by Anonymous on

By "those involved are going to undergo retraining and corrective actions." I assume you mean the incompetent employee responsible for humiliating this poor woman will ultimately suffer no consequences other than receiving a couple of days off from their normal duty to be "re-trained".
Why are we to believe this training will be any more effective than that which they had already received?

Submitted by Sandra on

Deflection is alive and well at the TSA Blog!

Submitted by Anonymous on

What about diabetics and their ice packs? I recall a diabetic woman wasn't able to bring her ice pack through security a few months ago. I believe you said she didn't have insulin with her, but as a diabetic myself, I find it hard to believe that she wouldn't have had insulin with her. We can't live without it.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Doesn't matter what the web site says when the TSA has "officers" who state "The website is out of date", or "this is a new procedure".

Submitted by Anonymous on

Sorry Bob - too little and too late.

It doesn't sound sincere when you only apologize after being repeatedly beat-up about the incident for several days.

It sounds more like damage control.

Submitted by Anonymous on

If a passenger is being held up by a TSO in a similar situation, what should that passenger do? It looks like we should ask for a supervisor. What happens if the supervisor incorrectly supports the original TSO? Is there someone higher up the chain we are supposed to ask for? It may not be possible to call your 800 number at the checkpoint since the TSA may still have the phone and it may not help anyway.

Verifying something with the TSA's website sounds great until you get to a checkpoint that says that information is out of date or that's not the way they do things at that airport. It does happen. Although if TSO's would use some common sense, these incidents probably wouldn't happen.

Submitted by Anonymous on

You don't specify if the ice packs need to be forzen or if can they can be melted? I know there are some different interpertations at different airports; What say you.

Submitted by Anonymous on

And yet John Pistole blamed the passenger for your screeners' incompetence. Why is that, Curtis?

Submitted by RB on

As has been pointed out in several comments TSA employees make up their own rules, state the TSA website is out of date and as demonstrated by the event being discuss TSA does not hold its employees accountable for their actions. Has an incident such as this happened in the private sector the employee and the employees supervisor would have been fired on the spot.

Is it any wonder that TSA and its employees are the most distrusted government agency in the history of the United States?

TSA , this new Captcha word verification is ridiculous!!!!!!

Submitted by Anonymous on

Bob, I still find it so alarming that you Boss had the guts to blame the passenger when asked about this incident at the National Press Club. How could he stoop to such derogatory statement? He truly reflects the way TSA treats the flying public.

Submitted by Anonymous on

To anonymous above,
Good luck taking a train to Kauai.

Submitted by Anonymous on

How about training them right the first time? Is that too hard?? Maybe if you employed security professionals, and didn't hire from ads on gas pumps and pizza boxes....

Submitted by FK on

It's interesting that you use this issue (as egregious as it is) to deflect attention from the Jon Corbett video. You must REALLY not like people paying attention to his video.
This is borne out by the threats.. er, sorry- "strong cautions" you've been sending to journalists about covering his case.

Submitted by Anonymous on

I go through screening twice a week, 90+ times a week, I pretty much bring the same stuff each week. If I am bringing something different, I check the website and print it out.

Still leary about the evidence on the scanners. Usually once of twice a year is not a big deal, but 90+, they haven't been around long enough to collect meaningful data.

Sorry I don't trust you on this, but many years ago, when working for the Town cutting grass and emptying garbage one summer, I noticed our week killer we sprayed around the school grounds was 2,4,5 T, agent orange. I, being an aspiring chemist, requested rubber gloves. I was told I could bathe in it and was not rehired the next summer because I was a trouble maker.

The search stuff I am okay with, except in Seattle, they are universally crabby there, but it is probably due to now sun and too much coffee.

Submitted by RB on

Congress mandated that all cargo loaded on passenger aircraft be inspected with a deadline of several years ago, one that TSA has failed to meet. Yet TSA feels it is importatant to harrass passengers about things that have no impact of safety.

Seems to me that TSA should focus on things, like uninspected cargo, instead of fixating on breasts.

Oh, and hire some employees who are trainable.

Submitted by Anonymous on

"Mistakes like this" happen far more often than "from time to time," as evidenced by the frequent statements from the TSA in response to embarrassing incidents regularly reported in the press.

"Mistakes like this" are merely symptoms of long-standing systemic problems that permeate the TSA. Those systemic problems are no secret. And they seriously undermine the TSA's credibility as well as its ability to perform its stated mission.

Unfortunately, TSA leadership has apparently decided to ignore the systemic problems. They show no evidence of interest in learning from mistakes in the past, as those mistakes just keep recurring. They appear to tolerate incompetent TSOs, and believe that a vague (and unverifiable) assurance of "retraining" and unspecified "corrective actions" is a sufficient response whenever an individual employee's incompetence embarrasses the TSA enough to require official spin doctoring. Since "mistakes like this" continue to occur regularly, it's clear this approach is not effective.

The TSA's fetish for secrecy, and particularly the immunity TSOs enjoy from accountability under the cloak of "civil service privacy," enable and encourage "mistakes like this." I'm certain that the incompetent TSOs in Lihue are still screening passengers. The only real solution is the transparency and accountability that the TSA sorely lacks. That is the only way to create confidence that TSOs are competent and professional, and to actually keep aviation safe.

Submitted by RB on

So these people are ungoing addition training.

How is more training going to help when TSA can't even teach its employees how to recognize something simple like an ID?

"An 81-year-old Columbia Heights woman flying home recently got snagged in the Transportation Security Administration's dragnet at the airport in Fort Myers, Fla.

Her son, Michael Jaruch, told Whistleblower that when his mother showed her state-issued nondriver ID card at the security checkpoint, the TSA agent rejected it because it had no expiration date. Her passport was accepted, however."

Submitted by Robert Burns on

If the TSA is so sorry about these type of events, why do they keeep happening?

Submitted by TSORon on

FK said...
[[It's interesting that you use this issue (as egregious as it is) to deflect attention from the Jon Corbett video. You must REALLY not like people paying attention to his video.
This is borne out by the threats.. er, sorry- "strong cautions" you've been sending to journalists about covering his case.]]

I’ve seen the video there FK, and if you are willing to believe anyone who has such an obvious anti-TSA bias as to make up his own web site called TSAoutofourpants then I can understand how you can believe that his video shows so many things that is really doesn’t. I can also understand why you are so willing to buy into his story even when it’s not supported by any facts what-so-ever. His “videography” is not poor, its non-existant. There is no video of him passing through a scanner, or of his having done so with the metal object he describes being hidden anywhere, only his commentary. As they say, “Where’s the BEEF?”

I am not surprised that Bob responded to this in the manner he did. Firstly because we don’t advertise the vulnerabilities of our equipment or procedures, or even discuss them with the public. Secondly, because the story has no facts, only commentary. Which of course is why Bob cannot comment other than as he has done. Mr. Corbett has a web site, ask him to give us the facts, the rest of the video, and let us make up our own minds. Until then, there is really nothing to comment on.

Submitted by Anonymous on

"When it all comes down to it, we're just trying to keep passengers safe."

That's the entire point, isn't it? Nearly $100B spent, 60000+ employees and you harass seniors with back braces and nursing mothers. FBI agents and Congressional staffers who accurately describe TSA activities as security "theater." You can't tell the difference between a bottle of water and liquid explosives. You try to justify keeping cupcakes off aircraft on the basis of security. Your weekly reports claim success for drugs, animals and all sorts of non-threats to aviation. You understand that while you repeatedly claim that you're "just trying to keep passgngers safe," the evidence suggests you don't have a clue on how to do that.

Submitted by Tramky on

If you get into a verbal tussle with a TSA agent, you WILL lose, so don't plan on flying that day. And since no airline considers what happens between TSA and their passengers as any of THEIR business, they will keep your airfare and will charge you for missing the flight and/or rescheduling it for another time, probably at a MUCH higher fare or for huge 'change' fees--$200!

If the TSA agent was wrong, and that is why you did not fly, the airlines could not care less--it's just more money for them, money for air travel they didn't have to deliver--what's better than that for the airlines?!

This is why the act of an American going to an airport is, in essence, a huge crapshoot. That's when you learn that your ticket doesn't buy you a seat on anything, and it certainly doesn't buy you transport to another airport--if the TSA gets involved, it decidedly does not. Your relationship with the airline, hundreds or thousands of dollars of purchased airfare notwithstanding, begins ONLY when you successfully pop out at the far end of a TSA security checkpoint. Before that you are just a credit-card swipe.

And what any TSA agent tells you is the LAW--nothing else matters. And TSA IS doing attitude profiling, so if you don't like what the TSA does about ANYTHING, YOU are viewed as the problem and TSA will act to keep you from popping out at the far end.

You must be quiet, acquiesce to any and all requests of ANY TSA agent, say nice things, smile like an idiot, grin like a fool, give up whatever personal property they tell you to give up--then maybe, just maybe, you'll fly. Anything short of that and, well, like I said . . . it's a crapshoot.

Submitted by Tramky on

Somebody wrote on here that knowing the TSA 'rules' is what separates US from the 'bad guys'. Whoa! That is NOT what the TSA is about. The TSA and DHS exist solely because the 'good guys' can not be differentiated from the 'bad guys'--in-flight bloodthirsty terrorists.

So if you have lived your life thinking that you are a rational person who would not and could not hurt anyone, understand that the TSA considers YOU to be indistinguishable from the most virulent, retrograde jihadi Islamic terrorist you could possibly imagine. The operative word is 'indistinguishable'. YOU are just as likely to be capable of putting a boxcutter to the throat of a child or of a female flight attendant as is anyone from the hills of Afghanistan or the hateful desert of Saudi Arabia. YOU are just as capable of getting on that plane with the knowledge that 20 pounds of C-4 explosives are in a piece of checked luggage. You are perceived by TSA as JUST AS CAPABLE of arranging for Uzi machine pistols to have been sequestered on board the plane by ground-service crew, machine pistols that you will seek out during a flight in order to kill scores of passengers or take over the airplane by blasting through the cockpit door.

The TSA see YOU as no different than any thug from Iraq. Feel safe tonight.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Not good enough. "Retraining" is a nice way of brushing off these incidents as no big deal. The screener involved needs to be fired - no more excuses. If the only consequence of violating passengers' civil rights is an afternoon of "retraining" then these incidents will continue.

As a nursing mother of a toddler, I can now travel with a manual pump and get it past your security theater without much difficulty - but your agency's repeated poor treatment of nursing mothers is the reason I flat-out refused to travel by air for work until our child was over a year old. I was not going to risk some power-tripping screener manhandling (and possibly breaking) my $400 pump, mocking or embarrassing me in front of other passengers, or refusing to let me bring breast milk through security. Asking for a supervisor only earns retaliation and puts the rogue screener on the defensive, and filing a complaint gets you nowhere. If you print out information from the website, you're told that it's different at that airport and they can make up their own rules.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Typical. TSA doesn't know and apply its own policies, and then humilitates a poor woman. also, the original PR release from the TSA said that there had been a "misunderstanding." No, there was no misunderstanding, just another incompetent TSA agent who didn't know his or her own agency's policies. Why are my tax dollars paying for this??????

Submitted by Anonymous on

The names and photographs of all TSA employees who are identified as needing remedial training should be posted in all airports, post offices, and on the internet for a period of not less than two years following the date of remedial training.
These TSA employees should also be required to wear an orange sash with the word "REMEDIAL" in black letters of not less than 3" in height, at all times while on duty, for a period of not less than 6 months following remedial training. During this 6-month reacclimatization period, these employees should be assigned a one-on-one supervisor to be tethered to the remedial screener with an orange cord of not more than four feet in length, at all times while the screener is on airport property.

I believe that the mere existence of such a policy would motivate most incompetent TSA employees to either make absolutely certain they are thoroughly aware and up to date on all policies, or to quit, saving us all much money, time, and aggravation.

Submitted by Anonymous on

"Her son, Michael Jaruch, told Whistleblower that when his mother showed her state-issued nondriver ID card at the security checkpoint, the TSA agent rejected it because it had no expiration date. Her passport was accepted, however."

I hope that little screener factoid makes it to Denver: I am a military officer. As such, I have an ID - distinguishable from a CAC card - that lists the expiration date as INDEF. I can't wait until they try to reject my military ID!

Submitted by TheBronze on

With all the "shuck and jive" that goes on by TSA spokes-people and Bob Burns, no wonder no one likes or trusts the TSA.

Not to mention the implied threats to reporters...

Submitted by Anonymous on

You screwed up. You screw up all the time. The chances of the TSA screwing up and hurting a passenger are significantly larger than those of catching a terrorist.

Submitted by Anonymous on

How is it that there is anyone available to man the checkpoints with all the re-education in progress? After 20+ years in the military and private sector I can tell you training only goes so far. Eventually no one gets the idea until they come in one day and the guy in the next cube is being escorted out the door by security because he was fired.

Submitted by RB on

OK, we get it TSA screeners don't understand the unnecessary liquids rules and exceptions to those rules. TSA employees prove this point all to often.

How about the TSA screeners who confiscated a camera lens duster,

Was confiscating this item really required to keep the flying public safe?

Really TSA, is this the best TSA can do?

Submitted by Anonymous on

I'm confused. Is this a reaction to the "breast pump incident" in Lihue, or is this a separate incident where another incompetent TSO at Lihue caused a passenger needless difficulty?

Either way, you're yet again ignoring the real problem. What you call "mistakes" happen a lot more often than "from time to time." I've experienced them myself. But only a very few of them get reported, and only a very few of those are embarrassing enough for the bosses to take notice and order an evasive response from Bob.

There are good reasons why the vast majority of the "mistakes" aren't reported. Most victims either don't have time, or they don't know they have the right to ask for a supervisor and/or "contact TSA." There presumably are procedures that require TSOs to notify passengers of those rights, but they're most likely followed as inconsistently as everything else the TSA does. Employees at checkpoints have very obvious, very strong incentives to discourage passengers from complaining. As their bosses do not hold employees accountable for following the rules correctly, or for treating passengers with professional courtesy, "hear no evil" would seem to be the best approach to problems caused by incompetence.

Even if a passenger has read this blog and is aware of the right to complain, they may decide that complaining is a waste of time. It's very clear that the TSA doesn't care, and even John Pistole will blame the passenger when something serious goes wrong. There may even be the fear that complaining will land a passenger on some secret list that will ensure greater hassles.

The most likely reason is that TSOs have done an excellent job of conditioning passengers to know that the TSA expects them to be docile and obedient "if they want to fly today." Enough TSOs are bullies who will not tolerate any show of assertiveness. The lesson is to surrender whatever the TSO demands, no matter how wrong and humiliating. Some people do complain, but others just endure the humiliation and join the continually-increasing ranks of people who have good reason to hate the TSA.

What is clear is that the TSA tolerates these "mistakes," and shows no interest in addressing the systemic problems that allow incompetent employees to keep making them. It's apparently enough to rely on Bob to issue insincere "apologies" whenever someone reports a "mistake" serious enough to cause embarrassment.

Submitted by Unhappy on

You dopes seem to be doing a lot of apologizing for egregious behavior. Makes me think their is a clear failure in the TSA from the top all the way down.

Here's a thought, think first, plan second, act third. Let me walk you through this. Find a female TSA employee and perform a walk-through of her journey through the airport. If she is made to feel uncomfortable in any way, revise the process. Next, find a male TSA employee and perform the same walk-through. If he is made to feel uncomfortable in any way, revise the process. Repeat the walk-throughs until it works.

Once you find a process that isn't a clear violation of the 4th amendment, give training to EVERY TSA employee. No policy shall be enforced until EVERY TSA employee knows the rules. If one person complains due to unreasonable action by a TSA employee, the entire TSA is at fault.

Finally, post the policies on the website, then QA that website on a regular, translated daily, basis.

Bottom line is that we should NEVER hear that the TSA is screwing up the simplest of niceties towards American citizens. You work for the government, and the government works for we, the people.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Ice packs are only allowed if they are frozen solid--In the SOP

Another fact: There are 4000 employees at TSA HQ in DC. What the hell do you need 4000 people in DC for? HR issues? No because that's done through lockheed martin. Computer issues? No because that is done through lockheed martin.

This agency is a joke.

Submitted by Mikeef on

Add me as another person who would like to know how to respond the next time a TSO says "The website is OOD.," or "Our airport does it differently."

Seriously, we all just want to know what to do. Handling it at the airport is much, much easier than calling the press.

Submitted by Anonymous on

What are we to do when TSA personnel and their supervisors insist that the TSA website is out of date? Thanks.

Submitted by Anonymous on


I notice how often you post all the guns and knives you find people trying to get through security. Tell me, how many guns or knives have you found in the colostomy bag of an 88 year old lady?

I'm guessing...none. Yet you still insist in looking in there, no matter how much humiliation is causes.

Submitted by Anonymous on

When I was traveling with my infant, I was given tons of grief for the empty baby bottles which were playtex drop-ins and not a traditional bottle at all. I was given grief for the mysterious powder in the baby formula can. The TSA agent even tried to force me to open the jars of baby food I had claiming that they would not spoil during an 18 hour trip by plane. I requested a supervisor who told me the same thing. I showed a printout of the website that was printed that morning. I was still hitting a wall with them. It wasn't until my child started screaming for food that they finally called over some other person who basically asked why she was crying. I pointed out that they were holding her food and milk because it is apparently dangerous even though the website says it is allowed. About 30 minutes after the ordeal began, they decided I could travel with the formula and food. This was in the Orlando airport. Unfortunately a scaled down version of this has happened when I have flown out of Tulsa, OKC, Seattle, and many others. I am dreading traveling with my new baby as I know I will be dealing with this yet again.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Sad to say this has been happening for at least 2 years. Some of us just get better media attention.