“Leaving on a Jet Plane”*

Recently I was off to meet  a friend in a city neither mine nor his. While we were firming up our plans, he reminded me to bring a corkscrew. I replied that, as I was traveling with only a carry-on, it would be impossible. Then I couldn’t stop thinking, “But is it?” So off I went to consult the website of the Transportation Security Administration.

Because I’ve traveled so many times and usually bring the same items, I haven’t really checked the site in years. We all know the 3-1-1 liquids rule for carry-on luggage — no more than 3.4 ounces (100 ml) per container in a 1-quart bag, 1 per passenger — except when we don’t.

On my last trip to Paris, my moisturizer was confiscated at Dulles International because it was in 4-ounce container rather than 3.4. This is the same moisturizer I’ve used for at least 30 years and have carried in my carry-on luggage on countless trips, not to mention that it was partially used (so probably was within the weight limit). The newly-minted agent was checking everything.

The TSA site is pretty clear on what is permitted and what is not. However, rules may be subject to interpretation (my moisturizer and I had already passed through security that day at another airport). In the end, as I learned, “The final decision rests with the TSA officer on whether an item is allowed through the checkpoint.”

Most of the restrictions seem pretty logical, but there were a few surprises. The good news? I learned that I could bring a corkscrew (one without a blade) in my carry-on and that disposable razors are permitted (as are safety razors without blades).  Contrary to what I had heard, knitting needles, crochet hooks, and sewing needles are allowed. A little bargello might be a nice, relaxing way to while away the time on a long flight. Scissors are allowed, as long as the blades are less than 4 inches.

But rules are sometimes arbitrary. I recall standing in line behind a woman when an agent removed the nail scissors (clearly less than 4 inches) from her manicure set. The memory is vivid because it was easily the most exquisite manicure set I’ve ever seen, the softest leather in the most beautiful shade of red. She was given the option of checking the kit or giving up the scissors. Needless to say, she checked it.

There are two classifications, prohibited items and illegal items. Prohibited items may be checked or, in many airports, there is a Post Office or other delivery option where you can send your item to your home. In the case of illegal items — guns, brass knuckles, switchblades, etc — TSA will contact law enforcement, and the appropriate action will be taken — arrest or a citation, according to the jurisdiction.

Speaking of confiscated goods (or, in TSA jargon, Voluntary Abandoned Property), have you ever wondered what happens to all that stuff that doesn’t make it through security? Contrary to what you may believe, TSA personnel are not allowed to keep your abandoned treasures, and, in fact, the penalties for doing so are stiff. Much of it is considered excess government property and is sold to go toward paying the national debt.

To avoid any unpleasant surprises, check the prohibited items list before you pack to see what you can take with you (and what you can bring back). Most items that might be confiscated during the screening process could have made it to your destination had they been packed in your checked luggage.

  • Remember the 3-1-1 rule for liquids
  • Place your 3-1-1 bag on top for easy removal in the screening line
  • The same applies to electronics larger than a cell phone
  • Tape a card with contact information to your electronics
  • Wear easily removable shoes

If you’re a U.S. citizen traveling abroad, check out  the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website.

Bon voyage !

*Credit: “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” John Denver (1966)

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