Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Response to "TSA Takes Big Gulp over Britney"

A video was posted earlier today by a popular celebrity tabloid showing Britney Spears traveling through airport security at LAX with a large drink cup.

We checked with the airport and I'm happy to report there's nothing to see here.

Her cup had a few ice chips in it, not liquid. Ice is a solid. Therefore, ice is permitted through the checkpoint, as long as it's screened by the X-ray (Which it was).

I should also add that Ms. Spears did have a bottle of liquid in her purse which was identified on the X-ray and voluntarily surrendered at the checkpoint.

One thing to remember when bringing ice through the checkpoint: it can't be partially melted. It has to be just the ice with no liquid at the bottom.

While I'm at it, I'll take this opportunity to answer a common question. Yes, empty bottles and cups are also allowed through the checkpoint.

*** Update: 11-4-09 ***
After reading the incoming comments this morning on our blog, it was very apparent that we had left some inaccurate information on the TSA.gov web page:

"Frozen gels/liquids are permitted if required to cool medical and infant/child exemptions. Frozen gels/liquids for any other purpose are not permitted."

This information has recently changed and should have been updated. An update has been posted in its place.

If you encounter any problems, please contact a TSA Customer Support Manager by using the Got Feedback? program.

***Update 11/6/2009***

Clarification on Frozen Liquids… and Britney

Earlier this week, Britney Spears came through a checkpoint at LAX. The paparazzi were there taking pictures and presumed they landed a big story when they saw what they thought was TSA giving Ms. Spears the “celebrity treatment.” They presumed the cup in her hand was a full beverage. It was also assumed that we let Ms. Spears through the checkpoint with her beverage instead of prohibiting it, which led to allegations of TSA just letting her slide by.

What really happened was Ms. Spears had a cup with a few ice chips. Ice and other frozen solid liquids are permitted as long as they’re frozen solid and X-ray screened.

So, why are frozen solidified items permitted when they’re eventually going to melt once the passenger is in the gate area or on their flight? Good question. It is highly improbable that the explosives TSA is concerned about could be frozen by traditional means. The key word here is frozen. Not thawing. Not a slush or slurry. Frozen solid.

I’ve read comments saying things similar to “Huh, but you wouldn’t let me bring my [Insert Frozen Item Here] before… what’s the deal?” As a result of many questions from our officers on the front lines, we previously clarified the treatment of solidified liquids through internal processes.

So, while something may have been prohibited by an officer in the past, it may not be now. Please remember that even permissible items get a closer look at times, so don’t be surprised if we take a closer look. So you might want to think twice before going overboard and freezing your entire pantry or medicine cabinet and packing it in your carry-on.

Another question that comes up is “Why not just ban all liquids?” Another great question… I just answered this recently, so excuse me while I cut and paste. At first, all liquids were banned. This wasn’t sustainable long term. People have liquid medications and mothers need to travel with breast milk and formula, etc. So, using the intelligence at hand, it was determined how much liquid could be allowed on planes by a passenger so that we could balance security with convenience. Hence 3-1-1… TSA is now working on technology that will hopefully bring an end to it – so that liquids could be screened along with everything else in your bag – and no little plastic baggie. The day that technology allows liquid to stay in your bags, our HQ will look like a vintage victory parade. Tickertape will be streaming out of our windows and bands will be marching around the building.

You have to keep in mind that these procedures were put in place to as an effective measure until the necessary technology can be deployed. 3-1-1 was never intended to be the perfect permanent fix. There is still a lot of work to be done on this and we are as disappointed as you are that the technologists have not been able to find solutions as quickly as we had hoped. Remember that 3-1-1 is in use throughout most of the world and all of our counterparts are working on a solution as well.

Now back to Britney…

Some of you are saying our officers were star struck and gave Ms. Spears special treatment and didn’t even X-ray her bags. First off, this is LAX. Our officers are pretty accustomed to screening celebrities, so I doubt they get star struck. Secondly, if you watch the TMZ video, you’ll notice that her purse is brought over first by a TSO.

There ‘s an opening on all of our X-rays that is next to the X-ray operator and allows a bag search officer to grab the bag as it comes out of the X-ray. This prevents bags that need inspected from getting to the passenger and causing a security breach. That opening is not visible on the TMZ video, but here is a picture.

OK, when the purse is brought to her, watch her expression. You’ll see an “Oops I did it Again” expression as she is informed that she has a bottle of perfume in her purse. (Which she voluntarily surrenders) Next you’ll see an officer bring the bin to her with the cup in it. Notice the officer to the left looking over the bin to inspect it. That’s when it was confirmed that there were just a few ice chips in her cup. (After it had already gone through the X-ray) There is no straw and you can clearly see her get an ice cube out of the cup and not a drink.

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TSA Blog Team