Sunday, October 08, 2006

How I Smuggled Six Ounces Through Airport Security

In literature, folklore and daily life, the number three has powerful symbolic qualities. Three wishes granted by the genie in the bottle. Three cigarettes lit on a match. Third time’s the charm. “Rules of three” exist for presentations and writing, in Wicca and in visual architecture, and now for airport security, too. Check it out: the TSA has rescinded its blanket ban on liquids and gels; once again Americans can carry shampoo and liquid soap when they fly.

But only if they follow the rule of three. Here’s a few lines from the TSA’s “Permitted and Prohibited” chart for carry-on luggage, which lists the substances you're allowed to carry as well as the safe and proper amount of each item:

Aerosol spray bottles and cans Yes - Less than 3 oz.
All creams and lotions including Neosporin or first-aid creams and ointments, topical or rash creams and ointments, suntan lotions, moisturizers, etc. Yes - Less than 3 oz.
Bubble bath balls, bath oils or moisturizers Yes - Less than 3 oz.
Bug and mosquito sprays and repellents Yes - Less than 3 oz.
Deodorants made of gel or aerosol Yes - Less than 3 oz.
Hair styling gels and spray of all kinds including aerosol Yes - Less than 3 oz.
Hair Straightener or Detangler Yes - Less than 3 oz.
Lip gels such as Carmex or Blistex Yes - Less than 3 oz.
Liquid lip glosses or other liquids for lips Yes - Less than 3 oz.
Liquid bubble bath including gel or liquid filled Yes - Less than 3 oz.
Liquid foundations Yes - Less than 3 oz.
Liquid, gel or spray perfumes and colognes Yes - Less than 3 oz.
Liquid sanitizers Yes - Less than 3 oz.
Liquid soaps Yes - Less than 3 oz.
Liquid mascara Yes - Less than 3 oz.
Make up removers or facial cleansers Yes - Less than 3 oz.
Mouthwash Yes - Less than 3 oz.
...and so on, in alphabetical order.

The rule of three is very important because it keeps us safe from terrorists. Nonetheless, last week when I flew out of state I carried four ounces of shampoo and eight ounces of conditioner onto the plane with me. That’s right: I made it through with twelve ounces of hair-cleaning materiel where regulation only allowed for six. In my last post before leaving last week, I mentioned my plan to smuggle extra hair-cleansing supplies and promised to share the details when I returned.

A decent and responsible person who loved America would never keep such a promise. What if there’s a terrorist somewhere who plans to blow up an airplane but needs eight ounces of conditioner to do it? And since TSA will only let him have three he’s all flummoxed and sad and about to abandon his plan, but one day he does a Google search for “how to smuggle conditioner through airport security” and finds this essay here.

A lot of people could die if I share my evil-genius smuggling brilliance with the world. That would be a heavy burden to bear on my conscience, except I don't have one. Are you surprised to learn this? You shouldn't be: if I'm sociopathic enough to bring more than three ounces of shampoo onto an airplane, it naturally follows that I'm callous enough to throw millions of lives away if I think I can get a blog post out of it. So here's the secret:

the way to carry eight ounces of conditioner onto an airplane in defiance of TSA’s three-ounce restrictions is to decant it into multiple small bottles of less than three ounces each.

And I did. TSA regulations state that any liquids or gels must be kept in a clear one-quart Ziploc bag. You can easily fit well over twenty ounces in such a bag if the bottles are the right size and shape, so long as no one bottle is more than three ounces.

TSA’s very strict about the rule of three-ounce bottles; an agent last week asked the woman in front of me if any of her bottles held more than three ounces. But that agent said nothing to me, since the dozen or so bottles in my Ziploc were all miniature enough to avoid suspicion. (I played it extra-safe: not only did I use a collection of one- and two-ounce bottles, but every bottle looked different so no agents would get suspicious to see three or four bottles of the same substance.)

To reiterate, here’s America’s latest anti-terrorism rule of thumb:
Eight ounces of conditioner in one bottle: potentially dangerous. TSA will confiscate it.
Eight ounces of conditioner in four bottles: guaranteed safe. TSA will let it through.


Anonymous Grant Gould said...

I hope you packed more than three ounces of soap, too, to wash off the blood on your hands! You smuggle conditioner and on the same day North Korea tests a nuclear weapon -- hardly coincidence, I say! Why do you hate America, Feral Genius? Why do you hate America so?

5:07 AM  
Anonymous Alex said...

You know, Jennifer, I'm only half-joking when I suggest that you take down this blog post since you're confessing to a federal crime.

Given the times we live in, this could actually be a dangerous thing for you to do. No, not dangerous because terrorists will blow up a plane. Rather, dangerous because somebody might raid your house in the middle of the night.

6:31 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

I actually thought about that, Alex, but wrote this anyway. This is where I'm drawing the line in the sand. A clean, shiny, manageable line full of body and volume.

7:29 AM  
Blogger rhhardin said...

Another approach is get bottles marked in ml. Nobody knows how much is in it.

8:43 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

If you do that, Ron, TSA will confiscate it on general principles. Especially since it's hard to gauge the number of ounces on size alone; three ounces of something dense, like shampoo or conditioner, takes up a lot less volume than three ounces of something light, like facial moisturizer.

8:45 AM  
Anonymous stevo darkly said...

"Another approach is get bottles marked in ml. Nobody knows how much is in it."

Only effete Europeans use the metric system, Frenchie.

9:05 AM  
Anonymous NoStar said...

Will you be as forthcoming with the details of how you cajoled a flat-chested female to smuggle more than 3 ounces of contraband liquids in both silicon breast implants?

But seriously, this could become a nifty piece of investigatorial reporting on the idiocy of TSA policies.

11:08 AM  
Blogger rhhardin said...

I'd guess liquids are sold by ounce volume, not ounce weight, without checking myself though.

So density wouldn't matter.

5:05 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Ron, in my own Ziploc bag I had a 2.5-ounce bottle of moisturizer that was nearly twice as large as one of my 2-ounce (factory-filled) conditioner bottles. Fortunately, the largish moisturizer bottle had "2.5 oz" stamped on it at the factory so I was allowed to carry it through, but when the bottle is empty I could probably fit four ounces of conditioner in it if I wanted to.

By the way, I know I've said this before but it's damned sad that things have reached the point where moisturizer and conditioner are seriously discussed in the context of government regulation rather than some vapid hair-salon chatter.

5:15 PM  
Blogger rhhardin said...

I don't even know what moisturizer and conditioner are, for what that's worth.

The bottle contents is smaller than the bottle size. Probably they just don't fill it.

Selling liquids by weight just seems unlikely.

6:20 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Ron, think of talc versus gold. Talc is much lighter than gold. And three ounces of talc will occupy more volume than three ounces of gold, even if the two substances are somehow converted into gel form.

Not all bath and cosmetic lotions and gels are equally heavy, either. Trust me when I say my 2.5 ounce bottle of moisturizer (which is stuff used to keep skin from drying out in a New England winter) holds far more volume than a 2.5 ounce bottle of conditioner (which is used to detangle long hair after washing it).

6:41 PM  
Blogger rhhardin said...

The question is, though, whether they fill the bigger bottle, or just put the same 2.5 (fl) oz in.

Talc is undoubtedly sold by weight, but anything fluid is likely to be sold by volume.

3:54 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Yes, they fill the bottles. I can see for myself, since the bottle is made of clear glass.

6:57 AM  
Anonymous stevo darkly said...

Twice I've come back just to reread this blog post because it is frickin' ingenius.

2:38 PM  
Blogger Timothy said...

These are oz by weight not oz by volume? What, I'm supposed to weigh my fucking toiletries now?

3:04 PM  
Blogger Anne O'Neimaus said...

Related to your "multi-ounce liquid smuggling experience", an interesting comment appeared on Bruce Schnier's blog:

>Regarding EU regulations, I found this source:


Note that there also is no indication of the original source of this regulations on that page. And also note that according to the information on that page it would be perfectly "legal" to bring up to 1000 ml of the same liquid as long as you use 10 bottles.

11:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

They took my aftershave! It was nice aftershave too.

6:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

maybe you ignorant bastards should be pointing the finger at the fucking terrorists for losing your precious liquids ... afterall, they are the ones who have used liquids in the past to make bombs, etc. ... instead of the TSA folks who try to make you ungrateful shit-heads safe ... i say go fuck yourself ...

4:12 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Wow. That last comment was just posted today: on August 2, 2007. Trolling a little late in the game here, Anonymous.

9:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Monday, the TSA took my hair gel. Why? Because the product container was labeled: 3.5 ounces Net Wt.

Volume vs. Weight. Hmmmm. But the TSA rule, per their web site, reads: ""The rule limits the volume of liquids, gels and aerosols to bottles 3 ounces or smaller (or 100 ml),.."

Lessee....milliliters....volume of liquids....

They saw nothing wrong with not knowing the difference. "It's the rule in Denver."

10:59 PM  
Anonymous someguy said...

What she did was totally legal.
BTW, Ounces are a measurement of weight, Fluid Ounces are a measurement of volume. If you have two things in ounces of different sizes, one or both are ounces not fl oz. Stupid american system, I wish we'd use the same shit as the rest of the world. Anyway, it is indeed retarded to allow 3oz bottles in bulk, but whatever. I agree that it's bs because it doesn't restrict how much you can take at all; its just freaking inconvenient. And as to TSA agents taking your 3.5oz bottle and allowing 4+fl oz in a 2.5oz (weight) bottle, its our (america's) own fault for not teaching TSA agents the difference between weight and volume. Maybe if we were using liters it wouldn't be an issue.

9:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Found this trying to figure out if I can get through security with mini bottles of vodka. I'm not planning to blow anything up. Promise. If they stick my ass on a dual prop tuna can, I'm a gonna need a drink and they don't serve on those itty bitty planes!

As far as whether the post is a good idea, if I worried about that, I wouldn't publish half of my posts. As far as whether it's dangerous or unpatriotic, I seriously doubt that your blog is going to hatch the key point in some terrorist plot. Something tells me they do a little more research than Google can provide. :)

6:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Heres why its this way, theres no liquid that can be effectively used for terrorism on its own. u guys may say something dumb like "well ppl could bring nitroclycerin on the plane" well its so unstable good luck keeping it in ur bag w/o it exploding in ur bag. its just a ploy to make ppl feel more safe at airports. and do u know what they do with these "dangerous liquids"? they just wrap them in some thin paper and throw it in a garbage bin on the the secure side. like they've already thought of this idea feral has. but theres no dangerous liquid formadable enough for terrorism to bring on a plane. if there was they'd just completely bann liquid regardless of how much. like its not like your allowed guns as long as there yeah big. or only have this much ammo. its just completely banned. so think about this ppl cant be this dumb to actually allow anything dangerous aoard.

4:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

duh! Doesn't everyone know this already? Genius, sheesh... what a waste of an article

8:47 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

That's kind of the point, Anonymous ... why does the government still pretend this protects us?

3:42 PM  

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