Thursday, September 27, 2012

The water bottle which could have blown up Logan

It's amazing what a walk-through metal detector can do. It can take a potentially lethal bottle filled with an unknown liquid and turn it in to water. Today, departing in Boston, I forgot to empty one of my water bottles. My bag was flagged, and the TSA "officer" found the offending item. My options were to relinquish the bottle to the TSA (which I didn't want to do) or to go out of security, pour out the water, and be rescreened.
This could have blown up
a security checkpoint.

Could I pour it in the waste basket an arm's length away? No. Why not? Because the bottle might contain an explosive liquid (even though it sure looked like water). 

Could I drink it? No. I joked that "then I might blow up" and the TSO agreed a little too seriously.

So, I took option number 3: I marched through the metal detector (Luckily, Terminal A at Boston rarely has their AIT scanners in use). Once we were through this magical force field, I wondered what the TSO, her gloved hand still holding this potentially lethal water bottle, might do. Obviously, on the airplane side of security, it could have burst in to flames. But having passed through this magical, magnetic force field, the possibly deadly liquid morphed in to a much more benign substance.

"Here ya go" she said, and handed me the bottle.

I was perplexed. Not 30 seconds before, this bottle had been so potentially dangerous that I could not touch it, and it could not be opened, lest it burst in to flames. Yet, 50 feet away, it was readily handed to me to pour in to a receptacle very similar to the one on the other side of security. And we hadn't even walked through an advanced imaging machine, but a simple metal detector.

This is your TSA at work.

Yes. I screwed up. I brought—gosh!—hydrogen dioxide through the scary security curtain. But, obviously, it was harmless; I was allowed to deposit it in to a trash can in between two crowded security lines, where it could have exploded and injured dozens. So what is it about the trash can on the in-security side of the airport that is so different (other than having fewer people congregating around it)? Why couldn't the TSA take the bottle and do me the favor of disposing of it? And who, in their right mind, wrote these kinds of regulations and thought that it made any sense?

1 comment:

  1. My guess is that the policy is that TSOs can't give prohibited items back to passengers on the sterile side because they could use tricks (distractions and handoffs) to keep it on the sterile side. Since there are no exceptions, this leads TSOs to speculate about the possible risks.

    A saner approach would be to clear it like a medical liquid. If it said "saline" on the bottle (and declared as such) it could go through. The liquid ban is just because they don't want the expense of screening liquids, but rescreening passengers is expensive too.