Officialdom’s semantics

From Monday’s “Metropolitan Diary” in the NYT, this letter from Gail Ann Mazin:

Getting up at 4 a.m. to catch an early flight from La Guardia, I decided to bring a bagel and cream cheese with me, since prices are so high for food at the gate. Rather than spending time slicing the bagel and spreading the remaining cream cheese from a practically empty container, I just tossed the container and bagel in a plastic bag with a small plastic knife and figured there would be plenty of time to prepare my breakfast at the gate.

As I was going through security, sans shoes, etc., the agent pulled my bag aside, unzipped it, opened the container and stated that I couldn’t bring creams onboard.

With a long line of impatient passengers, I decided it wasn’t worth an argument, but as I walked away, I called out, “What if I had already put the cream cheese on the bagel?,” to which she replied, “That would have been O.K.!”

I guess the whole breakfast is safer than its parts.

It seems to depend on what you mean by cream. Shades of fishing in the park!

But there is a point here, however badly expressed. The TSA regulations on carry-on items prohibit liquids, gels, creams, pastes, and aerosols (unless they are in containers holding 3 oz. or less, with all the containers in a single clear zip-top plastic bag of one-quart size or smaller), and their holiday travel tips specifically bar creamy dips and spreads (including cheese spreads and peanut butter). The regulations were aimed not at the liquids, gels, etc. themselves, but at the containers, which could be emptied of their original contents and filled with something more dangerous. So a cream cheese container would be out, but a bagel spread with cream cheese would be ok.

However, TSA employees have been capricious in their interpretation of the regulations. There are a fair number of tales of lipstick and mascara being seized for not being in a clear zip-top bag.

Similarly for stick deodorant. The TSA website on deodorants (of 9/3/10) specifically tells us:

Stick deodorant is fine in any size.

Gel deodorant and aerosol/spray deodorants must be 3.4 oz or less and placed in a quart sized baggie. Larger sizes can be placed in your checked luggage.

Despite this, stick deodorants are sometimes seized. One commenter (George) on the website reported his TSA deodorant experience, which involved the Crystal brand (whose virtue is that it’s hypoallergenic):

When I protested that it was SOLID, he turned his voice up several decibels and informed me that “Deodorant is a liquid.”

(and then loudly played the “do you want to fly today?” card against George, who folded).

I suppose the employee could be understood as having intended to say something like “All deodorant counts as a liquid for the purposes of the regulations” — but that would be factually incorrect (though semantically impeccable).


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