TSA Works to Clear up Carry-On Confusion

The TSA allows small bottles and tubes of liquids to be carried aboard airplanes only if they are enclosed in a quart-size, zip-top plastic bag.

"There's still some confusion from people who don't travel every week about exactly what you can carry on, what you can't carry on, what you can buy behind security," Continental Airlines Chief Executive Larry Kellner said last week on a conference call, noting checked baggage volume is still up 28 percent at his airline.

One change Continental has made to try to help ease the hassle: The airline provides quart-size zip-top bags to customers at its ticket counters (but you have to ask). Southwest Airlines also said it provides quart-size plastic bags at its ticket counters, but American, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines Northwest Airlines, JetBlue Airways and Frontier said they don't.

Frequent traveler Harold Sogard has felt so sorry for travelers caught by TSA bag men that he has begun carrying extra quart-size bags himself to rescue people before items are confiscated. "Heaven forbid that the TSA actually kept a supply of bags on hand to give to people," he said.

Earlier this month, Ann Persoon tried to board a flight in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, with "unmarked" bottles of shampoo and cream rinse.

Her favorite brands didn't come in sizes of three ounces or less, so she made a special trip to a store to buy small, leak-proof clear travel bottles and filled them with hair-care products.

The screener incorrectly told her the rules allowed only bottles with manufacturer's labels on them, and he promptly threw them out. "Most travelers want to cooperate with airport security, because they realize that their own safety depends on the TSA officers being vigilant. But sometimes it gets very frustrating," said Persoon.

TSA's Hawley said that's the kind of mistake TSA is trying to address.

Steve Feld had a squeezed-down, nearly empty tube of toothpaste that clearly had less then three ounces in it, though it held more when it was new. He also had a used tube of lotion that "once held fractionally over 3.0 ounces," he said. A TSA screener grabbed them both.

"I was told the rules prohibited it, and he tossed the items without any discussion," Feld said.

Hawley said there is method in the madness of requiring everything to be in a bag and strictly limiting the size of containers, not the volume of liquid or gel.

Containers larger than three ounces could pose a threat a place to mix enough liquid explosives to create a bomb. "It's not the ounces. It's the container we're after," he said.

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