Obvious News: The TSA Is Frustrating

1 02 2011

I’m an astronomy geek, and one of the cool things that astronomers get to do is use really powerful green laser pointers to point things out in the sky. What makes them so awesome? You can clearly see the beam as it apparently travels from the pointer to the stars.

Anyway, I’m still on my carry-on-only, one bag kick and I wanted to see if I could take a laser pointer as a carry on. There was no information on the TSA website, so I sent them an email. Here’s what happened (I’ve taken out the “Hello” and “Thank you” formalisms, and summarized at the bottom if you don’t want to read the back-and-forth):

ME:

Are there any restrictions on carrying laser pointers on to planes? Are certain classes of lasers permitted / prohibited? I may publish your response.

TSA:

Thank you for your e-mail to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Contact Center. Due to a significant increase in e-mail inquiries, TSA was unable to respond to your correspondence in a timely manner. We apologize for the delay. In an effort to resolve your concerns, included for your reference is information related to our most commonly asked questions. [There was nothing relevant in the information that followed.]

ME:

Will you still be replying to my original email? I would like a response, as the below response did not address my question.

TSA:

The Transportation Security Administration’s current security screening procedures require all carry-on luggage and accessible property be screened before passengers take them onboard an aircraft. Regardless of whether an item is on the prohibited or permitted items list, the Transportation Security Officers (TSO’s) have discretion to prohibit an individual from carrying an item through the screening checkpoint or onboard an aircraft if the item poses a security threat. Therefore, TSA security screening personnel make the final decision on whether to permit items like this into the sterile area of the airport.

ME:

Your response is troubling, in that it implies that passengers can’t know whether certain classes of items will be permitted until screening. Are you saying that I cannot know in advance whether a laser pointer will be permitted as a carry-on?

TSA:

This item is not on the prohibited items list. However, this list is not intended to be all-inclusive. A screener may determine that an item not on this list is prohibited.

ME:

So a passenger can never know whether an item not on the prohibited items list will actually be permitted onboard? What criteria are screeners instructed to use in determining whether an item not on the prohibited items list is prohibited?

TSA:

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) does not discuss specific security procedures. This information is considered Sensitive Security Information and as such, is unauthorized for public disclosure.

Summary: Laser pointers are not on the prohibited items list, but the TSA can’t tell me in advance whether or not I can bring one on a plane. When I reach the security checkpoint (after luggage is checked), a screener can choose to let the laser pointer onboard – or not, which would require me to dispose of it. Ridiculous.

posted by yair

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4 responses

1 02 2011
Frugal Vegan Mom

Ugggh I hate flying, it’s total bullshit – you either pay to check your bag, or risk getting your stuff taken away and have to buy new stuff. I almost threw a shit fit once when one of the TSA guys tried to take away my moisturizer (essential item!!) that was like .2 oz. over limit. I said you’ve got to be kidding me and tried to get some sympathy, and he let me through with it!

Can’t wait until I’m out of the 9-5 and have more time for road travel!

1 02 2011
jayhorowitz

Hear, hear!

The whole liquids thing is a bit stupid anyway. Think about it: You may be carrying liquid explosives, so we’ll take away all liquids and… throw them away in a garbage can? The potential EXPLOSIVES?

Clever, TSA. Very clever.

1 02 2011
1 02 2011
jayhorowitz

That. Is. Awesome.

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