This is one of those things that really makes US travelers shake their heads about the “line of defense” at airports. I am normally somewhat leniant when security policies are initated for airline travel because I recognize that there are things that the government and intelligence agencies are aware of that we do not. But, sometimes, the security measures are just crazy – and the TSA won’t even own this one.
New TSA Rule on Snacks and Food at Checkpoints
First of all, this is not a TSA rule that you will find on their website and, if you ask them, they will say there is no such rule. However, after going through several airports the last couple of months and talking with TSA agents and other travelers, it certainly is a new TSA rule. It may not have been rolled out systemwide yet but it is a new rule nonetheless.
What Is this Snack and Food TSA Rule?
We first encountered this in Denver in March. The TSA was making everyone in the general line remove their snacks and food products from their carryon bags. If you left any in there, they pulled your bag aside for enhanced screening (someone pawing through the bag) – at a very busy airport in a very busy time of travel. This meant that the waiting line for getting your bag back was at least 30 minutes.
Apparently, this TSA rule on snacks and food is that they must come out of your carry-on bag and put in a bowl or bin before going through the detector. Any bag that is seen with snack food will be pulled aside for their enhanced/secondary screening process. This translates to long waits at major airports.
This does not seem to be in effect for PreCheck lines. But, if you are a TSA PreCheck passenger at major airports on airlines that fly out of gates without a dedicated TSA Pre line, you will still be required to take out your snack foods.
…It Is Handled Poorly
The thing is that this is not a rule that is mentioned on the TSA website or on placards in the TSA area. It is something that is being shouted out by TSA agents in the line. Of course, we all know if we are traveling with a laptop and we can get that out. But, snack foods? Some of those may be buried in bags and it is not that easy to get all of them out.
So, people get to the snaking lines with barely any room and find out as they near the front that their snacks need to come out. Since this is something that most people have not heard of before or read, it has been ignored by many people. Even the people that take the snacks out still may have something they have forgotten about and the bags get pulled aside for more screening.
In fact, not only is this new TSA rule not addressed on their website, this is what TSA has to say about food in carry-on bags:
Yes, you may pack food in your carry-on or checked bag, but remember all food must undergo x-ray screening. Foods that are liquids, gels, or aerosols must comply with the 3-1-1 liquids rule. TSA officers make the final decision on whether certain items are permitted into the secured areas of the airport.
Right, no mention that it must be taken out. I have asked the TSA about this and have been told there is no such rule about removing snacks or food. But, TSA agents around the country are doing this and I have been told by many of them that this is a new TSA rule that will be rolled out throughout the country.
What’s the Point?
I have heard it may have to do with new machines while some agents mentioned that there are ways to hide explosives in snack foods. To that, I would say, where does that kind of thinking end? Could someone hide explosives in books, socks, belts, etc.?
My father used to be a police officer in a courthouse. With that, he often had shifts at the metal detector and had to undergo training for that. He always comments on how things the TSA makes issues about with their scanners are things that any skilled, trained examiner would be able to spot without the little rules TSA agents throw around.
At the end of the day, who knows why they are rolling out this new TSA rule? However, it is definitely something the TSA should own and update for travelers rather than leaving them at the mercy of agents at the airport who may or may not announce such a rule as people are in line – before pulling their bag aside and causing even worse delays.
Featured image Courtesy Arina P Habich, via Shutterstock