TSA horror stories. We all have them, and they all seem absurd. Part of it has to be the very nature of the security screenings themselves. We know that they serve a purpose, but the way they’re executed seems like a violation of our rights. It doesn’t help that many TSA agents treat travelers rudely and with contempt.
We’ve all heard stories of TSA confiscating the most benign items. Again, they have their reasons. You can concoct a weapon using the simplest materials, so TSA has to be careful. They have to limit quantities. (Although, you’d think at this point they could detect any detonation materials, rather than flatly limiting liquid and gel volumes.) But boy, sometimes they really push the boundaries of common sense and critical thinking.
The following stories seem downright absurd, and so at least a little entertaining. They all also involve sweet treats. We won’t dive into stories like the TSA agents who allegedly insulted and then stole candy from a deaf man — partly because it’s horrible and partly because it might not actually be true.
Don’t worry, though. According to the My TSA app, you can technically carry on any form of candy, so long as it’s not deliberately gel or liquid.
Then again, that depends on what the definition of a gel is.
Surrender that cupcake
Your standard cupcake is larger than 3.4 ounces, the largest volume of liquid or gel allowed through a TSA checkpoint. But is a cupcake really a liquid or a gel? Common sense says no. Maybe the frosting could be considered a gel, if you’re using the most liberal definition of the term. But there’s no way even a large cupcake has more than 3.4 ounces of frosting.
That didn’t stop TSA agents at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas from confiscating a passenger’s cupcake in late 2011.
The TSA agent, confused by the cupcake, called over a supervisor. The supervisor said, according to passenger Rebecca Hains, that the cupcake “counted as a gel-like substance because it was conforming to the shape of its container.” Sure, as do all the clothes in your suitcase. What’s your point, TSA Supervisor?
Apparently the cupcake was no ordinary cupcake, but it was still a cake with frosting nonetheless. And the TSA’s official line reads, “You can bring cakes, pies and cupcakes through the security checkpoint, but you should expect that they might get some additional screening, and if something doesn’t seem right, there is always the potential you won’t be able to take it through.” Additional screening, sure. But something felt not right about this cupcake?
(Hains says the TSA agent did not question her hummus sandwiches. Isn’t hummus every bit as, if not more, gel-like than cupcake frosting? If the cake itself is gel-like, is bread not gel-like? There are just too many questions here.)
I remember a TSA story from right around that time. The person in front of me had yogurt in her carry-on bag, but the container was a bit more than 3.4 ounces. The agent, in complete earnest, asked her, “Do you surrender the yogurt?” I can only imagine these TSA agents doing exactly the same.
“Do you surrender the cupcake?”
Fifty bucks says the supervisor scarfed it on his next break.
Do they make chemical weapons with candy?
We’d like to think that there is a reasonable explanation why this story happened. It’s just so absurd. Everyone involved, from the details provided, displays a complete lack of critical thinking. Of course, the TSA statement provided no elaboration. It merely described the procedure.
Which makes us think the worst. But we’ll let you decide.
This story contains two absurd elements, only one of which involves candy. But let’s go with the non-candy item first. Not long after Rebecca Hains had her cupcake confisacated by TSA, a man walked through a security checkpoint at Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Michigan while a TSA agent noticed a “suspicious-looking item” on the X-ray machine.
Suspicious-looking items should be taken very seriously. By suspicious-looking items, we mean guns, knives, and anything that might look like a bomb. So surely this suspicious-looking item must have resembled one of these, right?
No. Instead, it resembled one of the most common items in the United States. At the time Apple had sold more than 300 million iPods. TSA agents must have seen dozens of these devices per hour. But for some reason, this iPod was “suspicious-looking.” Maybe it was one of those first-generation models. Suspicious, yes. It doesn’t look new and fancy!
Now we get to the candy. Reports do not indicate the specific candy involved, though we wish they did. We’d like to know, because this candy set off a chemical alarm. We would like to avoid this kind of inconvenience in the future! It’s absolutely crazy that a benign bag of candy could set off a chemical alarm.
Yet this man’s common device, and benign bag of candy, closed down a security checkpoint for more than 20 minutes.
I feel safe flying now. Don’t you?
What is a gel candy, and what is not?
Perhaps the most confusing question about candy and the TSA: what, exactly, constitutes a gel candy? A liquid candy is easy enough to figure. We all know what’s a liquid and what is not. We might have some disagreements over gels.
We assume, for instance, that you wouldn’t be able to bring Squeeze Pop liquid lollipops on a plane. They’re pretty clearly gels, and each tube is 4 ounces. For a mere 0.6 ounces over the TSA limit, you’d almost certainly have to surrender that gooey goodness.
On the other side, you have Too Tart Super Sweet Spray. It is a liquid by every definition. Yet you can carry it right onto a plane. The containers are super small, under an ounce each. So how about that?
OK, those might seem obvious. A gel over 3.4 ounces cannot get past a check point, while a liquid under 3.4 ounces can. But what about more ambiguous cases? What is, for example, chocolate ganache? It sure seems like a gel. Are TSA agents instructed to confiscate any chocolate truffles that come through checkpoints? The app says they’re OK.
So liquid lollipop, a gel, is not OK, but ganache inside a chocolate, which is a gel, is OK? I see.
(No, I really don’t.)
A gummy bear isn’t, by almost any definition, a gel. It might be gelatinous, but just because it has the word gel in it does not make it itself a gel. But guess what? That gummy bear might be hazardous. Just check out this video. Thankfully, you’ll probably have trouble getting a blowtorch by security.
One thing is for sure: do not, under any circumstances, travel with Baby Lucas Candy. What, you think the TSA will let you just waltz through a checkpoint with an unidentified powdery substance?
Have any candy-related TSA stories of your own? We would absolutely love to hear them. Send them over to joe(at)candystore(dot)com and I’ll add them to this post.