TSA issues new rules for the holiday season

A dressed up family member pushes a relative's luggage in the international arrivals area of at Dulles International Airport (IAD) on their way to celebrate Christmas. (AFP Photo / Paul J.Richards)
Trying to bring a snow globe on the plane? You’re in luck. While TSA confiscates items such as water bottles, cranberry sauce and facial cleansers, the agency is allowing a surprising number of unusual items to pass through its security belt.

Trying to bring a snow globe on the plane? You’re in luck. While TSA confiscates items such as water bottles, cranberry sauce and facial cleansers, the agency is allowing a surprising number of unusual items to pass through its security belt.

Travelers should pay particular attention to the Transportation Security Agency’s new guidelines on prohibited and restricted items to avoid being confused at the security checkpoint.

In a blog post published Friday, the agency detailed a number of unusual items that are allowed on planes this holiday season. While cakes, pies, donuts and entire turkeys are allowed in a passenger’s carry-on luggage, items such as salad dressing, cranberry sauce and cheese are not.

Alimentary or not, the agency confiscates all liquids greater than 3.4 ounces, even if these items are necessities. But as long as a liquid is the permitted amount, TSA will allow travelers to keep it with them – even when it’s contained in glass.

Glass bottles are considered a potential weapon, but snow globes aren’t – as long as they appear to contain less than 3.4 ounces and are approximately the shape of a tennis ball. This item is allowed in checked baggage as long as “the entire snow globe, including the base, is able to fit in the same one clear, plastic, quart-sized, re-sealable bag as a passenger’s other liquids.”

But the TSA’s new tolerance might be misleading to travelers excited to bring snow globes back from vacation: few of the items are small enough to qualify as permissible in checked baggage. The most common snow globe sold in the US is twice the size of a tennis ball and holds twice as much liquid. Most of the snow globes holding less than 3.4 ounces of liquid are small items made in China and Hong Kong as holiday tree decorations.

TSA has also loosened security rules for travelers it considers ‘unlikely’ to be terrorists. Those under the age of 12 or over 75 no longer have to remove their shoes at the security checkpoint.

“We recognize that they’re not likely to be terrorists and so we allow them to leave their shoes on. That expedites the screening process,” TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein told NPR. “Basically, we do know that not everybody is a terrorist. We totally understand that.”

But while kids will get to keep their shoes on now, they won’t be exempt from the rules prohibiting strawberry jam and lotion.

“These kinds of rules really don’t make any sense today, and we spend literally millions and millions of dollars searching for items now, which are of no harm,” said Charlie Leocha, director of the Consumer Travel Alliance.

TSA urges airline passengers to avoid wrapping presents before their flight and instead placing items in gift bags or wrapping them later. If security officers suspect a questionable-looking gift jar of cherry preserves to be wrapped up as a present, TSA employees may have to unwrap it.

“Our officers try their best not to mangle the gift wrap, but it’s not a guarantee and it also slows down the line for everybody else when we have to do this,” the agency wrote on its blog. “We’d rather unwrap the gifts that are under our trees.”

With new rules permitting snow globes and prohibiting cranberry sauce, Americans undergoing a TSA screening this Christmas may find themselves more confused than ever.