Reader Mail : What’s The Oddest Thing The TSA Has Taken From You?

Ahhh … airport security regulations preventing items from passing with a passenger through a security checkpoint. They are not always consistent, and sometimes the encounters while frustrating at the time can be humourous once the dust has settled later on.

This week’s reader mail comes from Ron in Houston. Ron asks “With Lady Gaga being allowed to get through security with handcuffs that the TSA probably should have taken away, can I ask what’s the oddest thing the TSA has taken from you?

Ron … this is not easy question to answer, so I think I’ll answer in three parts.  These parts will be an item the TSA didn’t allow … then did allow when I challenged them on it, an item that was removed with purely absurd reasoning and  an item the TSA removed from me after I had passed through security.

So … here we go.

Almost Not Allowed — On my way to a flight out of Orange County’s John Wayne Airport (SNA) with a backpack full of camera equipment I was stopped after my bag was X-Rayed for containing two sets of Pocket Wizards.   For those of that are not photographers, Pocket Wizards are radio transmitter devices for setting off remote flash units or remote cameras.   Not only are Pocket Wizards completely allowed as carry on items, I have flown literally hundreds of flights with them in my carry on baggage.

Once my bag was opened I was told I would need to dispose of the Pocket Wizards. I informed the TSA agents that I would not be disposing of my roughly US$1,200 worth of photo equipment as not only did I fly with the gear constantly … but it was approved for carry on.  The TSA agent called his supervisor who agreed that since they were ‘triggers’ they could not fly.   I stood my ground, missed my flight … and ended up making some phone calls to the TSA’s HQ in Virginia and was eventually allowed to pass through security and catch a later flight.

Not Allowed — On my way through a TSA checkpoint at Miami International Airport (MIA) I was stopped for having a mini-roll of gaffers tape inside my bag, in addition to a mini-roll of Gaffers Tape attached to the outside of my bag. I was dumbfounded by being stopped for flying with two 2″ x 12 yard rolls of Gaffers Tape as it something I always fly with. Gaffers tape is used to hold lens hoods on, affix notes to the wrist pad of my laptop, repair rips in clothing and even to wrap around blisters.

The answer I was given by the TSA agent was that two rolls of gaffers tape was enough tape to be used to potentially detain the in-flight crew … (keep in mind that the TSA just allowed Lady Gaga to fly with handcuffs).   I was running behind and had to catch a flight from one project to another so I didn’t have time to argue and gave up one roll of Gaffers Tape … then continued on with a single roll of the cloth based tape.

Actually removed from me — Two years ago with flying through Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) I was walking through the shopping mall area of the airport headed for the US Airways Club that is situated between the B & C Concourse when I was quickly approached by two TSA agents regarding the 1oz container of Purell attached to the outside of my backpack.

The two TSA agents informed me that they needed to take my 1oz Purell container (that was 3/4 empty) as I was publicly displaying the liquid outside my bag rather keeping it inside my bag, in a 3-1-1 baggie. I told them I’d place it in my backpack … and they informed me it was to late, they’d seen it; they needed to dispose of it.

Of course there are no regulations anywhere regarding the display, or possession, or liquid while inside the ‘sterile area.’ Passengers can buy Purell in most airport magazine shops, as well as drinks, soup, and other liquids and gels they can’t be possessed while passing through security.

On most days I would have argued with the TSA agents, but on this day I had been awake and on my feet for more than 30 hours, except for the four hours I had spent sitting on a bench outside the PHL TSA checkpoint waiting for it to open up … so I handed over the 1/4oz of Purrell that was left in the container, went to The Club, opened my backpack up and attached the completely full 1oz container of Purrell I had in my backpack.

I don’t know if these are the oddest items that the TSA has taken from travelers … but these three incidents stand out in my mind from my personal experiences.

Happy Flying!


  1. I haven’t had anything taken from me, but have had a couple of odd experiences while travelling.

    In June 2000 I went to the Netherlands and had packed a Leatherman type tool in my carry on bag…Montreal security let me pass without a word, but on my return Security stopped me and made me promise to leave it in my bag.

    My next trip was in October just after 9/11 I had in my packed, to be checked, luggage a Swiss Army knife. Security was augmented by the military, they asked if i had anything sharp or pointed, I said I had the knife in my packed luggage. They wanted me to discard the knife, I held my ground, mostly because my knife was buried in my bag and because this was going to be checked, they called a supervisor and he OK’d my knife.

    On a more recent trip, I packed a rubber chicken in my carry on, hoping to get some reaction from someone at security. Not one even smiled. I was a bit disappointed, but I had my fun. I may do it again on my next trip.

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