Debating States of Matter With The TSA

At the end of last night’s podcast, I mentioned that I had restocked my toiletry kit with the latest TSA banned substance list in hand. I hit the local Wild Oats natural food store and bought some Eco-Dent tooth powder, Tom’s of Maine natural long-lasting deodorant stick, and Jason Stuck Up! hair styling wax. Even rode my bike rather than firing up the Blazer so I could get the full crunchy-granola experience.

Later that evening, I headed over to O’Hare for my flight down to Houston. I arrived early, but didn’t need to — there were only a couple of folks in front of me in the premium security line. A TSA screener pulled my bag off the conveyor and asked to look inside. He spent a bit of time riffling through all my clothes and then finally asked me where my toiletry kit was. “In the front flap,” I told him. I’d put it there for easy access, expecting just such a search. However, this guy seemed to be one of the Ranger Rick/Barney Fife TSA guys, so asking me for help was the last thing he wanted to do.

“A-ha!” he exclaimed, raising my new jar of Jason Stuck Up! hair styling wax to eye level. “Hair gels are not allowed,” he said, unscrewing the cap.

“It’s not a gel,” I said, “it’s a wax.”

“No gels are allowed, only solids,” he continued.

“A wax isn’t a gel, it’s a solid — a solid mass of hydrocarbon polymers. A gel is a looser matrix of polymers in which a liquid like water is entrained,” I explained.

He looked at me. “This is a solid,” he said, rapping his knuckles on the metal table.

It was at this point that that the silliness of this exchange hit home. Not to be elitist about this, but here I am, a chemical engineer with all sorts of materials science, thermodynamics and physics education, debating the definition of a solid with a guy that, from the look of it, maxed out his higher education somewhere around 10th grade. This is not an argument I was going to win and the further I pushed it probably meant that losing was going to quickly get more painful.

He went for my bottle of toothpowder. I could tell he so wanted it to be toothpaste. He looked inside. “It’s a solid,” I said. He just looked at me and put it back. He walked over to the garbage can and slammed dunked my hair wax. I so wanted to say “Feel good?”, but I so wanted to make my flight even more.

Tags: TSA, Security, Airport, O’Hare, Gels

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  1. Great story, Mark…still haven’t had to fly recently, and figure that (hopefully) by the time I do, things will have returned to some semblance of sanity. Love thepodcast. Keep it up.

  2. I would imagine just a few scant weeks ago your TSA “Buddy” was at his previous job uttering “You want fries with that?” Your right it’s not worth missing a flight just to prove a point with the guy.
    Forget the hair styling wax just shave your head….

  3. No need to shave — I’m rapidly heading in that direction naturally…

  4. After that I would probably go out and buy a 4oz bottle of contact lens solution so I could put whatever liquid I wanted in the bottle (since 4oz of contact lens solution/saline/eyedrops is an acceptable liquid) and a lens case just to complete the masquerade.

    Or if you try the wax again maybe put it in a ziplock container so they don’t associate it with hair gel. Maybe it would get thrown out just for looking strange but it would be worth a shot.

    From a woman’s point of view the lipgloss, mascara and foundation/concealer not being allowed as carry-ons is a problem. I guess they will assume that women will have bags other than their carryon but if not and you don’t wear a drugstore brand it’s going to cost a good $15+ to buy each item each place you go. Even with drugstore brands and just mascara ($7), lipgloss ($3) and foundation ($9) that’s still an estimated $19 and lots of waste. Add in the toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, hairspray/mousse/gel, makeup remover… it gets expensive.

    Last time someone (a family member) convinced me to check one piece of luggage it took a trip to LA for a couple of days without me. I also know your thing about waiting for the checked bags and I couldn’t agree more – waste of time.

    I am so glad I haven’t had to fly anywhere in the last year.

    How’s that Eco-dent tooth powder by the way? I’m thinking about putting together a full list of alternatives to the banned items that shouldn’t get confiscated (sans suggestion about the lens cleaner because that’s pushing things.)

  5. With this sort of plain attack on your kit, I would just land at the destination and buy from a checklist.. I know it sucks since it is wasteful but is it really worth the argument with the person, who for that moment, is in charge of your life?

  6. Hilary –

    The Eco-dent tooth powder tastes awful! Incredibly salty, but that shouldn’t surprise me given that it’s mostly baking soda –sodium bicarbonate. But it’s not bad enough to make me want to burn an hour waiting for my bag to pop out on the luggage belt.

    Udayan –

    You’re right, of course. The sane thing to do is shrug and move along. But every once in a while, my pride and general crankiness take over…

  7. Realistically I too would probably get nastily angry & get myself in trouble. I mean it’s not their job to hassle passengers!

    On a side note which is all over the internet, anyone seen Snakes on a Plane yet? I’m going tonight & I’m stoked!

  8. actually the Eco-Dent toothpowder tastes fresh and clean and is the only stuff I use even when I am NOT traveling!

  9. Perhaps I chose the wrong flavor. I went for Tartar Control because I’m late for my dental check-up. Perhaps I should have chosen the cinnamon flavor instead…

    On a completely different note, “Snakes on a Plane” got a great write-up in the San Francisco paper. I’ll have to go see it. There’s nothing better in cinema than seeing Samuel L Jackson say “M*therf***er”. I hate it when I channel-surf and see Pulp Fiction playing. I immediately lose an hour watching him.

  10. The movie was wonderfully awful. I loved it. That specific line was a little anticlimactic, my suggestion follows the many reviews; go with a large, rowdy audience!

    Another thing, RyanAir’s CEO has spoken out against the new travel restrictions;

    RyanAir a leading European discount airline, has threatened to sue the British government if it doesn’t ease off on its security measures.

    Michael O’Leary, the outspoken chief executive of Ryanair, described the new restrictions as “farcical Keystone Cops security measures that don’t add anything except to block up airports”, as he issued the ultimatum.

    Mr O’Leary ridiculed the notion of searching five- or six-year-old children and elderly people in wheelchairs going to Spain. Such scenes, he said, would have “terrorists laughing in the caves of Afghanistan”.
    Via BoingBoing

  11. I use Eco-Dent toothpowder daily… give it more of a chance. The taste is striking at first but after a few times it tastes great and leaves your mouth feeling really fresh and clean.

  12. Heather and Fred –

    I gave the Eco-Dent another chance this week while down in Houston. Once the taste surprise wears off, it’s not so bad. Not good enough, though, to replace my Tartar Control Crest at home…