For The First Time Ever, The TSA Made An Exception For Me… Is This New?

Filed Under: Security/TSA

As anyone who has taken a flight out of the U.S. in the past decade knows, you’re banned from taking liquids greater than 100ml (3.4 ounces) through a TSA checkpoint. The war on hydration sure seems silly to me, though I think most of us have gotten used to it by now.

Anecdotally I find that the TSA usually doesn’t pull aside bags anymore for 4-5 ounce liquids. Going through Pre-Check I don’t remember the last time I had my bag pulled aside for a secondary. Even when not using Pre-Check I typically don’t take liquids out of my bag, and almost never have an issue.

All that being said, when they do search your bag and you have oversized liquids, they’ll almost always make you dump them… but something was different today.

I was using Pre-Check at Fort Lauderdale Airport this afternoon, and my bag got pulled aside for the first time in forever. I assumed it was because of the number of cords I had in my bag, which often looks strange on their x-ray machine.

However, as it turns out, I actually had an oversized liquid. She searched my bag, pulled out a tube of toothpaste that was 5.5 ounces (I actually didn’t even realize I had it in there), and then proactively said “let me ask my supervisor if I can let you take this.”


I thought to myself “well it seems like a waste of time to ask, since they don’t apply logic to the rules or make exceptions.”

Much to my surprise, the supervisor allowed it without batting an eyelid.

I’ve never seen or experienced this before.

Is leniency with the 3.4 ounce restriction new, or was I lucky?

  1. I often fly without toothpaste because almost every hotel front desk in the country is stocked with single-use Colgate packets.

    As for TSA, I don’t know the answer to your specific question, but I will use this opportunity to ask a separate one. Why is the length of the conveyor belt (that sticks out of the x-ray) so short at some airports? At some airports it’s nearly impossible to push smaller bags through the x-ray without succumbing your hand to radiation.

  2. That’s nice! In India I wasn’t even able to check in my lighters (that I bought as souvenirs). In Goa, they check your check in with you. Was quite upset!

  3. In the UK, most toothpaste comes in tubes less than 100ml so is fine to take through security. What I found in America us that none of the standard toothpastes are and you have to buy special travel sized ones which tend to cost around the same as the full size ones.

    Alright, so it’s not gonna break the bank, but it’s really annoying when you’ve just purchased a new tube just before a flight and you have to bin it (if you wish to play by the rules).

  4. I recently went through TSA at Ohare where a lady clearly didnt understand the rule. She had 4 items that were too large. To my surprise, they let her empty 2 of the lotions to about half full because she said they were expensive. Personally i had a bottle of cologne that was originally 5 oz but was about 25% gone, so they let me keep it.

  5. Every time I’ve flown in the US this past year I’ve had my normal Crest tube and gotten through OK, both going through precheck and normal security lines. I have not had my bag pulled aside for inspection, though.

    I suspect this particular case is an example of discretion being appropriately applied on the part of the manager rather than any overall change in policy at the TSA, though.

  6. Ever since I forgot and put a brand new tube of Crest 3D White in my carry-on and they tossed it in the trash I save the little samples that my dentist gives me after a cleaning and take those on trips.

  7. I fly every week and often carry liquids in excess of the alloted amount without consequence. One trick I have learned is when you have too many items for one pouch I place one pouch with liquids in my brief case and another in my roller bag, when they go through screening the tech has no idea both bags are yours. I was traveling with a friend recently who had two pouches with cosmetics in one bag and was detained and had to throw away everything that would not fit in one pouch. The rules are random these days but I see most people stopped or flagged for water bottles rarely cosmetic products unless they are in very large containers.

  8. I always claim a medical exemption, with the excuse (a real one) that the toothpaste I travel with is NOT avalible in a travel tube, and I need to use it daily as it has medicine in it (sensitivity toothpaste). I have never been refused, even if I have to ask for a 3 stripe every once in a while.

  9. I’m guessing you were fortunate. We use regular Crest and were fortunate enough to find a 2.9 ounce size at the nearby Dollar Store. We have stocked up accordingly and are surprised the TSA people are so eagle-eyed that they’ve never challenged what looks like a full-sized tube.

  10. I’ve had pretty good luck at some airports (SEA, SFO, SMF) where they’ll run it through a liquid scanner, even for non-TSA Pre lines.
    At EWR I got a pricey moisturizer through, usually I leave it out on top and see if the agent is in a good mood today. Drinks and true liquids have never once made it though.

    IAD, LAX, JFK and other larger airports seem to have a “toss first, see if passenger throws a fit” policy

  11. I’ve once brought a 250ml bottle of smoothie (the ones you get after transcon redeyes) through JFK T8. Didn’t even realize till later.

    Also saw a lady put a bottle of Dasani, 1/4 filled, in a tray by itself, through the X-ray at LAX T4. My companion was laughing his ass off. Much to our surprise they left it through.

  12. It happened to me 3 yr ago (and i thought it’s the norm or at least YMMV…) Was flying out go MSP and didn’t realise there was a 200ml bottle of lotion partially filled. So the inspector calmly checked the ‘200ml’ label and said to me ‘It’s 200ml’ then she measured it with her hand, ‘but only a third is full, so you’re fine.’ So I thought it’s a norm and I got upset when confronted later by another officer who only measured the bottles by size label instead of the actual remaining.

  13. Andrew wins the comments section today, pointing out the fact that you are, in fact, Lucky, which somehow slipped your mind.

  14. In laws recently flew back from France with carry on bag loaded with mustard and ketchup. They are convinced both are better in Europe. Regardless all jars and bottles exceeded max limits. I guess they were asked about it but ultimately allowed to keep and carry them on board.

  15. It seems that when logic is involved, TSA almost always fails. I had a guy search my bag and find a 4 oz bottle of cologne with literally a trace of liquid in it…Out it went. My huge water bottle which was pored out; thus, also with traces of liquid allowed through.

  16. I haven’t taken liquids out since the ban. I think once or twice in the 100,000 miles I fly every year have j been questioned.
    I think the fools are those who do gleefully take their zip lock back out at security. Such idiots.

  17. One time I was going on a trip to Disney World with my mother but I was flying ahead of her by a few days. While I was there and she wasn’t, one of her favorite artists (I guess you can call him that) Jim Shore was doing a signing. She asked me to take down something to get signed and I completely wasn’t thinking when I put it in my carryon that it was damn snow globe (it was in a box and not loose). Predictably the TSA agent pulls my bag aside and she must have been feeling generous because when I explained it she was nice and let it go. I felt lucky myself that day!

  18. @Robert
    They don’t give a sh*t if you have two bags of liquids, only if the bag(s) are big as f***, their main concern is the size of the liquids. They absolutely are not bothered if you have two bags in different places, but they will get annoyed if you leave it inside your bag and they have to pull it aside.

  19. actually they have been doing that for the past 2 years when they started letting regular folks to the tsa pre lane.
    I have been allowed to go in with a full size liquor bottle through twice(JFK and BOS), just told them it was duty free and they let me through. Of course it may not work if you are non-TSA cleared

  20. I’ve gotten through with 5.5oz bottles of hair gel several times in the past year. Usually without taking them out.

  21. Toothpaste is not a liquid or a gel but in fact is a past soooo it’s technically not against the rules to bring it aboard I guess.

  22. Hi lucky, It was really bad. I have never seen this kind of checking at any airport and no one stop us for taking liquid into plain. I have hear this first time.

  23. I’d chalk it up to dumb luck and a supervisor that had actually had a functioning brain … good that you didn’t have to parts ways with your toothpaste though!

  24. seriously, i don’t get it: you are so proud to be a seasoned traveler, living out of hand luggage, teaching us lessons on what we should do all the time etc… and then you “don’t realize” that you take liquids over the size? Come on… just trying to bend the rules… because they’re just for ordinary people and you’re better than that !

  25. How did you manage to get your stuff passed? Interesting and yet at the same time, worrying that airport security rules are changing all the time.

  26. Last December I flew out of LAX and I was sick at the time so I had my medication with me which was well over 3 ounces and they obviously let me take it with me on the plane.

  27. this “security” theatre is a joke. You can’t take over 100ml through “security” but you can buy over 100ml once through. It’s not about making people safe, it’s about making money

  28. A graphic designer I used to work with would “remake” labels for one of our execs. His hair product only came in a larger size so the artist just copied the label but changed the size to be within the TSA limits. He never had an issue.

    Genius and troubling at the same time.

  29. Quite unlike my experience going through transit security at BKK when a similar 2/3rds used tube of toothpaste was confiscated for being “over limit” despite the fact that it contained less than half the allowable amount. Last month at YYZ my 106cl canister of AXE dry deodorant spray was confiscated for being 6cl over limit. Or at LHR where half the contents of my seated QF amenity kits (given to me on the two segments from SYD-DBX-LHR) were confiscated because their liquid/spray/gel items were too much to stuff into the “regulation”-sized baggy with my normal toiletries. There was talk a year or two ago that the liquid ban would be lifted, but this insanity continues (likely to keep the uber-profitable bottled water sales airside going so merchants and airport authorities — who get a split of revenue — could keep the largesse).

  30. What is wrong with you people? An agent colludes with her supervisor to let through an oversized tube of toothpaste and we’re all OK with that? My god, that toothpaste has fluoride in it! This breach in protocol threatens the security of air travel and the foundations of civilization as we know it! This is exactly the kind of lax attitude the terrorists are looking for! First an oversized tube of toothpaste gets through. Then 150ml of hair gel. What’s next? 200ml of skin cream? Do you not know what a terrorist could do with 200ml of skin cream??!!

    The security of air travel depends on absolute compliance with the procedures and protocols that have been implemented to protect us. No exceptions! These regulations are in place to maintain our comfort and safety, not to mention the security of the free world. Civilization as we know it depends on our vigilance and compliance with procedures!

    That TSA agent and the supervisor should be fired, and the entire airport full of people should have been rescreened immediately once this security breach was detected. Who knows what danger was let through that day?

    Sheesh! Next we’ll hear about some maniac getting through without removing his shoes!

  31. I always travel with toothpaste, and *never* put it in a bag with liquids – it’s “paste”, not a liquid. I do the same with deodorant – I’ve never been questioned about it, and never thought it was a security concern (I’m not trying to flaunt any rules – I genuinely don’t think they’re liquid…)

  32. Couple of years ago I wanted to bring some Hummus home from Afrah in Dallas (delicious, btw). I found some silicon baby food containers that were labeled 3oz, ditched my toiletries, and made it through ok. Since that’s a paste, too, maybe this time I’ll just try to bring aboard the entire container and see what happens.

  33. I once got through with 4 24oz bottles of Olive Oil in my carryon in Istanbul recently. I’m still stunned.

  34. Pastes are NOT exempt.

    And it’s the size of the container — not the amount inside — that is the rule. Unless completely empty, the container cannot hold more than 3.4oz (100ml), no matter how much is inside. So even a drop of liquid, or a single squeeze of toothpaste, cannot be in a container that holds more than 3.4oz and be allowed per the rule. Can and will the TSA overlook this? Obviously it happens a lot.

  35. I flew a few years ago and forgot i had packed my new bottle of cologne (Creed Aventus) which was a 4oz bottle. The agent pulled it from my bag and recognized the brand. Said he’d let it go because he would hate to confiscate something of that price.

  36. Bed, Bath & Beyond and Harmon have awesome Colgate tubes just under 3.3 ounces for literally 99 cents or $1.29 depending on which store you visit. I am certain (but have no empirical evidence) that some readers here might even use a $5 off $15 coupon to stock up on these.

    Could I be right?

    Anyhow, I am gonna test this out at FLL next month with a similar tube.

  37. Not a single time have I been able to bring a toothpaste tube that was 5.7oz only having maybe 1oz or less and was told to throw it away.

    The logic is mindboggling.

  38. Reminds me of a while back (2007ish) when flying from Chang Mai to Phuket in Thailand with a stopover in BKK with Thai airlines. The rules were pretty new at that time but I managed to board with about a half litre bottle of sunscreen. We got off the plane in Bangkok and had to go through security at the gate for our second flight.

    My bag got flagged up and the sunscreen taken off me. We then boarded the exact same plane that we’d just been on!

  39. In Germany, Spain and most countries I’ve found general leniency towards this. The worst, in contrast to the norm, are the Swiss. At Zürich Airport, they even enforce the one litre rule, distributing a one litre disposable plastic bag to each passenger and making them scurry to dump all their liquids into this bag before the metal detector. I usually travel with a small translucent Muji back, and never had any issue. Leave it to the Swiss…

    And yet, what doesn’t fit in the bag you must “surrender”…

  40. @Lucky, one always finds it enjoyable to read all of the comments on such topics. Is it germane towards the focus of your publications? Perhaps marginally, but the strength of the online community you’ve built over time makes it wonderful reading each and every day.
    Good on you sir and keep flying!
    P.S. But don’t forget to post about it! …

  41. The liquid policy in the US and the EU is a total joke. If you’re allowed to bring liquides onto the plane in Tel Aviv Ben Gurion then they are clearly not dangerous.

  42. I have a much simpler solution to avoiding TSA. Never enter the USA again. Whilst I much have visited around 50 times over the years, I have reconciled with the next few decades belonging to the East and have relocated to Philippines, with one of my homes being in a location where there is an alarming concentration of Americans escaping the fatherland (Biliran Island). I thought I was building a 100% off-grid house there, but still seem to get faster 4G than anywhere in UK.

  43. These rules are soo annoying. I been caught with an unopened water when travelling and didn’t realize I had some in my bag and the worst was when I was in greece and bought the smallest container of sunblock I could find in the store. It was too big apparently and they made me throw out a brand new bottle. It always amuses me when they are willing to let me guzzle the water right there but they won’t be satisfied if I drink from it and show its water.

  44. I regularly travel (2+ times/week) with liquids/gels/creams over 3 oz and have done so for years. Some are over 10 oz when full. In all, I probably have 30+ oz in my carry on. I almost never get checked (I have pre-check). Over the past 5 years (hundreds of trips) I’ve probably had to throw away maybe 3 containers when I get both a stickler at the xray and one at the hand screening. Typically at least one of them (usually the xray screener) lets me through with no problem.

  45. Yeah I also stopped taking liquids out and they don’t seem to be pulling bags for it anymore in the states anymore. I have Precheck and global entry too.

    I’m just wondering in other countries such as the U.K. out of Heathrow, or out of Paris if they act the same or if you should be taking out liquids?

  46. I’m going with the “but it wasn’t full, so less than the legal limit”. Also it’s paste, not liquid. #TSALogic

    I flew abroad twice and domestically at least twice in the latter half of 2016 with a swiss army knife down at the bottom of my rucksack. I’d brought it along for a road trip during the summer and forgotten it was down there under the power strip, headphones, etc. It somehow managed to avoid being spotted until I was flying a puddle-jump at the end of October. Fortunately, I also had a carry-on, and the airport was very small and not at all busy, so I just threw it into the carryon and checked that bag. But really – it flew to the UK twice, and Memphis and Indianapolis before being spotted.

  47. I just flew around the world in October (using points, yay!) and forgot to take out my mini liquids and gels bag at every airport. Nobody ever said anything.

  48. Forgot to specify- that was Seattle, Dallas, Sao Paulo, Johannesburg, Windhoek (Namibia), Hong Kong and Seoul.

  49. On the one hand, I don’t want security officers (of any type, be they tsa, police or military) making their own rules. On the other, this rule is moronic beyond belief. A total liquid ban, maybe. A limit on how much liquid, maybe. A per container limit however makes no sense whatsoever.

  50. If you have small containers, they are very often able to see it, and they can even tell you which brand it is and how big the container is, just by looking at the x-ray, but some follows the rules Hitler style and makes you take out absolutely every little container you have inside your bag.

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *