Woman Fined For Trying To Bring Apple Butter Through Security

Filed Under: Security/TSA

A Grand Rapids woman is being fined $2,000 by the TSA for trying to bring apple butter through security. Why?


Via WoodTV:

Hostein said that in January 2013, she was trying to board a plane at the airport in Charlotte, North Carolina but was stopped at the TSA checkpoint because she had a pint-sized jar of souvenir apple butter. TSA agents told her she could not take it onto the plane in her carry-on bag, citing the prohibition of containers carrying more than three ounces of liquid or gel.

She said she went away, then came back later and went through another security line, thinking the butter really wasn’t in violation. Again, agents found the apple butter and confronted her.

She made her flight, but had to leave the apple butter behind. She thought the situation was over.

About a month later the woman was contacted by the TSA, who informed her she was under investigation. Then over a year later they contacted her to inform her their investigation was complete and that they were imposing a $2,000 fine against her. On the surface the story seems a bit ridiculous, in particular the timeline.

The woman claims that she thought the butter wasn’t really in violation of the rules, and that the agents were just misinformed. So I guess you could say she was basically playing the equivalent of “hang up and call again” with the TSA, something we’re well accustomed to with the airlines.

Here’s the news segment about her situation:

My guess would be that she knew the rules, or at least had no good reason to doubt what she was told after going through security the first time. If that’s the case, she was clearly trying to circumvent the rules, though not really in a nefarious way.

Nonetheless, the TSA imposing a fine against her is sort of odd, and not something I’ve otherwise ever heard of for minor “infractions.”

What do you make of this story? Do you think the lady genuinely believed taking the apple butter through security didn’t violate the rules, or was she trying to be sneaky? Does she deserve to be fined?

  1. Reason #438 why the TSA is a complete joke. Fine for $2000–I would tell them to stick it. Why do I have a feeling this lady will see SSSS on her boarding passes moving forward forever.

    Another worthless govt agency.

  2. It’s just a BAD idea to play “hang up and call again” with the TSA. Risk/reward is way off since she could easily have missed her flight / may look forward to the pleasures of enhanced screening / being fined all for the pleaure of getting her apple butter on the plane.

    Just not worth it…

  3. Had the apple butter jar actually contained an explosive or other dangerous substance, then the fine would be more than justified (and she should have been arrested).

    But it contained… apple butter.

    Fining her for doing something completely harmless is a malicious abuse of power. She ought to fight it, both in the courts and by generating as much publicity about the incident as possible. It’s high time that the TSA were taken to task for its absurd, pointless rules that do nothing to keep us safe.

  4. Agreed that the TSA is largely theater. And agreed that a lot of the rules are dopey. That said, do we really need every individual traveler deciding whic rules make sense and which they can flout?

    It’s ok if “I” use my cell phone while driving, because I don’t get distracted, but it’s not ok for you…(That’s an example – I don’t even own a car.)

  5. The situation is stupid.
    The fine is stupid.
    The TSA is stupid.
    If, in the end, the apple butter is in fact apple butter, then no harm, no foul. Eat the apple butter in front of the TSA and tell them to bugger off. (They’d probably fine you for smuggling your body fluids).

    They have never, once, confiscated a stainless steel ball point pen from a business traveller. Why? Because the travelling public would revolt and their funding would be in jeopardy! Knitting needles? That could be a weapon! Nail scissors, liquids (unless they’re baby formula)? Planes will fall from the sky!

    When is the Land Of The Free going to set us Free from these officious thugs?

  6. Rules are rules! I believe she was wrong and the fine should be higher. Had this been a person with a middle eastern appearance there would have been hell to pay and flights grounded.

  7. I do not support those excessive security checks, BUT:
    They should have just locked her up right there and then if they were serious about what they’re doing. I mean she tried to trick them after all and from their point could well have been someone trying to smuggle something potentially harmful.

  8. While the basics of “security theatre” are dumb (to say the least), it isn’t like these rules are new and she probably should have known better, and definitely shouldn’t have doubled down on the mistake by playing the checkpoint version of HUCA. If she thought the apple butter wasn’t a violation, she should have asked for a TSA supervisor to review the initial screener’s ruling.

    All that said, though, the fine is ridiculous – they haven’t fined people for much more serious infractions, and the delay between the incident and the fine is unacceptable.

  9. @Neil S.:
    “do we really need every individual traveler deciding whic rules make sense and which they can flout?

    It’s ok if “I” use my cell phone while driving, because I don’t get distracted, but it’s not ok for you…(That’s an example – I don’t even own a car.)”

    That is totally different. Texting while driving is in fact dangerous (for everyone). Apple butter is dangerous to no one.

    Yes, I would actually like to see more travelers flouting the rules and getting in trouble, and going public with the TSA’s absurd behavior. If everyone brought a jar of apple butter with them, the rules would change. (Just like people with New York drivers licenses are going to be able to use them to get past security, even though the TSA is Very Serious about everyone needing a compliant form of ID. They aren’t, in fact, serious. They are actors in a completely facetious charade.)

  10. They didn’t fine her for apple butter. The fine is for deciding she knows better than they do about what’s safe to take through security and trying to sneak it past a different TSA inspector after she’d already been told to put it in checked baggage or chuck it. I don’t know what other result she expected. Sure, I think the rules on gels, etc. are stupid too. But I have to obey the rules. Maybe they know something I don’t know. Maybe they’re wrong. Doesn’t much matter. It’s a $4 jar of apple butter. Not worth fighting over. And I sure don’t appreciate special princesses who think they get to decide the rules don’t apply to her when the rest of us do try to follow the rules and have boarding go smoothly. We ALL make mistakes. But most of us admit our mistakes, toss the offending item, and move on. Who likes the lady who thinks she’s smarter than everybody else? I don’t know this lady, and I already don’t like her because of her attitude of, “I know better than the person whose JOB is to know this stuff.”

  11. Jon: Apple butter isn’t butter with apples added… its something completely different. Agree or disagree with the TSA about other things, but apple butter should properly be called a liquid.

    Peachfront: From the story it doesn’t sound like she tried to sneak anything by. She went to a different checkpoint to try to clear security. If she were doing something surreptitious to hide the apple butter, sure, then maybe I see your point. But if she just shows up at a different checkpoint to clear security, then I’m not sure where the ‘sneaking’ is that you describe.

  12. She took a risk (thinking they weren’t serious about the butter) and lost. Unlike FAs, TSA aren’t known for their humor!

    I would negotiate the fine down to something more reasonable but I’d expect to pay something.

  13. @Jon: Practically speaking, apple butter is just reduced apple sauce. It looks and spreads like a jam or jelly. As for her not trying to sneak it in… I’m not surprised that an article based almost entirely from information provided by her would leave that out if he had done so. We just don’t know either way.

  14. @Steven L: True, we don’t. Given how quickly the TSA likes to erase tapes anytime there is information on them that’s needed, I’d bet they also don’t know.

  15. Anyone who wants to fly should know the rules and not expect an exception because they didn’t pay attention . Her offense was not really apple butter but trying to sneak past security after she had been informed .
    As far as airport security I believe every offense should be punished and bad behavior on flights should result in no fly status far more often . As flyers who get it right and love flying we shouldn’t have to put up with people who cause problems .
    As for weapons in carry-ons they should result in mandatory jail time and confiscation . No exceptions !

  16. Typical of TSA, vindictive, vengeful, and petty; more interested in terrorizing passengers than protecting them.
    As for “following the rules”: The law doesn’t say you can’t bring liquids or gels through security. The purpose of screening, according to 49usc44902, is to determine “whether the property unlawfully contains a dangerous weapon, explosive, or other destructive substance.”
    So was she carrying a dangerous weapon, explosive, or other destructive substance? No, and TSA knew it.
    Since when is getting a second opinion a crime? My experience has been that TSA screeners often don’t know their own rules. One TSA HQ employee told me “There is a divorce between policy and enforcement.” The ‘TSA Cares’ help line will tell passengers one thing, the screeners will disregard it and say another.
    So why harass a woman over something that was not “a dangerous weapon, explosive, or other destructive substance”? Based on my experience, TSA employees seem to enjoy harassing elderly women.

    Here’s a better idea. Fire the TSA employee who imposed the fine, apologize to the woman, and pay her for her lost apple butter.

  17. Once, during TSA ‘quiet time’ at a small regional TX airport, I decided to see if I could get my bottle of frozen drinking water through the screening. TSA said “sorry, no liquids”; I replied “sir, that clearly is a solid”. They waved me (and my water bottle) through.

    Can’t argue with science!

  18. I have to laugh about the claim of “circumventing security”. TSA agents do that every day. They and their bags are not screened at all. They take bribes to look the other way, when they aren’t stealing or engaged in smuggling operations themselves, or letting friends and family through with a wink and a nod. They are the weakest link and greatest threat to airport security.

    I’m astonished and amazed at the vindictiveness of some of the posts I’ve seen here. Punish every infraction! Put more people on the no fly list! She deserves to be fined $ 2000.00! No wonder there are so many innocent people on death row. Funny too, I don’t hear these guys calling for justice when a TSA guy molests a female passenger in a mens room or a man at the body scanner.

  19. It was wrong to fine this woman. She should have been detained and not allowed to board the plane. This article reports only her side of the story, but obviously leaves out crucial details. If it was just a simple attempt to clear security in a different line, no one would have known that this was her 2nd pass. She obviously did something that caused the 2nd agent to escalate the matter. She was let off too easy.

  20. Seems to me she clearly, and premediatatedly tried to circumvent a system she was aware of. And for what? A jar of apple butter…really. She is obviously clueless, or bold. If everyone was given the option of demonstrating the harmlessness of their posessions we’d never get through security lines.

    I dont know what their guidlines are, but if further testing was done because of her persistance, i am glad that some of my tax money was recovered.

    And yes I have had things confiscated that I had forgotten about in haste. But I wasnt arrogant or stupid enough to go to another line and try it again.

    TSA good, or TSA bad; all i can say as a road warrior is that I havent been on a plane yet that blew up..

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