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How serious is the TSA about the 3-1-1 rule???

I want to start this post by saying that I don't need a lecture. I follow the 3-1-1 rule. But after a few trips with others who did not/do not follow the rules, I'm starting to question how well they're really checking the bags. Here are my examples: 1) My husband thinks it's a joke, and the past three times we've flown, he's put his liquids in his carry-on, did not remove them to go through security, and was never caught. 2) In September, I traveled with two girlfriends who both had full size liquid products IN their carry-on in gallon bags, did not remove for security. Also, not caught. 3) AGAIN, last weekend (and she told me that she flew this morning doing the SAME thing), another girlfriend flew with full size liquids in her carry-on, did not remove for security, and was caught neither time.
I know rules are rules. And you should follow these rules whether the ones who break them are caught or not. But it's frustrating that I buy specially sized products, cram them into those quart sized bags, make my husband take one of them through security for me. And there are so many people who do not follow this rule and don't get caught. It makes me wonder what else is getting through security. I'm wondering how effective all those machines/agents really are. I checked the TSA's website to make sure the rules are still the same. I feel like such a nerd following these rules when it seems like no one else is following them, and getting away with it. Anyone else out there who scoffs at this rule and is never caught?

Posted by
1035 posts

I do the TSA shuffle a fair amount for work. By the time I remove shoes, belt, any metal from pockets, iPhone, sports coat, work laptop and personal iPad, I have a few times forgotten to take out my plastic bag of liquids. No one has ever flagged me. However, I have seen it happen to others, including what looked like a nice bottle of wine that had to be tossed. Even if it is stuff that doesn't have to get tossed, you are gumming up the works for everyone. I say bad travel karma and at some point these folks will be caught and have to watch their oversize liquids head for the trash. The bigger question you ask is whether these rules are effective in deterring terrorism. I'd say no, it is all a show.

Posted by
2876 posts

"The bigger question you ask is whether these rules are effective in deterring terrorism. I'd say no, it is all a show." I disagree. I'm sympathetic to the TSA. Their problem is that there's no way they can ever prove that they prevented an attack. For all we know, they may have prevented many.

Posted by
932 posts

I like the last part of your answer, Michael.... ;)

Posted by
990 posts

I travel a lot for work (two or three times a month, on average). A number of times I've accidentally left small liquid/gel items in my carry-on and haven't been caught. And I've certainly seen people get caught and then given a warning but allowed to take the stuff through. And of course, I've seen stuff get binned at TSA insistence as well. Here's the real question: How annoyed would you be if they made you toss your full sized item? If the answer is, "Not much," then go ahead and chance it. Odds are you'll either get away with it entirely or be scolded briefly and then be waved through. But there is always the chance that you'll get flagged and end up losing the stuff. As for whether these security measures are effective, most independent security experts that I've seen quoted are skeptical that it is anything more than symbolic, especially when airport employees are inadequately screened and could pass things to "bad guys" in the so-called sterile zone, unscreened cargo ends up in the holds of passenger planes, etc. And, of course, the human element means that even the screening that does exist is hit-or-miss in spotting forbidden items. But at least it's providing lots of jobs for screeners at a time of high unemployment. I'm personally less happy about the hundreds of millions of tax dollars being spent on the virtual strip search machines, but that's just my opinion.

Posted by
31471 posts

Amy, I just returned from a short trip which involved several flights, and each time I entered the security area, the Screeners asked if I had any liquids or gels. I placed them in the Bin each time. While it's possible they might have missed them if I left the 3-1-1 bag in my carry-on, I felt the best policy was to comply with the regulations. Non compliance after they've specifically asked could have some annoying and problematic consequences, such as a very rigourous screening in which they go through my luggage with a "fine tooth comb". I'd rather not have my trip marred by problems that I could have easily avoided. Cheers!

Posted by
1976 posts

Like all of you, I play the 3-1-1 game too. But I'm inclined to agree with Michael - I don't think this makes us much safer. The terrorists have moved on to other things. It's unlikely we'll see another shoe bomber, also. To answer Amy's question: Two-and-a-half years ago I flew British Airways Chicago to Brussels with a change in London. The people ahead of me in security at Heathrow had brought oversize liquid containers and were pulled aside so their bags could be completely searched. I was flagged too (they saw my little nail scissors) and had to wait for the people ahead of me to be cleared, which took a long time. I almost missed my flight to Brussels. I was really mad at them for either ignoring or being unaware of the 3-1-1 rule. But I guess whether or not you're caught depends on which airport you're in, how busy/thorough the security people are, what the current threat level is, etc.

Posted by
81 posts

Lately I haven't had anyone even check them. My young daughter and I usually go through security together and after removing everything and feeling the line breathing down my neck, I often don't bother getting the bags out. I also often have a stray bottle of Purell in my "personal" carry on. I will say that several years ago I totally forgot and put an 8 oz bottle of shampoo in my carry on. They pulled it and threw it away. In the airport in Prague recently I saw them confiscate two bottles of some type of alcohol from a man that didn't buy it in the duty free shop.

Posted by
932 posts

James, that's very funny, especially because he is retired military. Integrity? Yeah, right! ;) I agree that it's not worth the risk to have a full size bottle of one of my hair products thrown away. I'm just frustrated because I jump through all these hoops, and a majority of my travel companions scoff at it and get away with it. I will continue to comply since having an item confiscated wouldn't be worth it! I was especially frustrated coming back from Chicago last week when I was having a really hard time getting my boots back on and I had all my bags. And I was thinking "Seriously??? We can put a man on the moon, but none of these machines they've designed can detect a shoe bomb???" I flew out of Nashville and Chicago, and never went through any of these "new" machines. They had them in Nashville but weren't using them, and I didn't even see any in Chicago (Midway).
And by the way, I never would expect to have a full size bottle of liquor or other drink and get by with that. That seems much more obvious in the X-ray machine than an 8 oz bottle of shampoo...

Posted by
4686 posts

Amy, I fly regularly for business and find that it really varies from airport to airport. For example, in terminal A at DCA, they never even ask anyone to remove the ziploc bag from their carry-on. On the other hand, one of the Midwest airports that I fly to always asks everyone to put their ziploc in a separate bin. At some airports, shoes go directly on the belt. At others, shoes go in the bin. No wonder casual travelers get confused. Overseas, there can be even more variations. Last year when I was in London (not TSA of course), they required me to use one of the Heathrow provided ziplocs instead of my own. That was the first time I had seen that.

Posted by
4637 posts

I agree with Tom. It's just all one big annoying theater. The emphasis should be on finding real terrorist and not to pretend that everybody is a potential terrorist.

Posted by
1986 posts

travelling back to USA from both Europe and Africa there have been occassions when passengers to USA had to go through an additional security check (including 3-1-10 "per USA regulations". (personal experience)

Posted by
103 posts

This is sort of funny because in Rome my bag was removed from the scanner and the agent insisted that I had improper liquids in my toiletries bag. I knew I didn't and told her as much as (my husband, who was in line behind me, had our 3-1-1 bottles out and ready to be scanned properly). She said I did. I said I didn't. She said I did. I said I didn't. We kept saying this over and over without her actually opening my bag to look for another 30 seconds. It was surreal. Finally, she made a flicking motion (like I was a big bug she was shooing away), returned me my bag, and I was free to go. Weird, huh? But I did accidentially leave some lotion in my bag on another trip (ATL) and it was pulled out and tossed on along with my Tide Stain Stick, which was sort of pissed me off. Apparently, the stain stick is illegal liquid itself. Bottom line, enforcement is spotty (and sometimes stupidly applied). So you'll always be taking your chances with the bigger bottles.

Posted by
11805 posts

There are definitely times when TSA lets something slip through. The biggest for me was flying back from Frankfurt in late October 2001, less than a month after 9/11. Up until then, I regularly carried a Swiss Army Knife and a flask of water in my carry on. I knew the rules had changed and was surprised when I got home that I had forgotten to ditch my knife before boarding - but was never questioned about it. On the other hand, there are huge bins of confiscated liquids TSA has taken. I'd stick with the rules. Tell the truth and comply to the best of your ability. I personally find removing shoes and belt a bit much (although I don't mind removing my jacket and other metal from my pockets), I'd rather just go through the naked scanner and leave my clothes on.

Posted by
20 posts

I guess it depends which airports you fly in and out of. My home airport is DFW, Dallas-Fort Worth. I can tell you that the TSA agents in the international terminal take the 311 rule VERY seriously. And if their stern, alert eyes aren't enough to keep you in shape, the thought of all the sighs of annoyance from the people in the half mile line behind you certainly should. I know from experience that the Border agents at Heathrow and Manchester check the 311 bags thoroughly. Last year, when I flew back from Manchester, a very jolly Border agent told me I would have to throw out my bottle of contact solution. It was TSA compliant, but 3.4 ounces is over the British limit of 100ml. He did let me squirt some into my contact case before I threw it in the bin. An agent at Heathrow actually asked me about one of makeup items. "Do you like this product? I've been thinking of trying it." That surprised me!

Posted by
2788 posts

Flying between Seattle and Hawaii: Last week a TSA agent watching the screener had my bag pulled and hand searched because they claimed there was something in it that had aroused suspicion. They came up with a point and shoot digital camera that I fly with all the time. So they run the camera on top of the suitcase back thru the screener and find another "suspicious" item so they hand search the suitcase again and come up with a pair of binoculars that I fly with all the time. Again they put the camera and binoculars on top of the suitcase and run it back thru the scanner. No more "suspicious" items found this time. After they were all done with me I ask if this was the first day for that TSA agent to be on the screener. I got a "not friendly" answer that it was none of my business.
Flying between Seattle and numerous European airports every summer: Some real strict - one making me dump out a little bottle of shampoo that they could not determine its volume. Some not checking anything like in Istanbul last June. I do not consciously take anything on board that is prohibited as it would just be my luck to get caught and have to be strip searched.

Posted by
4686 posts

Cheri, 3-1-1 rule is the rule that requires you to keep your liquid items in little bottles in a ziploc bag (3 oz bottles or smaller in a 1 quart bag and 1 bag per person)

Posted by
932 posts

I'm so glad I asked this question. Your stories are fascinating to me because it's showing that clearly, each airport does things SO differently despite it all being the same agency. BUT, I work for state government, and I bet that the way I do my job differs greatly from someone doing the job in a different district in the same state. Anyway, the moral is, if I follow the rule, I'll have no worries no matter WHICH airport I fly out of. I won't feel like it's a waste, because eventually, I'll fly through an airport that will be sticklers for the rule. And now that I say that, I'm remembering this one time about three years ago in Tampa where I forgot to take my quart bag out of my bag, and they DID make me put the bag back through with it in a separate bin. Thanks everyone for telling me your experiences!

Posted by
148 posts

I was wondering how one could travel with only 3 small bottles of liquid? I always bring travel size bottles but I always end up with more than 3 bottles I had planned on the following in my carry-on * saline solution for contact lens * make-up base shampoo sunscreen * face creams
Do ointments and toothpaste fall into this too? Could you have 2 quart bags with 3 items each?

Posted by
10344 posts

Cheri: "Could you have 2 quart bags with 3 items in each (in your carry-on)?" No, the TSA rules are very clear on this point: a single quart-size bag. Some things are judgment calls but not that. And subject to this same rule are the toothpaste, shampoo, most cosmetics, and sunscreen that you asked about, they're subject to the single quart-size bag and 3.4 ounce rules. However, contact lens solution, prescription medication, and over the counter medication are an exception to the 3-1-1 rule; but they're required to be bagged separately from your 3-1-1 items and you're supposed to "" them to the TSA officer and present them for inspection. Sounds like you may want to read the 3-1-1 rules, they're are at this link: http://www.tsa.gov/311/

Posted by
1976 posts

Angela - your shoe comment reminded me of the end of my last trip to Europe. I flew out of Hamburg and they didn't require that passengers remove their shoes. But they did flag me and I had to go into a small room where they ran some kind of test on my camera. I was really annoyed (not least because it was 7:00am) because I thought they should be looking for terrorists, not wasting time inspecting a camera that had already gone through the X-ray machine.

Posted by
932 posts

Cheri, The "3" in 3-1-1 doesn't mean 3 items, it means 3 oz. You can cram as many 3 oz or less bottles as you can into a quart bag. And the great thing about husbands who don't have toiletries, is, you can give them one of the two quart bags to take through security! If you don't have one of those, then I guess you WILL have to just have one quart bag. But you can always check your luggage and then you can bring a gallon of shampoo if you want! :)

Posted by
81 posts

I always spread my toiletries into my 7 yr old's quart bag. They don't care how many items are in the bag-it can be bulging-but everything is supposed to be in it. I agree that the whole shoe removal is the biggest waste of time. I fly out of Europe into the US and they only make you do it if you have metal on your shoes.

Posted by
4371 posts

"I know from experience that the Border agents at Heathrow and Manchester check the 311 bags thoroughly. Last year, when I flew back from Manchester, a very jolly Border agent told me I would have to throw out my bottle of contact solution. It was TSA compliant, but 3.4 ounces is over the British limit of 100ml. He did let me squirt some into my contact case before I threw it in the bin." Are you kidding, Sherrie?!? 3.4 US oz = 100.55ml; 100ml = 3.38 US oz. He dinged you for .019 ounces of a product?!? That "very jolly Border agent" wouldn't have been very jolly after an encounter with ME. I actually read this post yesterday, but was too irritated to comment at the time...(still fuming as I type...) Years ago (I know because I spent ALOT of time researching this), all of the airline and airport websites I looked at said their 3-1-1 was coordinated with the rest of the world, and the magic numbers were now 100ml/3.4oz. NOW, many say simply 100ml, with the exception of KLM (100ml/3.4oz) and Iberia (blank page). Nigel, I'm counting on YOU to bail me out of jail if I ever come across Mr Jolly...There'll be Texas BBQ for you ;-)

Posted by
2065 posts

Actually, I've been told by TSA that contact lens solution can be in your medications ziploc bag and you can take as much as you need! Amazing the differing responses one can get.

Posted by
21709 posts

Two years going through the Salt Lake City airport my deo was taken because it looked too big. The package clearly stated it was 2.7 oz, but he insisted it was too big and took it. No one can claim that the inspectors have any common sense or much brain matter.

Posted by
4371 posts

Frank, I occasionally think of you and your deodorant...then my temples start throbbing... I vow to always try to look my best from now on when at the airport - that mugshot is gonna be on all of the news channels... I have occasionally slipped through with a 'serving' or two of toothpaste in my purse - what drives me batty are the widely-reported instances of something like this happening and instead of simply slipping the 'contraband' into the 3-1-1 bag, it gets tossed or you 'have the option' of checking it. Um, if I HAD a bag to place it in to be checked, it's already been checked at that point. Some have reported that they could put it in their 3-1-1 bag, but had to go to the end of the security line and start all over...What??? (temples throbbing...)

Posted by
165 posts

None of this 311 stuff would be an issue if you all were not members of the carry on only cult.
Are you really saving all that much time? If those few minutes saved are all that important to the success of your holiday, you don't do a proper time evaluation. The time saved not shopping for the perfect sized bag, packing for 311, looking for wrinkle proof clothing, not POing other passengers while trying to stuff your barely allowed bag into the overhead could be better used planning for the greatest holiday ever. Down with the cult of carry on!

Posted by
932 posts

Peter, I agree with a lot of what you said. All these trips that I'm referring to were weekend trips. When I go to Europe, or other week or longer trips, I check my liquids. I don't understand how anyone can go for a long trip and take a tiny bag. Until I got a backpack, I was always pushing the 50 lb rule... I'd rather not have to wash my clothes in a sink if that can be helped!!!

Posted by
165 posts

" If they did tough". That said it all, the self centered attitude of the carry on cult. I've been on many a flight where carry on has caused problems. This 311 nonsense has been imposed on the whole world by your government, and you can't be bothered to comply, what a joke! If your going to play at world cop at least follow your own laws.

Posted by
1357 posts

I check my bags, but I still take some liquid toiletries with me because a) I like to brush my teeth and wash my face after I wake up on the plane so I can feel human, and b) in case my checked bags get lost or delayed (I also bring a change of clothes with me). I've always taken them out and put them on the belt through security. We get a lot of hassles flying standby, so any way I can decrease that, I'm going to do it.

Posted by
2193 posts

I don't agree with anything Peter said. Carry-on only cult...what are you talking about?!? If you don't like to carry-on, then don't...end of story. Carry-on if you want...check if you want...who cares? Yes, it can be annoying when fellow passengers push or exceed the carry-on restrictions and get away with it, but what do you expect when airlines gouge the crap out of people for checking baggage? Unless I'm on business with business suits and need to check (and someone else is paying the bill), I always carry-on...have for years. And my domestic carry-on is just like my transatlantic carry-on...small backpack or messenger bag less than 8kg. It can fit in the bin or under my seat. A lot of people here travel this lightly every time. I've never (ever) experienced someone getting POed because of my carry-on. If they did, tough! As for the 3-1-1 rule, I haven't removed my ziplock bag from my pack on the last several trips, and nobody mentioned it. This includes a bunch of domestic trips in the last year, and one transatlantic. It started as an accident and I used to take it out every time...now I just don't bother. If someone said something about it, I would take the bag out and plop it in the tray...no problem.

Posted by
2193 posts

I suspect an airline passenger with that much angst around others' carry-on bags may, in fact, be afflicted with some deeper trouble perceiving and relating to situations and to people, including themselves. One might suggest a valium just before heading to the airport (or anytime really). Relax. U.S. foreign policy, the 3-1-1 rule, and others' carry-on baggage really aren't worth blowing an o-ring over.

Posted by
4371 posts

(The imposition of) 3-1-1 certainly didn't start in the USA...Well, if you want to say the alternative is NO CARRY-ON AT ALL, then perhaps you could argue that...I vote for carry-on. Now the TSA,...that's something else LOL! If MY carry-on bothers someone, tough. It's well within the limits - by outside measurements and by weight - made known to anyone who's booking an airline ticket, so I don't worry. I'm not the person you see turning red in the face, shoving and shoving and shoving their bag into the overhead bin. THEY kinda tick me off, but usually it's just a little show that amuses. They get it in, or the flight attendant gets it off. Sometimes we passengers make little wagers...;-) Oh, and I recline my seat back.

Posted by
165 posts

Michael: Point taken. I like checking in bags, less hassle. I see people going through screening worrying about their liquids, their bags, their stuff and can only shake my head. Embrace the zen of checked bags. No drugs required. And yes , I've seen my bags still on the cart as the plane taxied fom the ramp. They took the next flight.

Posted by
932 posts

Eileen, speaking of obnoxious people with carry-ons... We saw a man get kicked off a flight because of how adamant he was to get a huge backpack onboard. He was pulling other people's items out and rearranging, slamming into other people's things, etc. He was so rude and arrogant that he ended up getting kicked off. The whole plane erupted in applause! :) I think I've flown an airline ONCE that charged me for checking baggage. Probably because I always fly Southwest, or we're flying out of country.
And I don't care who carries on, I've never been held up by anyone because of it. So to each his own. I just don't like it for myself because I like to pack a lot!

Posted by
284 posts

In the US it is suppose to be 3.4-1-1. And in Europe it is 100ml-1-1. Also the baggie in Europe is not a quart in size but a slighly different measurement. Most of the places on this marble have a quickie type shop where you can get toothpaste, antibiotic ointment, lotion, etc. So unless you have to have the brand you use at home, you could just spend 15-20 minutes at the arrival place and pick up your items. Some hotels also have free sample size toothpaste, etc. in case you forget to bring it. To avoid filling your baggie up, use stick deodrant and stick sunscreen. Neither have to go into the baggie since they are solid. Stick sunscreen may not be easy to find for most folks, but it is available and so much easier to put on. Nothing is more annoying then having an adult play like an idiot when caught with a larger container holding liquid, like the business person at Washington Dulles who tried to sneak a water bottle inside of their laptop case. Too bad they did't automatically subject this individuals to a full body search after the first pass through as opposed to giving them numerous chances to hold up a long line of individuals. Edwin PS - government officials and airline employees are allowed to take in larger amounts of liquids, gels, etc. and are not subjected to the same search scrutiny. So maybe the individuals you saw were part of this group who are legally permitted to do this. Same goes with individuals who are allowed to take weapons aboard aircraft.

Posted by
4371 posts

"And I don't care who carries on, I've never been held up by anyone because of it. So to each his own. I just don't like it for myself because I like to pack a lot!" And we thank you, Amy, we 'carry-on-ers' OR 'checkers' ;-)