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Duty free - Avoid Detroit airport, Delta/KLM, or both

We just returned from Portugal with sealed duty free bags filled with amazing extra virgin olive oil and something set off the explosive checker in Detroit TSA customs recheck. So after a full pat down and ripping through all my things the Detroit TSA still took them! Incredible that they flew from Lisbon to Amsterdam to Detroit without ever exploding the plane. Refused to let me gate check them so I wouldn’t miss my short connection but did say I could check them at Delta counter on other side of security where another line had also formed. Just ask for a box or wrap them in my cashmere sweater? Seriously? You’d think if Delta and KLM are “partners” they would figure out duty free purchase transfers into and through US. Oh and they lost one of our bags in customs. One more reason Detroit is the worst airport for international travel or just about any travel! Seriously avoid it.

Posted by
104 posts

They wouldn't let you put the olive oil into your checked bag? Or you didn't have a checked bag you could stash it in? I had this happen to me at PHL on the way back from Italy the first time I ever went to Europe, not realizing they would do this at my first US gateway. They told me to put my wine in my checked bag before putting it back on the belt. One of the bottles broke, incidentally, luckily it was the white.

This isn't a Detroit thing, would have happened at another airport as well. I just came back from Ireland via London, and I waited to buy whiskey until I was in Heathrow because I knew I wouldn't be able to transit it after flying from Dublin, and I had a nonstop into my home airport from there.

Posted by
7009 posts

I agree with shannon. it's not a Detroit thing, or a Delta/KLM thing. This can happen at any airport and with any airline. I have been flying Delta for decades. I have always been pleased with its performance and customer service, and will continue to fly Delta in the future. Just out of curiosity, what did you expect Delta to do? Ignore the explosive checker? They were taking precautions to protect lives.

FWIW, all airlines have a provision that says guidelines can be circumvented at any time at the discretion of gate agents and TSA, etc. That is to protect everyone's safety and well being. It does NOT make them a bad airline or Detroit a bad airport.

Posted by
384 posts

I am sorry about your olive oil - you don't say if the duty-free packages were checked, I assume they were? Were you able to repack and recheck it in the end?

DTW (Detroit) is our home airport and is consistently ranked among the top airports in the country. McNamara Terminal (Delta) in particular is well designed, easy to navigate, and actually a pleasant place to spend some time, which is saying something. That said, my husband invariably sets off a scanner there, often enough that I know to just pull up and wait on the other side of the checkpoint and we joke about it "so what was it this time honey?" Sometimes it's him - phone, loose change, belt he forgot to take off - and sometimes they check inside his bag, although they have yet to take anything and we still don't know what they thought they saw.

But this does not make DTW, or Delta, the worst for international travel. I don't think duty-free means "security-cleared" - it must all still clear security. If you actually lost the olive oil, I am wondering if there is some way to make a claim?

Posted by
921 posts

You’d think if Delta and KLM are “partners” they would figure out duty free purchase transfers into and through US.

Not exactly RE duty free purchases transferring "through" the US when liquids are involved. Liquids that exceed the TSA 3-1-1 limits should be checked (placed in checked luggage) during that brief interval when you retrieve your bag, walk your bag through customs, and then recheck your bag(s) for the connecting flight. I have done it many times with duty free purchases of liquids, stuffed them into my checked bag before handing it back to the airline.

Oh and they lost one of our bags in customs.

How did "customs" lose your bag? You retrieve your bag before walking it through customs. Was your bag not at the retrieval spot? If not, you should have checked with the airline personnel and reported it missing before going on through customs. It was not "lost" in or by customs, regardless.

Posted by
7 posts

Thanks for the replies. It was a frustrating experience but understandable. I still find little to like about DTW or the lack of guidance on duty free from anyone along the way. Would have been nice if security in Schiphol Airport would have told me to check it or airline staff gate checked it to your destination like they did in the old days. But it’s a new less pleasant world of travel. At least they found my other bag.

Posted by
921 posts

If that’s the case why not advise me to check the oil prior to departure when I still had bags in my possession or at the gate instead of letting me walk on with it?

You mean when you checked your bags at the airport in Portugal? You would not have had possession of the duty free yet - you bought the duty free items after you had already checked your bags for the flight to the US.

Keep in mind if your final destination had been Detroit, you would not have needed to go through security again, thus you would have walked out of the Detroit airport with your olive oil. Your oil was confiscated because it evidently violated the TSA 3-1-1 rules for liquids.

Posted by
7 posts

No (jojo rabbit) when I went through security in Amsterdam with the package. But why not gate check it through in Portugal either? That’s what they did when I went to Cabo years ago.

Posted by
921 posts

I'm confused. I do carry-on only and we bought a bottle of Ginjinha at a duty free store in Lisbon. Brought it back and had no issue when connecting in Canada where we went thru US customs and immigration before returning to Seattle. When we bought the liquor, we did need to show both sets of tickets for the package to be labeled appropriately.
I thought the 3-1-1 rule did not apply when items are bought internationally at a duty free store.

Gail, you did not provide all of the qualifiers at the end of that link, such as:

The items inside the secure, tamper-evident bags must be screened and cleared. *Any item that alarms or is unable to be screened will not be permitted in your carry-on bag. We recommend packing all liquids, gels, and aerosols that are over 3.4 oz or 100 ml in your checked baggage, even if they are in a secure, tamper-evident bag.***

For the OP, it sounds like the olive oil in the sealed bag triggered an explosives check. The items "alarmed" and at that point could no longer be permitted in carry on...a Catcb 22, perhaps? Regardless, the additional statement from your link that I included above says they "recommend" packing all liquids that exceed the limits even if they are in a secure, tamper evident bag...

Posted by
384 posts

Adding to what Gail posted:

"The items inside the secure, tamper-evident bags must be screened and cleared. Any item that alarms or is unable to be screened will not be permitted in your carry-on bag. We recommend packing all liquids, gels, and aerosols that are over 3.4 oz or 100 ml in your checked baggage, even if they are in a secure, tamper-evident bag."

So, checking it all is the safer way to go. But the carry-on olive oil set off the alarms (or there was some alert going on) - they should have allowed the OP to check it somehow, which was maybe why they directed her to the check-in counter? Agree, it's a pain, and repacking, or figuring out how to check things while you are trying to make a connection - not fun at all. But duty-free, tamper-safe packaging is not a security-clearance guarantee - thems the rules, as they say.

But - a TSA thing. Not an airport thing. But your frustration is understandable for sure.

Posted by
4628 posts

Not to blame the OP but if this was the plan then you should have planned for packing it in a checked bag at this stage of the journey (where you should have access to your checked bag, although maybe your only checked bag didn't make it?). It's a big hurdle to exit customs and join the general TSA line with large bottles and expect that to work out, however they are wrapped up. You are asking for special treatment doing this, even if it is allowed we all know special treatment sometimes fails. Incidentally, for this same KLM to Delta combination at MSP, where there is a dedicated security station just for international SkyTeam transiting passengers, they would more likely have just let the carry on liquids through.

Also: If your checked bag did not arrive at DTW then it is likely still in Amsterdam.

Wine breakage: when packing 2 bottles in the same bag, make sure that they are not able to bang together, to prevent breakage.

Posted by
7 posts

We all know they didn’t put explosives in the Portuguese olive oil at duty free or pack it in an explodable bag LOL. Even if they could it certainly made its way to Detroit from Europe. So to answer the earlier post what would I have them do? DTW TSA could use common sense when they do their work. Even the head agent at my checkpoint was aware it wasn’t dangerous but rules are rules I get it. Death of common sense. Meanwhile I was allowed to board with a lighter and hair spray that could be used as a flame thrower LMAO. Just saying.

Posted by
7009 posts

We all know they didn’t put explosives in the Portuguese olive oil at duty free or pack it in an explodable bag LOL

Kristine, the rules are what the rules are, and the airlines have the final say. You can complain about it, but that doesn't mean it's not allowed. When I travel, I always hope for the best but prepare for the worst. And sometimes stuff happens. You deal with it and move on. If you don't want to fly into Detroit any more, so be it, but please understand that thousands of travelers pass through there every day without any problems whatsoever,

Posted by
1411 posts

“Even Schiphol found nothing wrong and they’re quite thorough”

Are you really sure you went through security at Schiphol? That would be very strange and highly unusual, because like every other airport in the EU, Lisbon Airport is on the safe list. This means that those arriving from Lisbon don’t have to reclear security in Amsterdam when they transfer flights there.

Posted by
7 posts

In accordance with TSA regulations, hairspray is allowed on planes in carry-on and checked luggage as long as it meets the 3-1-1 rule. This means that the container should not exceed 3.4 ounces or 100 millilitres and must be packed in a clear, plastic, quart-sized bag for screening purposes.** Disposable lighters can be carried in your carry on.

We stayed overnight in Amsterdam so we had to go back through security with our carry ons including olive oil, and yes Tom, travel size hairspray and a disposable lighter which is permitted in Schipol on the way home.

Posted by
384 posts

So, I want to know...what ultimately happened to the olive oil?? Were you able to check it, or did it disappear into the black hole of TSA confiscations?

Posted by
4325 posts

Well, I appreciate this report (and am really sorry since it appears you lost the olive oil) because, as often as I fly, I have never bought liquids from the duty free stores - and have wondered how it works. I would not know all of this and would be really disappointed as well to lose my purchases.