TSA Logic

Megan McArdle tries to board an airplane carrying 3.5 ounce bottles of shampoo that are not in a government approved Ziplock back. Hilarity ensues.

As asinine as TSA regulations are, however — and they are incredibly asinine, by the way — I’m with the commenters who argue against requiring TSA agents to make a lot of decisions. This necessarily requires inflexible and mindless application of seemingly arbitrary rules. Standardization is the essence of bureaucracy.

My personal solution to this has been to check my bags and suffer the added inconvenience of waiting for them on the other end. And to drive whenever conceivably possible.

FILED UNDER: Bureaucracy, National Security, Terrorism, , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Rick DeMent says:

    Actually standardization is the essence of any process efficiency regime. Any Six Sigma devotee can tell you that. You never worked for GE have you?

    But while the TSA regulations are stupid they aren’t half as stupid as the excuses people make for not following the well posted, well understood, well documented regulations.

  2. Anon says:

    If the reason for the ziploc bags is to speed the process, then it makes sense to enforce the rule. Otherwise, few would obey, so then why have the rule at all?

  3. James Joyner says:

    It would probably be helpful to have Ziplock bags of the required specification available, though. It’s a little late in the game if you don’t know about the regs until you’re about to put your crap on the conveyor belt. A surprisingly number of fliers haven’t flown in months or even years, so there will always be a substantial number of people who are clueless.

    Nor is it unreasonable for even someone vaguely familiar with the rules not to realize that the bottles LITERALLY have to be IN a specific kind of plastic bag, not just that this is an indication of how many bottles you could bring.

  4. M1EK says:


    All the airports I’ve flown through recently supply bags of the correct size. I’ve seen them at AUS and IAD quite recently, for instance.

  5. Let’s unionize TSA then allow them to exercise discretionary authority arbitrarily over travelers. What could possibly go wrong?

    But seriously, not all airports offer Ziploc bags at the entrance to the security screening areas, although this would seem to be an inexpensive way to speed the process up a little at a very low cost, while lowering blood pressures and aggravation for almost everyone.

    Speaking of efficiency, those of us who fly at least once every month or so should have an expedited line to get through security so that we don’t have to wait impatiently behind those who don’t quite have a firm grasp of the rules of the, ahem, road. This simple efficiency would allow qualified, highly trained TSA staff to focus on those who need the most help. This would also help encourage people to be prepared and educated next time by offering them a quicker path through the TSA security gauntlet.

    Like you James, I now drive to anything under 300 miles. It is almost as quick, less expensive, and I’m on my own schedule without weather delays, airport food, excess baggage costs, etc. Alas, the east and west coasts are still effectively out of driving range from the heartland.

  6. I am flying to a wedding in May — my first air trip in years, and, I earnestly hope, my last for many years.

    I am considering showing up at the gate wearing nothing but a G-string. However, I worry that I will be charged with visual assault.

  7. Patrick McGuire says:

    I haven’t flown since before 9/11. I either drive or don’t travel. There is only so much “bureaucracy” that I can take at any one time so I figure that it’s better not to fly rather than spend some time in jail.

  8. spencer says:

    A couple of months ago I was on a day trip to Maui
    with no luggage and stopped at a grocery store to
    buy stuff for a lunch picnic on the beach. While in the grocery I noticed they had my brand of scotch and remembered the bottle back in apt in Honolulu was empty. So without thinking I bought a fifth. Only when I got to airport security with my bottle did I remember the new rules on liquids. So I returned to the ticket counter to see if I could get a box to check the bottle of scotch. It was a little two engine inter-island plane and hardly anyone flying it checked baggage. But no luck.

    So I gave the bottle to the ticket agent and said happy some holiday.

  9. Christopher says:

    wow, lots of angry libs out there about airline regulations! Some of you are even afraid of going to jail! (I like it how people like James like to put down those pesky regulations that protect us from terrorism, and feel better about themselves for being so smart to point out the folly of government. James, here is a clue: us conservatives learned a long time ago the inefficiency, but the sometimes necessity, of government.)

    First of all, 99% of your fears are unfounded.

    Secondly, you’re all a bunch of second class wimps.

    Finally, I thought you libs all loved government to death?

  10. carpeicthus says:

    It’s probably best if you don’t “think.” You might strain something.

  11. Michael says:

    regulations that protect us from terrorism

    99% of your fears are unfounded.

    That’s just classic.

  12. Christopher says:

    Well, gee, Michael,

    No terrorist attacks since 9/11.

    And what great fears have been realized from regulations at airports? That we might have bad hair? That we have to buy new toothpaste? Yea, that’s pretty horrible. Let me know when Patrick McGuire from above goes to jail.

  13. Michael says:

    Ok, maybe the irony didn’t hit you as hard as it hit me. You claim that the regulations are justified because of the fear of terrorists, then you claim that 99% of fears are unjustified.

  14. Barry says:

    “No terrorist attacks since 9/11.”

    Posted by Christopher

    It’s amazing that so many right-wingers don’t want to remember the ANTHRAX ATTACKS. Almost as if they believe that it was some domestic right-wing group behind it.

  15. James Joyner says:

    It’s amazing that so many right-wingers don’t want to remember the ANTHRAX ATTACKS.

    I usually forget about them, too, to be honest, since we’ve never figured out who sent them or why. And because they’re not really the type of thing that “terrorist attacks” brings to mind, anyway.