Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Snow Dome Rule

Coming into Los Angeles
Bringing in a couple of keys
Don't touch my bags if you please
Mister Customs Man (Arlo Guthrie)

"Is this your bag?"

Leaving San Diego after being out there a week on business, the TSA guy had pulled my carry-on bag off the conveyor belt coming out of the X-Ray machine.


"Do you mind if I look through it?"

I thought, I have a choice? "No," I said.

He put the bag on a table and told me to have a seat in the chair next to the table. He didn't want me interfering with his search.

He unzipped the canvas bag and started removing items. Out came a dress shoe, followed by some technical briefs, which were dry but vintage since I'd worn them running that week. He spotted the ziploc bag containing my toiletries. Inside, amongst tiny tubes of toothpaste, mouthwash and shampoo was something the size of an apple, wrapped in tissue paper.

He held the plastic bag, eying it. "Do you have a snow globe in here?"

Snow globes are those clear, water-filled plastic domes depicting tourist spots that easily fit into the palm of your hand. You can create a blizzard effect inside it by shaking it. I have a friend who collects them. This one depicted the U.S.S. Midway, a navy aircraft carrier moored in San Diego harbor that is open to the public for tours. (Right: The U.S.S. Midway.)


Unwrapping it, he asked me if I knew the snow globe rule.

"No," I said, "but it's under three ounces."

He turned it over and frowned. On the price sticker on the bottom of the globe, next to the printed words "Made in China," the label read "2.9 oz." I had written that on the sticker that morning when I stuffed the dome into my clear quart-sized carry-on toiletry bag.

The guard said, "Wait here," and left. He came back shortly.

"I imagine you're gonna think this sucks, but my supervisor said there is insufficient corroboration that this item contains less than three ounces of fluid. Therefore you have two choices. You can either dispose of the item now or you can go back out to the ticket counter, check this through as luggage, and re-enter through security."

(Left: The flight deck on the U.S.S. Midway, overlooking San Diego.) As I contemplated re-entering the thirty minute line for security screening, I had an image of me standing around waiting for a fruit-sized item to come down the conveyor belt in baggage claim at National Airport. What if they misplaced it. Could I put in a claim for it? Would they drive it out to my house once they located it?

I said, "You don't have to wonder about whether I think this sucks. I do. And what is the snow globe rule?"

"Well, many times these things are filled with antifreeze which is a hazardous material and can't be brought aboard a plane."

I thought of a jet plane filled with thousands of gallons of aviation fuel and hundreds of quarts of de-icer fluid and shuddered to think of the damage I could inflict with 2.9 ounces of anti-freeze. Maybe I could pour it down some child's throat to create a terror incident with it.

"Of course, this snow dome is filled with water, not antifreeze." I said. "Perhaps we could send it out for testing to verify that. Or better yet, please give it a good home, officer." I didn't want to get placed on the no-fly list. It's a long bus ride to Washington DC from San Diego.

TSA is on the job. And by the way, the alert level is Code Orange. Does anyone know what that means, or when it wasn't Code Orange?


Christie said...

That is truly aggravating. The TSA...making life difficult one bag at a time.

Just_because_today said...

but we can travel with scissors shorter than 4 in...I don't get that.
I always keep a cork opener in my bag and never remember to remove it. I have never been stopped.
Too bad your friend can't add the snow ball to his collection

Kelly said...

Snow globe rule... ridiculous!

jeanne said...


this is exactly why there will be another terrorist incident.

fiddling while rome burns.

common sense has departed the country.

next time: smuggle in some DOPE.

Petraruns said...

I packed 2 of them in my checked-in luggage from Athens on Saturday (one donkey, one parthenon - I know so tasteful) and one of them broke. It's amazing we all survived it..

Irene said...

I've just learned something new today. I never knew about the snow globe rule. Hmmm.

Other than that incident, how did you like my side of the states?

Rainmaker said...

Next time you should write on it 'Officially complies with TSA Snowglobe Rule'.

Sunshine said...

A thoughtful, meaningful gift for a friend... and all you were allowed to bring back was a really disgusting story.
Add me to the list of people who have not heard of the snow globe rule.
When we flew to Charleston SC for the Kiawah marathon, we went through Detroit and back through Atlanta. That variation raised all sorts of idiotic "snow globe" flags and they went through every one of the bags of the 3 of us... shoe by shoe, used race clothes.. piece by piece. Hmmmm! America! Land of the free!

Danielle in Iowa said...

Note to self: No snow globes.