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Osama’s Gone. Can We Relax Airport Security?

The Department of Homeland Security remains on heightened alert after the death of Osama bin Laden. That’s reassuring as most of their valiant security efforts go unseen by ordinary travelers. But what about those other security measures? Pay Dirt is thinking of the rules that force you to take off your shoes and pad through the metal detector with a hole in your socks or, worse, carry a bottle of Rogaine through security in a clear plastic bag.


An increasing number of airline passengers are exasperated (and embarrassed) by rules requiring them to take off their shoes and limit carry-on liquid containers to 3.4 ounces in clear plastic bags. George Hobica, creator of, is more concerned about the screening of airport staff: “What will be next? Will people have to take off all their clothes? If somebody wanted to sneak something onboard they will.”

Nicholas Kimball, spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration, says these “intelligence-driven layers of security” are there for good reason. “In combination, they create a stronger, more formidable system,” he says. He cites the European Union, which last week deferred lifting a ban on carry-on liquids. The 3.4 ounce per-bottle limit either points to an exacting science that we could never hope to understand or a somewhat more arbitrary calculation.

Another puzzle: the rules have exceptions: baby formula, breast milk and juice if a baby or small child is traveling, plus all prescription and over-the-counter medications like petroleum jelly and eye drops. Security analyst Bruce Schneier says he has taken 14-ounce bottles of contact-lens saline solution through security. “I told them it was saline and they said it was okay. The liquid rule doesn’t do any good. It’s dumb, dumb, dumb.”

If you think that’s harsh, columnist Patrick Smith calls the liquid rule a “farce.” What makes his criticism all the more surprising: Smith happens to be an airline pilot. He writes: “Are we looking for liquids, or are we looking for explosives? A search for the former is not a de facto search for the latter. Not the way we’ve been doing it,” adding, “What ‘airport security’ really means is stopping terrorists in the planning stage, long before they reach the terminal.”

Do you think the liquid and take-off-your-shoes airport security rules really work?


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About Pay Dirt

  • Pay Dirt examines the millions of consumer decisions Americans make every day: What to buy, how much to pay, whether to rave or complain. Lead written by Quentin Fottrell, the blog examines these interactions, providing readers with news, insight and tips on shopping, spending, customer service, and companies that do right – and wrong – by their customers. Send items, questions and comments to or tweet @SMPayDirt.