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|| News Item: Posted 2006-09-05

On The Road: Jelly Donuts and the Road to No Carry-On Bags
By Darren Carroll

Photo by Darren Carroll

Photo by Darren Carroll

You can't bring bring toothpaste, most kinds of deodorant, hair gel or shaving cream in your carry-on bags anymore.
You can't bring a jelly donut onto an airplane anymore.

Okay. Let me repeat that, and I'm going to put it in all capital letters, because I want you to re-read it, word-by-word, and let it sink in.


Nor, for that matter, can you bring toothpaste, most kinds of deodorant, hair gel, shaving cream, or a bottle of water--whether or not you've purchased these items after you've gone through security at the airport. It' silly. It's sad. And it's true. And, I'll admit, if I didn't have to deal with it at airports a couple of times a week, the whole thing would be pretty damned funny.

What does this mean for us as photographers? Right now, not much, if you don't mind a little more inconvenience and, if you check your gear, a bit more risk. Be prepared to check bags, to have things stolen, and be prepared to spend a lot more time at the airport--waiting to check your bags, and waiting to retrieve them, if they show up on time, or at all. And if they don't, be prepared to stand in another line with a dozen other weary travelers in the same boat you're in. The ban on liquids has resulted in an increase in checked baggage that is overwhelming the TSA screening machines and operators; the piles of luggage in front of screening stations at all the airports I've been to in the past three weeks have been staggering, both in their size and in the fact that there's nobody keeping an eye on them to prevent theft or tampering prior to their entering the screening machines. And the airlines were caught completely off-guard, as well, by the increase in checked baggage brought on by this asinine policy, and they've been slow to react. Get used to it. If you think, in the age of $70 a barrel oil, that the airlines are going to hire more baggage handlers to take up the slack, think again.

If the brain trust at the Transportation Security Administration is left unchecked, this may not be the end, either. Try this on for size: If your average TSA screener were smart (the jury's still out on that) and knew what they were looking at (no contest--unless it's a pair of nail clippers, they don't), packs and sheets of Polaroid could be banned as well. After all, what do you think is underneath that little thing that says, "Do not press here" on it? You guessed it. And unlike the gel in such (TSA-banned) weapons of mass destruction as Purell Hand Sanitizer and Dr. Scholl's insoles, the gel in Polaroid developer could actually, possibly--gasp!--irritate your skin. Moreover, such a policy could, and would, be instituted in typical TSA fashion--which is to say randomly, inconsistently, and with neither warning nor recourse. "I'm sorry, sir. You'll have to place those boxes of film in your checked baggage. Be sure to leave it with the folks at the CTX screening station"--you know, that big white machine that destroys undeveloped film...

Photo by Darren Carroll

Photo by Darren Carroll

Polaroid film is also banned.
And that's not as bad as it could get: Hard on the heels of the liquid ban, Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) showed that the TSA isn't the only arm of the federal government prone to knee-jerk reactions, telling the AP that the most recent liquid plot "eliminates the days of carry-on baggage." Don't laugh. Mark my words, if something isn't done, it's going to happen. I know it makes no sense, I know it would completely overload the system, and I know that it would completely destroy business air travel as we (and the airlines) know it. But the next time the TSA gets scared shitless by some guy who's managed to sneak a half-dozen Boston Creme donuts onto a 767 in his rollaboard, the next bag you're going to be checking is the one with your laptop and $25,000 worth of camera gear in it. And you won't be able to insure it. Or, for that matter, lock it.

I was sitting in a hotel in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on Day One of the Great Liquid and Gel Ban, scheduled to fly home from New Orleans that afternoon. Naturally, my toothpaste and other toiletries were packed in my carry-on roller. When I got to the Southwest Cargo loading dock, guess what went on the pallet with the strobes and the cameras and the light stands? Problem solved. Ever since then, the toiletry kit goes in the Lightware, right next to the 35mm case, and gets shipped on ahead. I know I've harped on this before, but it's never been a better idea than now: Get used to shipping everything. Gear. Film. Hair gel. Everything. Now. Figure out how you're going to do it. Get yourself an account with FedEx or UPS. Set up a verified known-shipper account with an airline. Learn to pack in advance, so you can ship things a day early. Don't wait until the next scare; be prepared for the day when the TSA randomly and without warning decides that carry-on luggage is verboten.

So this is how far we've fallen, straight into an air-travel theater of the absurd. We've been frightened into dehydration, malodorousness, and a case of airplane-induced bed-head by a giant bureaucracy run amok, accountable, it would seem, to no one and intent on scaring the bejeezus out of all of us until we fall, lock-step, into the completely irrational sense of security that since we can no longer bring our Aquafina on board an airplane, air travel is that much safer. Just last Friday, The New York Times reported on a working mother returning from a business trip who was forced by TSA screeners at LaGuardia to dump the breast milk she'd been pumping and saving for use when she got home to her newborn.

Photo by Darren Carroll

Photo by Darren Carroll

Polaroid film has gel, so it is banned from your carry-on bags.
Meanwhile, less than 20% of cargo riding underneath the aircraft you've just gotten on, bereft of your plasmatic personal primping products, has been security screened. Screeners at the security checkpoint now must waste valuable time looking for that bottle of deodorant in your carry-on bag when they should be looking for things that might be, well, dangerous. And don't get me started on how easy it is to get into the secure area of an airport if one works for a caterer or cleaning company. The bottom line is, this new policy does absolutely nothing to improve security--but it certainly gives that illusion. In news stories about the new measures, you inevitably hear someone say, "I feel safer." And that's exactly the point. It falsely reassures people who fly once a year that their government is looking out for them and, in the process, does what every tax-dollar-dependent government bureaucracy does best: serves to justify its own existence with the taxpayers.

There is only one way to have a chance at stopping this nonsense: Write to those who control the purse strings. Seriously. Even if you don't fly all that much but especially if you do, tell your representative in Congress that you're all for aviation safety, but that you're also for accountability in government, and that you're for an aviation security system that is sensible and above all, effective. Because what we have now--both the system and the agency that administers it--is anything but.

Yes, I know it's a long shot, and that we're all justifiably jaded about the effectiveness of playing our part in a representative democracy. But sadly, it's the best we can do. And doing something is better than doing nothing, especially when doing nothing has gotten us, if not to the point of no return, then certainly to the point of no jelly donuts.

(Austin-based freelancer Darren Carroll travels on assignment every now and then. By the way, if you don't know who your representative is, you can find out at Additionally, rather than sending a letter snail mail or e-mail, rumor has it that sending a fax is the best way to ensure that your letter will be seen.)

Related Links:
Darren's member page
Darren's personal website

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