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updated: 8/6/2012 5:22 PM

What you can, can't carry on is a crapshoot

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  • What you can and can't carry on a plane seems to change almost daily -- and the rules rarely seem logical.

    What you can and can't carry on a plane seems to change almost daily -- and the rules rarely seem logical.
    Associated Press


Did you hear the TSA is about to relax the rules on what you can pack in your carry-on? No, you will still have to fit your 3-ounce bottles of liquid in a one-quart plastic bag. But you know that snow globe you just hated to leave at home? Well, soon you'll be able to pack it in your carry-on and shake it and look it during your whole flight. It's like a whole new form of in-flight entertainment.

Ever since the first terrorist attack, passengers and security agents have been "carrying on" about "carry-on." We've all had to rethink what we can't live without.

Pre-terrorism, Jean Cowden always packed her own set of silverware in our carry-on. She hated the little plastic cutlery that came with the in-flight meal. Of course the airlines fixed that problem by removing all the in-flight meals. But on the rare occasion when she found herself in first class where they did give her a meal, she missed her travel set and had to use the plastic. But that changed on a flight from Paris, where apparently, silverware is not the danger it is on our domestic flights. So Jean learned to pack her utensils in her checked bag until she was out of the country.

Then one time she forgot, and an agent in Los Angeles discovered a fork in her side pocket of her bag. Jean felt like she was on the 10-most-wanted list. She was taken aside and thoroughly checked for any other hidden weapons.

But now that's changed. First-class services use real silverware on most carriers and Jean can pack a fork in her carry-on.

Kaley Clark, a registered dietitian and nutritionist, had another problem. She packed yogurt in her carry-on. Security agents confiscated it as a dangerous liquid. So now Kaley removes the yogurt from the container mixes it with fresh fruit in a plastic storage container and has no problem getting through security.

Cory Wesley, a commodities trader, used to pack a bottle of Tabasco sauce in his carry-on bag. He thought it added flavor to the in-flight meals. Again a moot point. An agent told him, he could bring it if it was included in his one-quart plastic bag. But if he did that, he would have had to omit the mouthwash.

Rosemary Todd, my 102-year-old mother-in-law, had a pair of antique cuticle scissors she used to open the tiny bags of peanuts and pretzels on flight. The scissors were shaped like a small stork. When agents identified them as a dangerous weapon, they were grounded. Now they're back on the fly list, but their wings have been clipped.

Christ Soto, a sales representative from Boston, used to bring a scented candle on her flights. She said it made the plane smell a little better even though it wasn't lit. A security agent blew out that dream, but he let her bring her lighter onboard. Apparently, a book of matches or a lighter is safe in your carry-on. But don't put it in your checked luggage.

The problem is the list of dangerous carry-on items is always evolving. Some are obvious. Try to bring a meat cleaver onboard and you'll cause a real beef with security. On the other hand, screw drivers, wrenches and pliers are probably OK.

Taking the snow globe off the no-fly list should make flying better for all of us. It will have to fit in that 1-quart plastic bag, so you might have to leave the toothpaste and mouthwash at home. I just hope those little globes haven't snowed the TSA into making a serious security breach. As we've already learned, the only thing consistent about security is inconsistency.

• Gail Todd, a freelance writer, worked as a flight attendant for more than 30 years. She can be reached via email at

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