The Real Reason You Can't Bring Water Bottles Through Airport Security

Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images

Travelers already tired and weary from long spells sitting on planes and standing in gate lines can still muster up enough energy to grumble about restrictive airport security measures. Shoes and belts have to come off. Laptops are slid out from their cases. Unopened bottles of water are tossed in waste bins.

For a mode of transportation that can cause dehydration, not allowing water bottles through security is particularly grating. The directive was put in place by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in 2006. TSA agents and passengers are expected to follow the “3-1-1” rule for liquids. Those boarding planes can carry 3.4 ounces of liquid per container in a 1-quart bag, with one bag per passenger. While the rule has lent itself to criticism and ridicule, intelligence agencies believe they had—and continue to have—a very good reason for instituting it.

In the new Netflix series Terrorism Close Calls, former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officials go on record with details of a number of potentially catastrophic attempts to target civilians that were thwarted by law enforcement. Among those individuals contributing to the show is Steve Hersem, the former deputy director of the CIA’s Community HUMINT (Human Intelligence) Division. Hersem tells Mental Floss that the liquids ban has roots in two separate terrorist plots.

“The banning of a certain quantity of liquids from airline flights in 2006 was the direct result of the intelligence uncovered during Operation Overt,” Hersem says. Operation Overt was the term used to describe a collaborative effort to foil the plot of Abdulla Ahmed Ali, a British citizen who had known affiliations with radical Islamists and terrorists he connected with during frequent trips to Pakistan.

"Ali’s bags were secretly searched when he returned to the UK and a powdered orange soft drink along with a large number of batteries were found in his suitcase," Hersem says. "Based on his associations in Pakistan and the items in his luggage, a layered surveillance program was instituted by MI5, with assistance from the London Metropolitan Police. The surveillance, which included secret cameras and listening devices in Ali’s apartment, resulted in the discovery of a bomb-making laboratory and the fleshing out of a number of co-conspirators."

At one point during their surveillance, investigators witnessed Ali drilling a hole in a soft drink bottle so that it could be filled with an explosive liquid while still appearing to be unopened. If their plan had gone through, Hersem says that the result could have been an attack on seven planes flying out of London and heading for North America using, among other things, a hydrogen peroxide-based-liquid explosive. (Ali and several of his associates were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in 2009.)

Water bottles sit in a garbage bin at an airport
Tim Boyle, Getty Images

But that wasn’t the only justification law enforcement used for the liquids ban. "Al Qaeda had been fixated on targeting aviation as early as 1994 when Ramzi Yousef, the nephew of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attack, tested liquid explosives on an aircraft during the Bojinka Plot," Hersem says. "The Bojinka Plot targeted, in part, Philippine Airlines Flight 434 from Manila to Tokyo, which resulted in the death of a passenger and a large hole being created in the aircraft."

The subsequent liquids ban on flights may have stemmed directly from Operation Overt, but there was also a decade of intelligence to substantiate Al Qaeda’s ambitions—a threat that doesn’t seem to be letting up. "The ban is ongoing because intelligence continues to inform the United States Intelligence Community and other allied intelligence services that Al Qaeda, its affiliates, and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, continues to target aviation," Hersem says.

But why allow a little over 3 ounces? According to the TSA, limiting containers to what can fit inside a quart-size bag prevents what former TSA administrator Kip Hawley once called a “critical diameter” to blow anything up. The size of the container precludes enough of a potentially explosive liquid from being carried on board.

If you really want to get that bottled water past the security checkpoint, there is a workaround: Just freeze it. TSA allows for frozen liquids so long as they’re completely solid. (If it’s mushy or half-melted, you'll be asked to toss it.) Alternately, you can also just bring a completely empty bottle through and fill it up once you're done with the screening, which is the more environmentally conscious thing to do.

Convenient? Not really. But Hersem maintains it's necessary. "As long as there [are] ideologically driven terrorists who are interested in targeting civilian aviation, these types of bans have to be in place and are beneficial in the aggregate."

Attention Aspiring Astronauts: Arlo Skye Now Has Space-Themed Luggage

Arlo Skye
Arlo Skye

While some travelers are preoccupied with getting their luggage through airport security, the designers at Arlo Skye are thinking bigger. As Condé Nast Traveler reports, the brand's new line of suitcases is inspired by space travel, with high tech features and a sleek, futuristic look.

Arlo Skye was founded in 2016 by alumni from Louis Vuitton and Tumi Inc. They set out to create luggage that emphasized design, with luxury polycarbonate suitcases available in trendy colors like rose gold and custom monogramming.

The company's Space Collection may be its most stylized line yet. It comes with a removable, 10,050-milliamp-hour charger with USB C and A ports for charging phones and other devices. The chrome-colored case is 22 inches tall, 9 inches deep, and 14 inches wide and weighs 8.5 pounds empty.

Space Collection suitcase from Arlo Skye
Arlo Skye

Depending on what type of space traveler you are, you can get one of three designs laser-etched on the bottom of your luggage. There's Moon Shot, Team Human, and Occupy Mars; each engraving comes with a short ode to space and a small picture of its respective celestial body. Like other suitcases made by Arlo Skye, these bags are zipper-free and made from polycarbonate with an aluminum frame.

Whether you're a globetrotter or an aspiring astronaut, the Space Collection from Arlo Skye makes a great travel companion.

Buy it from Arlo Skye for $450.

[h/t Condé Nast Traveler]

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Here's How You Can Help Rebuild Paris's Notre-Dame Cathedral

 Kitwood, Getty Images
Kitwood, Getty Images

A fire at Paris’s famed Notre-Dame Cathedral raged for nine hours on Monday, drawing the world’s attention to the partial destruction of one of the best-known cultural monuments on the planet. The efforts of more than 400 firefighters managed to preserve much of the 859-year-old structure, but the roof and spire were destroyed.

Financial support for the building has already come pouring in, with billionaire François-Henri Pinault pledging $113 million toward reconstruction and another billionaire, Bernard Arnault, promising $226 million. A total of roughly $1 billion has come in from donations, but a revitalized Notre-Dame is a considerable expense that could cost even more.

For people who would like to assist, donations are being accepted by the nonprofit French Heritage Society for virtually any amount.

Why will expenses run so high? Prior to the fire, Notre-Dame was in dire need of extensive restoration. Buttresses caused instability to major walls, gargoyles were damaged, and cracks had formed in the now-destroyed spire. The cathedral is owned by the French government, which allots roughly 2 million euros (or about $2.26 million) annually to upkeep. Between the existing wear and the fire, it could take years or possibly decades for the work to be completed.

The publicity surrounding Notre-Dame has also motivated people to assist in rebuilding efforts on a smaller scale, and closer to home. Three churches in Louisiana that were recently targeted in allegedly racist arson attacks saw donations climb from $150,000 to over $1 million following the Notre-Dame fire. You can donate to that GoFundMe campaign here.

[h/t CNN]

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