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."

Here’s How Much a 5-Star Hotel Will Cost You in 100 Popular Travel Destinations Around the World

The Burj Al Arab Hotel in Dubai
The Burj Al Arab Hotel in Dubai
iStock.com/Nikada

Sometimes, you don’t mind roughing it in a tent for the sake of a budget-friendly vacation. Other times, you might want to splurge on a nicer hotel with a buffet breakfast and room service. Enjoying the finer things in life doesn’t necessarily mean breaking the bank, though.

A chart spotted by Thrillist breaks down the cost of 5-star hotels in 100 popular destinations around the world. Travel site Asher & Lyric crunched the numbers, using data from TripAdvisor on the average cost of a weeknight stay at the five top-rated hotels in each destination. The analysis accounted for fluctuating costs from one season to the next, and the chart shows what you might expect to pay during the high season compared to other times of year.

Places like Aspen and the Cayman Islands are predictably among the areas with the priciest hotels, but other vacation spots are surprisingly affordable. Take Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, for instance. This city of skyscrapers is a popular luxury destination—it’s called the “City of Gold,” after all—but its 5-star hotels are the third- cheapest ones on the chart, preceded only by Chennai in India and Manila in the Philippines.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, you’d spend less money staying in a fancy hotel in New York City, Paris, or Rome during the high season than you’d pay to stay in Wyoming’s Jackson Hole. And if you’re looking to travel domestic, check out Las Vegas, Houston, and Atlanta. Of America's top destinations, these cities offer some of the cheapest 5-star hotels.

Scroll down to see the chart, and check out Asher & Lyric’s website for a detailed breakdown of their findings, including their top hotel picks.

How Much 5-Star Hotels Cost in the Top 100 Destinations Around the World - AsherFergusson.com - Infographic
Researched and developed by Asher & Lyric Fergusson

[h/t Thrillist]

Behr Will Pay Someone $10,000 to Travel the U.S. and Canada in Search of New Paint Colors

Rainbow Row in Charleston, South Carolina
Rainbow Row in Charleston, South Carolina
iStock.com/RiverNorthPhotography

Want to add a bit of color and excitement to your life? Behr has just the opportunity for you. The company wants to pay a “Color Explorer” $10,000 to visit vibrant destinations across the U.S. and Canada in search of new hues that will ultimately be turned into actual Behr paints.

“The Behr Color Explorer will kayak the glacial blues of Lake Louise in Banff [Alberta, Canada], people-watch at a vibrant music festival, take in the bold exteriors of Charleston’s Rainbow Row, and experience many more moments of positively pigmented wanderlust in between,” Behr writes in its job description.

Throughout their trip, the Color Explorer will take field notes and plenty of photos, and document their experiences on Behr’s blog and social media. After seeing all there is to see, this person will head to the company’s headquarters in Orange County, California, to work with Behr's marketing team on naming the new colors they uncovered.

Behr's paint names tend to range from the alliterative (see: “Bali Bliss” and “Barely Brown”) to the poetic (“Moth’s Wing”) to the straightforward but still somehow evocative (“Wheat Bread” and “Swiss Coffee”). The company's color of the year for 2019 is called Blueprint.

The ideal Color Explorer will be adventurous, interested in color, and knowledgeable about the latest trends, according to Behr.

In addition to providing a $10,000 stipend, the company will also cover all travel expenses, accommodation, and experiences. Would-be explorers can apply for the gig on Behr’s website by writing a short description of the color that inspires them most before the May 15 deadline. Applicants must be at least 21 years old and residents of the U.S. or Canada, and they must also have a valid passport.

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