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On the Spot: TSA liquid carry-on rules hamper female fliers

The strictly enforced 3-ounce container/1-quart bag requirements put cosmetics-laden women at a disadvantage.

March 13, 2011|By Catharine Hamm | Los Angeles Times Travel editor
  • On the Spot: The plastic-bag blues
On the Spot: The plastic-bag blues (Scott Garrett / For The Times )

Question: I am traveling to London from LAX in May. For the first time, I want to carry on rather than check. Must I limit the liquids I am taking to a 1-quart plastic bag? How strict is the Transportation Security Administration on this topic for international flights?

Susan J. Rainey, Riverside

Answer: Yes, 1 quart. And very strict.

"When you come through the passenger checkpoint, we aren't aware of where you're going," said Nico Melendez, a spokesman for the TSA. "You might be flying to [Washington's] Dulles, or it might be an international flight.... Every flight is treated exactly the same."

For good measure, here's what London's Heathrow website tell us: "Only limited quantities of liquids may be carried through airport security into the departure lounge. This includes bottled drinks, suntan lotion, fragrances, cosmetics and toiletries." Sound familiar? Probably yes, except that in Heathrow (and many other European Union countries), it's 100 milliliters of "liquids, creams, gels, pastes and aerosol," not the 3 ounces TSA allows (although 100 milliliters is actually 3.38 ounces). And, by the way, you're probably not going to win this argument on either side of the pond: "I know the bottle says 6 ounces, but I have only 2 ounces left." I didn't. Bye-bye, shampoo.

For the 3-ounce/plastic-bag conundrum, you can thank the clowns who, in August 2006, were caught with what authorities said were the liquid ingredients to make a bomb onboard several aircraft bound for the U.S. and Canada from Britain. So far, Melendez said, the technology that would allow us to carry on more than 3 ounces isn't ready for prime time in the U.S.

Of course, there are the websites that specialize in selling mini-sizes, such as and But it's not the 3 ounces that are tough; it's the 1-quart plastic bag that's the problem. How in the ho-hum am I supposed to get these items all in a 1-quart bag: contact lens cleaner, eye drops, makeup base, lipstick, toothpaste, cream blush, cologne, moisturizer, shampoo and conditioner, deodorant, hair mousse, mouthwash and I'm sure I'm forgetting something? God forbid I should need mascara, eyeliner, mosquito repellent, Aspercreme, nail polish or nail polish remover. (If you happen to Super Glue your fingers together, this is invaluable.) Packing expert Susan Foster told me that I'd be better off switching to mineral-based cosmetics that I can fling willy-nilly into the carry-on, and I've done that, on occasion, but so far I know of no powder-based contact lens cleaner. (I know, I know: Wear the glasses.)

Melendez reminded me that I don't have to carry on my bag; my recourse, he said, is to check the bag, and certainly I can do that. But doesn't it strike you as a bit discriminatory that women must pay an extra $25 (or whatever the checked-bag fee is, except on the very few airlines that don't charge) just because we take more, um, accouterments with us? You can also argue, as some have (read: my spouse), that we can leave this junk behind or buy it there, but that's a pretty big investment, especially as we get older and require more products to camouflage life's damage.

So, come on, TSA. Put those liquid-explosive-detecting devices on the fast track so we can carry what we need. Women everywhere are counting on it.

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