Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Tripods according to TSA - Straight from D.C.

Gitzo Systematic Series 3 TripodThe rules and regulations about what items may not be carried into scheduled airlines' airplane cabins is definitive. TSA (Transportation Security Administration) lists items in their Prohibited Items List which are definitively banned.

It's to be expected TSA can't list everything which might be a good idea to prohibit. There are far too many items that travelers might take in their carry-ons, to think any group of people could possibly imagine them all or even most.

Unfortunately, when we try to use the list to evaluate if a questionable item would be permitted or prohibited, we find it's virtually impossible to use the list to predict what a TSA TSO (Transportation Safety Officer) will decide.

The problem is travelers have nothing but the Prohibited Items List itself to use to predict whether or not a TSA TSO will permit or prohibit any item not on the list. Air travelers need more information.

I liken the situation to soccer. Soccer “Laws” are readily available for everyone, but they have many gray areas which referees interpret hundreds of times per game. While the “Laws of the Game” may feel absolute, they aren't. Referees use another book, a “handbook,” to help them interpret the “Laws” called “Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game.” Unlike at TSA, the “handbook” is available for anyone to purchase.

At TSA, TSO's and travelers alike have the “Laws,” the Prohibited Items List, but travelers have no access to the “handbook” TSO's follow to interpret the list about other items. Air travelers are left in the dark about questionable items not on the list. Travelers often complain TSO's don't reasonably judge items, which aren't on the prohibited list, then prohibit them, often mystifying travelers. Air travelers don't have access to TSA's “handbook.”

TSA general security policy about carry-ons states,
“The final decision rests with the TSA officer on whether an item is allowed through the checkpoint.”
So, if a TSO permits you to pack a particular item in your carry-on you might interpret that as it's a “permitted item.” Sorry, no such luck!

TSA general security policy also includes this statement,
“Even if an item is generally permitted, it may be subject to additional screening or not allowed through the checkpoint if it triggers an alarm during the screening process, appears to have been tampered with, or poses other security concerns.”
So, here's my interpretation of these statements,

If it's on the prohibited list, it's prohibited. If it isn't on the prohibited list, it doesn't mean it's allowed, plus even if you were able to bring it in your carry-on in the past, it can be prohibited at any time in the future. Got that? No wonder air travelers are confused!

One item which has been a particular problem for professional photographers and photography enthusiasts at TSA check points is the tripod. Decisions by TSO's to permit or prohibit tripods in carry-ons seem wildly inconsistent.

In defense of TSA, tripods do come in many different configurations, sizes, weights, and features. In actuality, however, they are highly similar, in my opinion, however, except for one feature, which by definition is problematical; spiked feet.

Some air travelers have reported no problems bringing their tripod into their plane's cabin. Others have said they've been told many times to take it back to the ticket agent and check it. Some photographers have said TSA told them they'd allow the tripod into the cabin if it didn't have spiked feet, only to be told a month later the tripod, now sans the spiked feet, was prohibited.

There seems to be no rhyme or reason to TSA's decisions about photographic tripods. The only safe way to get through security is to pack them in checked luggage, which is what I've been doing.

Of course, carbon-fiber tripods are expensive and if they are in your checked luggage they are open to theft, and airline's refuse liability for such expensive belongings in checked luggage.

Last month, I had the opportunity to ask TSA administrators if they could make a definitive statement or ruling about tripods carried into airplane cabins, both with and without spiked feet.

The answer was, unfortunately, as expected, no answer.

For tripods without spiked feet, I was told, “The item [tripods] would likely be allowed, but the final decision would be made by TSA officers [TSO's] at the [airport security] checkpoint.”

For tripods with spiked feet, even if covered, I was told, “We would recommend checking this item as the spikes could be viewed as a potential weapon.” I was reminded that even if the spiked feet were encased in rubber for the flight, they would most likely be seen when the tripod goes through x-ray.

For me, I will continue to pack my tripod in my checked luggage when I fly, and if stolen, financially, depend on my insurance.


Paula said...

TSA is amazing!!! They just won't ever give a straight answer to a question.

Gene said...

Typical TSA. They can't make a determination so we know we won't be turned away with the tripod. Instead they are forcing us to put it in checked luggage where it can be stolen. Some day they'll learn they work for us.

Dan - Miami said...

So what would be so awful if TSA would just tell us it's banned or not? They're worthless. It's all theater at the airport.

Hally said...

Leave it to TSA to use "government speak."

Walter said...

It would be different if TSA actually protected us when we travel, but they don't.

Malcolm. said...

I decided like you Ned, that I would pack my tripod into a Pelican hard sided case and take my chances with checked baggage. I do take the head off and carry it with me in the cabin.

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