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."

11 Tips for Traveling With Your Pet, According to a Veterinarian

iStock/walik
iStock/walik

Planning a trip can be stressful no matter the circumstances. When you want to include the family pet in your plans, you have a whole new list of things to worry about, including packing the right equipment, checking your hotel’s pet policy, and making sure your pet meets the travel criteria for the state or country you’re visiting. But if you’re aware of the steps you need to take, traveling with your pet can be a positive experience for all involved. Mental Floss spoke with Dr. Danielle Bernal, a veterinarian with Wellness Natural Pet Food, about what to keep in mind before hitting the road with your furry companion.

1. Keep pets comfortable in a travel crate.

You may be tempted to give your pet plenty of room on long car trips, but giving them a confined space that’s their own is usually the better option. According to Bernal, “It’s often better for the dog, because if they’re crate-trained, that’s their area of security.” It’s safer as well: An animal is much better off in a durable crate than it is sliding around untethered in the backseat of a car.

2. Don’t fill your pet's crate with toys.

Giving your pet lots of toys to play with at home is a good thing—but on long car trips it's a different story. Packing every toy your pet loves into their crate takes up what little room they have to themselves. If the crate is too full, it can be impossible for them to move around and adjust their position. “Yes, you want them to be comfortable, but also you don’t want to fill that crate up,” Bernal says. “So almost less is more.”

3. Make sure you have all the correct paperwork.

If you’re planning a long trip with your pet, you won’t get very far without the right paperwork. Many places require incoming pets to have an up-to-date health certificate signed by an accredited veterinarian. Before signing the documents, vets will confirm that your pet is healthy and up-to-date on all vaccinations required by the receiving state or country. If you’re flying, contact the airline to see if any other special paperwork is required to transport your animal.

4. Make it easier to find your pet if they get lost.

An unfamiliar location miles away from home is the worst place to lose your pet. Before your trip, make sure they’re easy to find in case the worst happens. Implanting a microchip under your dog or cat’s skin will make them trackable no matter where in the country they wander off to. If you’re not willing to commit to that procedure, at least make sure the contact information on their tags is up-to-date—that way, they're more likely to be returned to satefy if someone finds them.

5. Skip a meal on travel days.

No matter how accommodating you are to your pet, some anxiety on their part is inevitable. Bernal says a common symptom of this is stress diarrhea—which is the last thing pet owners want to deal with on a long car or plane ride. Even if your pet doesn't seem stressed before the trip, plain old motion sickness can upset your animal’s stomach rather quickly. Bernal recommends feeding them less than you usually would prior to traveling to avoid future accidents: “If you have a pet you know has those sensitivities, I would keep their tummy empty. It will be good for the pet and it will be nicer for everyone in the car too.” That doesn’t mean you should starve your pet if they’re begging for food; just skip the last meal you would normally feed them before beginning your journey.

6. Keep your pet hydrated.

Without regular access to water whenever they need it, pets can get easily dehydrated when traveling. Keep this in mind when traveling and pack extra water for your four-legged passenger. Allowing animals to self-regulate their water intake, perhaps by attaching a bowl to the inside of their crate, is ideal, but if that’s not possible, stop frequently to give them a chance to drink. Another way to keep them feeling good is to feed them wet food instead of dry; according to Bernal, the water content in wet food can help hydrate pets.

7. keep them occupied with a toy.

If you can only give your pet one toy on a long trip, choose something that will keep them busy for as long as possible. Bernal recommends puzzle dog toys like those you’ll find from the pet brand Kong. When your dog is preoccupied on reaching the treat inside the toy, it's harder for them to focus on anything else—including the stress of traveling to a new place.

8. Never leave your pet in a car alone.

Hopefully this is common sense for most pet parents, but Bernal emphasizes that this is the most important thing to remember when traveling with an animal—especially during the summer months. “Don’t leave them in a locked car,” she says. “It takes seven minutes for them to basically move into a situation where it becomes fatal.” It doesn’t matter if you crack a window or if you’re only stepping out of your car for a few minutes. If it’s a hot day, dogs should never be left alone in a vehicle. “We need to make sure that all pet parents are aware of that,” Bernal says.

9. Choose pet-friendly accommodations.

You may love your pet, but that doesn’t mean the owner of the hotel or Airbnb where you’re staying will love them, too; be mindful of this when booking accommodations for your trip. There are plenty of hotels that offer perks for pet owners, like doggie daycare, but even if a place doesn’t advertise their pet policy, it doesn’t hurt to call and ask (or simply confirm what you're reading online so that there are no surprises when you arrive).

10. Make your travel destination feel like home.

Your pet’s crate may not be the best place for all their toys, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pack them when going on vacation. Bringing their favorite items from home can make pets feel more at ease when they arrive at an unfamiliar destination. “Pack things that are familiar to them, so when they arrive at a new spot they’re like: ‘Ok, I feel a lot more comfortable,’” Bernal says. “It helps with their anxiety.” And you shouldn’t stop at toys: Packing their bed, bowl, and blanket can have the same calming effect.

11. Know when it's best to leave your pet at home.

Not every vacation is improved by bringing your pet along. If you plan on spending most of your trip in places that don’t allow animals, like museums, restaurants, and theme parks, it may be best to leave your pet at a kennel or with a sitter or trusted friend. Even if the vacation is pet-friendly, it may not be a good fit for an animal that’s especially anxious. “If you have a nervous dog, he’s actually going to be happier in his home if someone just comes in and feeds him,” Bernal says. Your pet will forgive you for having fun without them.

10,000 People Gathered at Stonehenge to Welcome the Summer Solstice

Finnbarr Webster, Getty Images
Finnbarr Webster, Getty Images

There are plenty of reasons to welcome the start of summer. Today, people visiting Stonehenge took that celebration to a whole new level.

The BBC reported that an estimated 10,000 people made the pilgrimage to the 5000-year-old site to partake in summer solstice festivities. "Stonehenge was built to align with the Sun, and to Neolithic people, the skies were arguably as important as the surrounding landscape," Susan Greaney, a senior historian at English Heritage, said in a statement. "At solstice we remember the changing daylight hours, but the changing seasons, the cycles of the Moon, and movements of the Sun are likely to have underpinned many practical spiritual aspects of Neolithic life."

These spiritual aspects are just one of the many fascinating facts about the summer solstice; the day is an extremely old calendar event recognized by ancient cultures across the globe. They include the Druids and other pagans, whose tradition of observing the solstice at Stonehenge has long been upheld by modern revelers.

Scientifically speaking, Stonehenge is an optimal viewing place for the solstice due to its structure. According to TIME, the site’s architects appeared to have kept both the summer and winter solstices in mind during its construction, as the positions of the stones are specifically tuned to complement the sky on both occasions.

The solstices were sacred to the pagans, whose modern-day followers continue to honor their rituals. Pagans in particular refer to the day as Litha, and mark it with activities such as meditation, fire rites, and outdoor yoga.

“What you’re celebrating on a mystical level is that you’re looking at light at its strongest," Frank Somers, a member of the Amesbury and Stonehenge Druids, said in 2014. "It represents things like the triumph of the king, the power of light over darkness, and just life—life at its fullest."

Those who were unable to make the journey can head over to the Stonehenge Skyscape project's website, where English Heritage’s interactive live feed fully captured the experience.

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