They came for your laptops. And for your fluids and your shoes. Now comes the Transportation Security Administration for your snacks.
Passengers at airports across the country – including all three major airports in the Washington region – report an increase in TSA agents who have instructed them to remove their snacks and other food from them and place their bags in these ubiquitous plastic containers for a separate screening.
It's not part of the agency's standard policy, according to TSA spokesman Mike England. It's just a recommendation issued by the agency last year to speed up the bag-check process. Airport screening supervisors may decide at their own discretion whether and when they require passengers to offer their pretzel packages for a solo ride through the X-ray machine.
But the "Recommendation" seems to be gaining momentum and moving quickly into the territory of the de facto protocol, according to travelers who have received snacks from their airlines and who have been informed by simple TSA screeners the snack checks are now common practice.
"He was like," Sorry. This is a new policy. We'll do that now, "said Anny Gaul, 33, about her recent interaction with a TSA agent at the International Marshall Airport in Baltimore-Washington.
Gaul, a frequent traveler, had never heard such instructions on an airport security line But here it was in April, standing near a long TSA line where a pickpocket shouted that all passengers had to take out their groceries and put them in a separate container.
She started digging through her carrying bag They found the chocolate bar and the plastic bag with the mix she knew floated in. Other travelers, visibly confused as well, began searching for bags of goldfish packs and crushing energy bars in their pockets. "The line, Gaul said, moved noticeably slower than normal.
"It definitely caused a delay ̵
After England, the takeaway recommendation is part of an effort to better discover explosives in airplanes and to limit the number of sacks marked for special searches.  England said it was not about people hiding explosives or other illegal material in the food. Rather, the food itself resembles the ingredients of an explosive – so bags of snacks are more likely to be tagged for a time-consuming manual search. The officials found it more efficient, in some cases, to take passengers out of their luggage prematurely.
England said he could not provide specific information about how a pretzel pack might look like an explosive. He denies the idea that the new attention to snacks could be an excessive screening measure.
"There is a very good reason for everything we do, nothing is arbitrary," England said.
He said there are no immediate plans to standardize the practice at every airport across the country, but the procedure is used at times when supervisors think it might speed things up.
"It's not a requirement, it's a recommendation," England said. "But you can see that they recommended something louder during the busy times of the day."
It remains unclear whether the snack removal protocol shortens waiting times – whether the removal of bags marked for special screenings compensates for disruptions in passengers conducting a last-second hunt for food stowed in their pockets.
England acknowledged that there may be "isolated cases" when passengers are asked to take food out of their pockets that nationwide 96 percent of standard passengers have a waiting time of 20 minutes or less.
Christina Saul, spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, said that the new procedure has not led to longer waiting times at either Reagan National or Dulles International Airports.
That did not stop the complaints in the social media.
"Of all the TSA rules that are arbitrarily enforced" dig out any snack "Their bags are the dumbest", tweeted Anne Keller after witnessing the snack demonstration at National.
And passengers notice that not only in Washington. Travelers have complained about the practice used at both Dallas Love Field and the Chicago O & # 39; Hare International, Los Angeles International, Newark Liberty International and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airports. The recommendation also appeals to smaller airports – in Boise, Idaho; Greenville, S. C .; and Manchester, NH
"How Bizarre" Cindy Armstrong Tweeted at Redmond Municipal Airport in Oregon
"A Terrorist Is Building Frito-Lay Bombs" A Passenger mused at Orlando International Airport waiting.
"It's a national policy … all parents have to line up longer if they have to pee." quipped a Traveler who visited the practice at Mineta San Jose International Airport.
"TSA asked me to take my snacks out of my bag and I personally feel victimized." Thea Neal of Kansas City, Mo.
As Neal, 29, a social media Manager for a greeting card company, was asked to remove their snacks, they immediately panic. Had she missed a memo about a new security protocol? And, more importantly, TSA will confiscate her food?
"I had a whole bunch of crazy snacks in my bag that I really enjoyed eating," she recalled. Fortunately, their snacks were returned after being X-rayed in their separate container. However, she remains uneasy about the idea that this could become a standard practice on any journey through airport security. The procedure does not make them safer – "It seemed, frankly, completely pointless," she said – and there are sanitary considerations.
"I was lucky that everything I brought was prepackaged, but if it was fruit or something … she said, shuddering to think about her food rolling around in a plastic container." These things are pretty disgusting. People put their shoes and money there. "
Lauren Rosenberg, a 20-year-old student from Houston, doubts that the practice will help the safety lines move faster.When it happened last Monday at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, the process of chasing the cereal bars and The Luna bars stuffed in their pockets line up.
And Rosenberg started to ask questions, why did they have to look at their snacks, was that a permanent new policy? The TSA agent in their line knew it "I just need your snacks, your Doritos, and your M & Ms," she reminded him.
Rosenberg said she was worried that this was more than just another inconvenience to the travelers a slippery slope Rosenberg, a college junior, is young enough that she hardly remembers a time when liquids larger than 3.4 ounces were not banned from planes.
"The next thing they un Getting her out of our pockets is medicine, "she said. "And that would be a real invasion of privacy."