Flying, TSA, and Soap

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CatahoulaBubble

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So I just wanted to do a little PSA for soap makers out there. Last week I was headed on a flight to St. Louis to my sister's wedding. I was bringing along about 40lbs of soap because my family and some of their friends wanted to buy my soap and since I was headed there and figured I'd save on shipping costs I packed my bags with soap. I had about 20lbs of soap in each bag, one checked, one carry-on. The checked bag went through, no issues. But when it came to the TSA check point they pulled my bag because of an unknown biomass.

I had a box full of wrapped and labeled soap bars in my carry-on. They asked what it was and I explained that it's lye based soap and that I made it. They open the box and swab the packages but because it was lye based it flagged and set off the alarm from residual sodium hydroxide. They then unwrapped the soap and swabbed it directly and again an alarm. I told them this would most likely happen especially since one batch was less than 48 hours old and I knew it would test positive for sodium hydroxide.

Since the alarm went off the supervisor was engaged and he pulled out the box of soap and had to visually inspect every bar. He unwrapped every bar of soap, looked at it then put it in another bin. After inspecting all 40ish bars of soap he then handed me the bin of soap and said I was good to go. It had taken me hours to wrap and label all of that soap and then pack it so it wouldn't shift in the box. All I could do was just wrap the same scents together in a bundle and toss out the extra wrapping and tuck all of the soap back in the box the best I could. Some had fancy soap icing tops and got damaged unfortunately. On top of that all of my labels were lost for the most part.

Thankfully my customers understood what had happened and I re-wrapped the bars once I got to my sister's house in parchment paper and just hand wrote the labels. Because I was flying with so much soap and my bag couldn't weigh over 50lbs I split the soap but in the future I will probably just check an extra bag rather than have TSA undo all of my work. So when traveling with lots of soap, check it, don't carry it.
 

dibbles

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I've had that happen, and so have people I've given soap to that put it in a carry on bag. Here's the post I wrote: https://www.soapmakingforum.com/threads/tsa-and-suspicious-soap.59097/

I've been stopped every time I've traveled with soap in a carry on. Now, it all goes in a checked bag, or I mail it. I've even taken the soap out of the carry on, put it in a bin and it still gets pulled aside for inspection. I think they can't tell what it is when it is going through the x-ray - it just looks like a solid mass of ??

Thanks for the heads up! Lots of people have joined since I wrote that post who may avoid one hassle at the airport.
 

Mobjack Bay

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I’m sorry to hear that you spent all that time wrapping only to have it undone and your soap damaged.

I had a bag search when I flew to Mobile Alabama this past Tuesday with 7 bars of soap in my carry on. I had the soaps in clear cellophane bags, explained what they were and invited them to open. They passed me through pretty quickly without any swiping. I know they don’t like big solid masses in bags because I’ve also been searched when carrying rocks, driftwood and heavy books.
 

jcandleattic

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I rarely every have carry-on bags. I almost always check my bags because I travel with my soap. Doesn't stop TSA from pulling ME aside (but that's a story for a different day - so frustrating EVERY. SINGLE. TIME)
There was one time I wanted to take a bar of soap and a candle to my boss in Singapore and didn't check my bags, but had it in my carry-on, they went so far as to pull it out of my bag and throw it away. GRR (but I knew better, so my fault)
TSA is the WORST. And the fact that they have statistically rarely even stopped any known threats makes it even more frustrating.
 

Mobjack Bay

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I rarely every have carry-on bags. I almost always check my bags because I travel with my soap. Doesn't stop TSA from pulling ME aside (but that's a story for a different day - so frustrating EVERY. SINGLE. TIME)
There was one time I wanted to take a bar of soap and a candle to my boss in Singapore and didn't check my bags, but had it in my carry-on, they went so far as to pull it out of my bag and throw it away. GRR (but I knew better, so my fault)
TSA is the WORST. And the fact that they have statistically rarely even stopped any known threats makes it even more frustrating.
Do you think they tossed it because it was an international flight?
 

Dawni

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How frustrating @CatahoulaBubble, sorry it had to happen to you. I wonder if the international flights are more lenient?

I've flown by Etihad and Thai Airways through Abu Dhabi, Karachi and Bangkok airports with soap in both my carry on and checked in, no problems. Funny though, I bought some marble eggs from the souvenir shop inside Karachi airport and they stopped me for those lol

My dad too, has not gotten stopped so far for carrying my soap in his carry on. A cousin using Emirates through Malaysia then Dubai also had no problems with soap in her carry on.

Of course, these are very limited experiences, and never with more than a kg of soap maximum, and it could still happen, but just saying..
 

runnerchicki

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I'm sorry - I'm trying to wrap my brain around this. TSA will not let you carry SOAP???? I can't even ...
 

jcandleattic

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Do you think they tossed it because it was an international flight?
No. I think they tossed it because there is something about ME that gets pulled aside every single time I fly regardless if it's international or domestic. Every airport I have ever been in, in every country I have been in save Gatwick has pulled me aside and checked me and or my bags (If I have carryon) and I fly a LOT. I've tried applying for CLEAR so that doesn't happen, but I got denied, so who knows. The fact they say it's random and they don't profile is total BS.
 

Steve85569

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I simply cannot fly any more. I get no explanation but I am nearly strip searched for attempting to get on a plane. Might be my mis-spent youth or the fact that I am an RSO and firearms instructor.

I sent my daughter home one year with a loaf that had been cut into bars with parchment placed in between each bar.
What's in that?
Home made soap.
Smells nice!
Boarded as usual for daughter.
 

Mobjack Bay

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No. I think they tossed it because there is something about ME that gets pulled aside every single time I fly regardless if it's international or domestic. Every airport I have ever been in, in every country I have been in save Gatwick has pulled me aside and checked me and or my bags (If I have carryon) and I fly a LOT. I've tried applying for CLEAR so that doesn't happen, but I got denied, so who knows. The fact they say it's random and they don't profile is total BS.
I simply cannot fly any more. I get no explanation but I am nearly strip searched for attempting to get on a plane. Might be my mis-spent youth or the fact that I am an RSO and firearms instructor.

I sent my daughter home one year with a loaf that had been cut into bars with parchment placed in between each bar.
What's in that?
Home made soap.
Smells nice!
Boarded as usual for daughter.
Wow, sorry to hear that you both get the once over, over and over by the TSA. What a drag. Does anyone think that taking off shoes is making us any safer? I once travelled frequently and enjoyed flying, but the fun days of flying are a dim memory. We’re thinking of buying an RV for retirement so we can enjoy the ride and the scenery without getting on planes.
 

CatahoulaBubble

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TSA doesn't actually do anything except inconvenience people. They've never really caught anyone and in fact people get on planes all the time with dangerous objects and mostly it's the flight crews that catch suspicious people.
 

shunt2011

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I've traveled several times and carted large amounts of soap for weddings favors and just for family. I always check it. Not worth the possible hassle that you went through.
 

amd

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Occasionally when my engineers travel to Germany, I will have an EU soapmaker send soap to the office and have the engineer bring it back (saves quite a bit on shipping or for those makers who can't ship out of country). I try to keep it light (no more than three bars) because most of my guys only travel with a carry on. Every single time they have been stopped and searched because of the soap. They were told it is because drug smugglers have started to hollow out soap bars and pack it with drugs. Now the guys know to unpack the package and pull it out of the carry on when they go through security. I've never NOT had soap make it home. Same when traveling personally - I always travel with several bars of soap, just in case I forget one in a hotel (typically my China trips will involve no less than 6 hotels over two weeks) and for gifting for the many people who translate and make sure I get fed, lol.
 

earlene

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Sorry to come so late to the thread, but I have a completely different view of TSA, so please allow me to share my views and experience.

They (TSA, under the Department of Homeland Security) do protect the flying public and I am absolutely supportive of close scrutiny of the flying public, me included. I hear about people attempting to board planes with loaded guns more often than you would care to know and that's in our little airport alone, but it happens all over the US, unfortunately. They always claim they had no idea they had a loaded gun in their luggage. It's ridiculous, IMO, to not know what's in your luggage. But that's another story and not necessarily related to soap. But it is evidence that TSA is protecting us and that they do prevent potential problems in the air.

But you need to realize that soap and even a jar of peanut butter resembles C-4 (a plastique explosive) when it goes through x-ray. They are bound by their training to inspect all items that resemble a potential explosive. There have actually been cases of attempted smuggling of explosives INSIDE of soap. It's not just the innocent soap maker who carries soap in their luggage. Terrorists will use any method available to them.

I for one, am happy to have my luggage searched if it alarms. To me that means that someone else who might actually have ill-intent is going to be searched as well.

As to why someone is repeatedly pulled aside, sometimes there is a clue on your boarding pass. There is a thing that they call a QuadS (4 of the letter S). When that shows up on your boarding pass you are going to be pulled aside every single time. For some people it's because your name is on a list. It might be because you share a name with a known terrorist or someone on a Do-Not-Fly list or on a Watch-List (not your fault; it happens), it could be because you once made the mistake of trying to board a plane with contraband in your luggage and it was such a red flag they put you on a permanent watch list. That happens, too. Sometimes, however, it is a random flag that has to happen to keep the TSO's on their toes to make sure they always follow protocol. Not your fault, it is part of the system to make sure the system works and to terrorists from figuring out how to beat the system. (More info on QuadS: https://onemileatatime.com/what-does-ssss-on-boarding-pass-mean/)

And then there is the whole Intelligence sharing system that occurs. When our Intelligence agencies (world-wide) share intell with each other, sometimes they hear about something coming down the pike and have to institute processes that we have no way of knowing why, but here's an example: Intell says the chatter says something is coming and will be carried by xxxxx types of methods. Every airport in the world is going to be taking precautions about xxxxx types of methods. Sometimes it's an after the fact precaution like the shoes (it happened, and we are still living with it) and sometimes it's before the fact based on intell.

For those of you who fly frequently in the US, you can apply for (and of course, pay the required fee) for TSA Pre-Check OR Global Entry. It requires security background checks which take a bit of time, hense the fees, but it saves so much time at the airport, it's a real benefit. Here is a link, if anyone is interested.

Incidentally, my husband got one of those random Quad S's on his boarding pass on one of our flights into or out of Reykjavik last year. He took it very much in his stride because we already have Global Entry clearance (that is a US thing and not international, but it does show he would not spark any interest in the rest of the world under normal circumstances) and so he knew it was just a random spit-out that their TSA-equivalent has to do, just like ours does. It slowed us down a little bit, but it made us both feel safe knowing it was taken seriously and all the proper screenings were being done. (How does he know they were all done? He does the same thing at our airport.) I didn't get to watch because only the person who is flagged for the secondary security screening goes through that unless it is someone who needs a guardian present (like a minor child.)

If you have any experience flying in foreign airports before 9/11, you might have already experienced more diligent airport security than in the US prior to 9/11. I've been flying since the late 1950's and our security was essentially non-existant compared to what they were doing in Europe in the 1990's. So I am really glad we are more diligent now. I really don't ever want to be in an airplane hi-jacked by terrorists.

The next thing to be aware of for flying is that a REAL ID compliant ID will be required in order to board an airplane in the US. If your ID does not meet the criteria, you still have time to become compliant. Your state is required to provide the ID, so check yours. If it isn't up for renewal before then, and you are planning to fly anywhere out of any airport, you need to get it taken care of soon. If you don't have a state ID and don't really need one, your US passport booklet or US passport card will be sufficient for boarding Identification. Here is more info: https://www.dhs.gov/real-id-public-faqs
 
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Eepa

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Interesting. I live in Europa and fly couple of times a year and I always specifically carry a bar of soap and a synth shampoo bar in my hand luggage because I want to reduce the amount of liquids I have. They have never been a problem here (I only fly inside Europe).
 
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