A Hawaiian family traveling on Sunday night with their one and a half year old baby was stopped at the security checkpoint at Honolulu airport when a TSA screener refused to allow them to pass with their baby food.
Passengers are permitted to bring any amount of baby food, breast milk or formula necessary for the flight through checkpoints in spite of standard rules limiting the amount of checkpoints that can go through security. However it seems the TSA takes it upon itself to decide what is and is not appropriate for babies to eat.
Holt says his son Brady doesn’t eat dairy or drink formula. He loves poi.
The family took the 16 oz. poi container out of their bag and put it on the TSA conveyor belt.
“Every other city and every other airport we’ve gone to they’re very understanding,” Brady’s dad said.
“They say, ‘Okay it’s baby food, we cannot argue that,'” he said.
Holt said he was carrying Brady on his shoulder when a TSA agent grabbed the poi and told Holt he couldn’t bring the poi in his carry-on.
The family was worried — this was the only food they had for their baby for the six hour flight. And the TSA supervisor called on by the screener insisted that it wasn’t baby food “because there’s no label on poi containers marking it as such.”
Naturally different branches of government disagree on the matter, Hawaii’s Department of Health specifically says poi is a baby food (.pdf).
Fortunately another TSA screener told the supervisor that poi is a baby food and the supervisor was willing to accept their colleague as an authority on the matter.
This simple and frustrating interaction illustrates the fundamental tension between rules and discretion in law. Law must be objective, with clear rules, so people know what is and isn’t permitted — otherwise they’ll never know when they’re out of danger. However to be just and to avoid absurdities (and also to retain public support for the law) there must also be discretion so that laws aren’t enforced in ways people find repugnant.
Liquids greater than 3 ounces aren’t allowed past the security checkpoint, that’s the rule, but TSA realizes the public won’t support not allowing babies to eat so baby food can go through the checkpoint. But that then leaves the TSA screeners in the position of deciding what is, and isn’t, baby food. When what the law means and when it’s enforced is at the discretion of those enforcing it we’re always at risk of punishment or injustice.
This tradeoff repeats itself any time and any where that government enforces rules. Travelers just come into direct contact with it in obvious ways most often with airport security.
(HT: Reid F.)