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My bags were just searched at a gate lounge during a stopover in Dubai towards Sydney and I was asked to leave my toothpaste behind because it wasn't in a zip lock bag, and neither myself nor the airport officials had one for me to use.

As I had already been through Dubai airports security screening to reach the lounge, what possible reason was there to confiscate the toothpaste on the basis that it wasn't in a bag? Is this a legal thing?

My understanding of the ICAO regulations on liquids, gels and aerosols is that these bags are there to allow more efficient scanning of fluids as the bags can simply be removed from carry-on during x-ray scanning.

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    @pnuts in Dubai there are lounges where you wait after having your boarding pass scanned. The check occurred after my boarding pass was scanned but before entering the aircraft. – quant Jan 1 '15 at 21:15
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    The simple answer is "Because it's easier to draw a line and enforce it strictly than to argue about every minor deviation from that line and have the line get pushed backward step by step." I'm The Mommy, That's Why. – keshlam Jan 1 '15 at 23:00
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    Australia have tougher rules on liquids than most other countries, so what's acceptable for flying Dubai to London isn't quite the same as what's allowed for Dubai to Sydney – Gagravarr Jan 2 '15 at 1:27
  • @Gagravarr That doesn't seem to be true. Australia's rules look just the same as everyone else's. – David Richerby Jan 2 '15 at 3:44
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    @DavidRicherby Australia requires at-gate re-screening of all inbound flights, including tough liquid restrictions eg on duty free, see this Australian government page for details – Gagravarr Jan 2 '15 at 5:24
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None, except the obvious: following the rules for the sake of following the rules, instead of their intent.

The ziplock bag exists as a convenient (and IMHO rather clever) way to visualize the liquids rules: you're allowed 1 ziplock bag of size 1 liter/quart containing items with up to 3 fl.oz/100ml of liquid/gel each, and the TSA even brands this as the "3-1-1 rule". If your items fit in a ziplock bag, they're likely to comply; if they don't, further inspection is warranted.

So why would a security checkpoint confiscate another compliant toothpaste tube just because it's not in a ziplock bag? Because the rules point to the moon (the bag contents), but they worship the finger (the bag itself). And for a low-level bureaucrat, there is no penalty for enforcing the rules too zealously, while using common sense but making a mistake might get them fired. Doubly so in a place like Dubai, where everything is outsourced to the lowest bidder.

  • I'd love to hand the same person a bottle of ice and watch them tweak out. – Gusdor Jan 2 '15 at 8:25
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Often, there is little or no direct cost to having a few people get away with breaking a rule, but there would be a very large cost to having most people break it. The plastic bag rule supports quick, clear checks on the quantities involved. It only requires passengers to use easily obtained, inexpensive equipment. Large scale non-compliance, with lots of people carrying loose tubes of toothpaste etc., would be expensive in both money and passenger time at security checks.

I think it is important to consider the effect of enforcement and non-enforcement on future compliance.

Most travelers will react to this question by being even more careful to follow the plastic bag rule, especially if changing planes in Dubai. The effect of the security actions will be to tend to increase compliance, improving overall efficiency of the fluid quantity check.

Now suppose a question or answer here had indicated that Dubai security had let the OP's toothpaste through despite the lack of a plastic bag. What would the effect be on the future conduct of readers? At least some would see a green light not to bother with the plastic bag. That would lead to reduced compliance, and more time spent manually checking the number and size of fluid items each traveler is carrying.

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