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TSA fighting back in case of the confiscated cupcake

January 10, 2012 |  6:53 pm

Cupcake-ComparisonWere you among those rolling your eyes at the latest Transportation Security Administration flap, in which an agent confiscated a cupcake from a passenger in Las Vegas because the frosting was deemed a security threat? Well, the TSA would like you to hear the other side of the story.

But first, some background. The report, on its face, seemed outrageous: The TSA confiscated the cupcake last month at McCarran International Airport because there are strict limits on how much of a "gel-like" substance passengers can take aboard. In this case, the rich creamy frosting was deemed a gel-like substance, and there was too much of it.

The media made much of the killer-cupcakes story during the holiday travel season. "Cupcake Deemed 'Security Threat'" said one headline. The traveler with the offending cupcake, Rebecca Hains of Peabody, Mass., changed her Twitter bio to include "Cupcake Terror Expert!" and created a Facebook page called Rebecca and the Threatening Cupcake. It has 265 "likes" so far.

And Wicked Good Cupcakes, which made the questionable confection, got in on the fun. "Apparently we're a tasty terrorist threat," Brian Vilagie told the Boston Channel.

Now, the TSA is using its blog to weigh in on what it calls "Cupcakegate."

"I wanted to make it clear that this wasn’t your everyday, run-of-the-mill cupcake," TSA blogger Bob Burns wrote Tuesday. His post included the photos above to illustrate that this was not a traditional cupcake, but a cupcake-in-a-jar.

"If you’re not familiar with it, we have a policy directly related to the UK liquid bomb plot of 2006 called 3-1-1 that limits the amount of liquids, gels and aerosols you can bring in your carry-on luggage. Icing falls under the 'gel' category. As you can see from the picture, unlike a thin layer of icing that resides on the top of most cupcakes, this cupcake had a thick layer of icing inside a jar."

Let's forget, for just a moment, that there's no such thing as too much frosting on a cupcake. Burns defended the TSA officer's right to confiscate the confection. He added that such a cute container is precisely why authorities should screen it more carefully.

Exhibiting a sense of humor, he wrote that "intelligence gathered from all over the world tells us ... that unless Wile E. Coyote is involved, the days of the three sticks of dynamite with a giant alarm clock strapped to them are long gone....When you think about it, do you think an explosive would be concealed in an ominous item that would draw attention, or something as simple as a cute cupcake jar?"

The TSA blogger points to two attempted attacks involving liquid or gel-like substances -- a 1995 plot to explode a dozen passenger planes bound for the U.S., and that foiled 2006 plot, which tried to use liquid explosives to blow up at least 10 jetliners.  

Hains told The Times on Tuesday she was surprised that the TSA bothered to respond to Cupcakegate. But she believes the comments only reinforce her belief that the TSA goes overboard too often -- as in this case.

"I think there just needs to be some common sense here," she said.  

She also wondered about the uniformity of TSA's screening practices, noting that she started her Boston-to-Vegas holiday travel with two cupcakes in a jar, and both made it through Boston's security screening. She and her husband ate one on the flight west. And they planned to eat the other on the flight back. (You have to pause and appreciate such sweet, tasty scheduling.)

When the cupcake-in-a-jar was flagged in Vegas, she offered to scoop the contents into a plastic baggie. Nope. Turns out the TSA was OK with her bringing a glass jar aboard -- just not all that potentially dangerous frosting.

Hains, an assistant professor of communications at Salem State University in Massachusetts and author of a new book called "Growing Up With Girl Power," was probably the wrong person to mess with. After the cupcake-in-a-jar was confiscated, she proceeded to her destination -- but not before writing this little missive and sending it to Boing Boing. Needless to say, it went viral.

A funny aside: When Wicked Good Cupcakes learned of the flap, they gave Hains a dozen cupcakes to make up for her trouble.

What do you think about this showdown? Do you think TSA went too far? Or do you think Hains made too big of a deal out of this sweet controversy? 

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--Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch 

Photo comparison: Regular cupcake versus cupcake-in-a-jar. Photo credit: TSA

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