TSA’s War on Water Claims At Least 6 Victims, CDC Investigating

The TSA’s War on Water has been waging for the last dozen years, about as long as World Wars I and II combined plus the Korean War.

You cannot bring liquids through a security checkpoint unless they’re in containers not larger than three ounces. All of your containers must fit in a clear plastic bag that holds no more than 100 milliliters total.

  • If you freeze your liquids, they’re no longer liquid and can pass through as a solid.

  • But if they melt at all the drops are liquid and not in three ounce containers — so can be confiscated.

The TSA does not believe your liquids are dangerous. If they did they would bring in hazmat teams to handle with care when taking them away. Instead they just leave them piled up at the checkpoint.

As a result if you want water inside the airport you need to buy overpriced bottles from airport vendors (now maybe you have some idea why this inane rule persists) or fill your own bottles at filling stations or water fountains.

Of course if you’re at a foreign airport that doesn’t confiscate water at security, and you’re flying to the U.S., your water will be confiscated planeside. You aren’t even permitted to bring water onto the plane. Imagine flying United or American Airlines from Hong Kong back to the U.S. in economy, reliant on their flight attendants for hydration.

Even if you’re in the U.S. flying domestically though, are those filling stations a good idea? We all know not to drink water from a plane’s on board tanks. But do you trust your government-run airport to ensure clean water? How about in Detroit?

Water fountains at the Cleveland airport were shut down after at least half a dozen passengers on a Frontier flight became violently ill.

Several water fountains were shut down at a Cleveland airport after passengers aboard a Frontier Airlines flight became sick, airport officials said.

At least six passengers who traveled on Tampa-bound Frontier Airlines Flight 1397 on Tuesday fell ill after leaving Cleveland Hopkins International Airport.

The passengers, who were not traveling as a group, were vomiting by the time the plane landed, said Janet Scherberger, a Tampa International Airport spokeswoman.

Sandra Palomino posted several videos from inside the aircraft, with crewmember announcements, but has since made her Instagram account private. Passengers were allowed off the plane after being held for 90 minutes on arrival, upon receiving clearance from health officials. Testing will determine if airport water fountains were, in fact, to blame.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. […] flight nearly a half dozen times, should we be concerned? POISONED BY AN AIRPORT WATER FOUNTAIN? TSA’s War on Water Claims At Least 6 Victims, CDC Investigating Tests find Ohio airport’s water OK after passengers […]


  1. I am always surprised that so many people drink tea or coffee on the plane. That water comes from the airplane tank that’s been splashing around for who know how long. I know it gets heated but I wouldn’t touch it.

  2. Other countries now just put bottles on some tester, and within 10 seconds they are cleared. This seems to fulfil the security fetish AND allow water onto the planes.

  3. I don’t know why Detroit and Flint are being interchanged here as if they’re the same place – they are, after all, close to 70 miles apart from one another.

    It would be like you calling Austin and San Antonio the same place.

  4. So here’s my latest war on liquids story.

    A couple of days ago I flew back from Grand Cayman through DFW (tickets bought with Iberia promotion points – thanks Gary!). I had a christmas pudding (bought in Cayman, where you can get British food everywhere) in my carryon, and for some reason that bag needed to be searched by the precheck TSA person.

    They found the pudding and then told me it couldn’t go and I’d have to check it. I then got into a very weird argument about the definition of a pudding. I had to convince not just the TSA person, but their supervisor and their supervisor’s supervisor that there exists puddings that aren’t gel or liquids. Arguing that pies are allowed, and cakes are too got me nowhere. They looked at the ingredients, saw brandy and a dash of sherry, and then said that since it was bigger than an ounce, it couldn’t fly. I swear I spent a good 10 minutes educating them that words can have different meanings in different countries before they relented and let me (and the pudding) past

    As I left I told them I hope they never mistakenly order a black pudding or yorkshire pudding for desert.

  5. “Imagine flying United or American Airlines from Hong Kong back to the U.S. in economy, reliant on their flight attendants for hydration.”

    Well, I’ve done this a few dozen times (not all from HKG) and I’m still alive and not in therapy so, yes, I can “imagine” it. Honestly, it’s one of the least important “issues” with long-haul coach travel. FWIW, US airlines are actually better at passing around water in coach than many foreign airlines. This makes sense when you consider that we are the nation that invented the Big Gulp while some foreign countries think a mini-soda can is sufficiently thirst-quenching. And if things get dire, I can always head to the galley for a beverage.

    I do agree that we should revisit the water ban. If there’s a real justification for it, we should look at alternative threat-detection systems.

    I’d also note that, as of yet, there is no evidence that any water fountain at the airport caused the problem you speak of.

    Finally, it would be interesting to see what other illnesses/diseases might be caused by the liquids ban. For example, I wear contact lenses. It is completely un-economic to continue to buy 3 oz contact lens solution bottles (they’re not common and are sold at enormous mark-up) so I wash and refill the small bottles that I do have. I’ve been doing this for well over a decade and, so far, no troubles. I’m guessing millions of other travellers have done the same. But is this really a good idea from a health standpoint? I doubt it.

  6. The USA is not the only country conducting a war on water, so it’s a little unfair to throw all blame at the TSA. I have significantly worse experiences with liquids at LHR, HKG, BKK, SIN, and SYD than I do in US airports.

    Moreover, the TSA is working without pay right now – something most of us would never be forced to do (nor would I do). Cut them a little slack.

  7. I had the TSA at Denver not allow a sealed nesquik and apple juice tetrapak for my 2 year old that was in a separate bin. Wanted to test entire luggage and me and wife. I just told them to have it to satisfy their ego and moved on.

  8. The “no water” rule for US-bound flights is inconsistently enforced overseas. SIN and LOS screen at the gate (the latter manually) and will confiscate all water. But FRA, NRT and LHR do not. Perhaps most frustrating are Mexican airports like SJD, PVR and CUN (but not MEX) where passengers are randomly selected for manual baggage screening after your BP is scanned. Best to hide your water inside your bag rather than in an outside pocket where you usually keep it.

  9. If it were the airport water, wouldn’t you expect this have affected people on more planes than just Frontier? I get that those six weren’t traveling together, but they were all traveling on Frontier… It just seems weird to me that it’s limited to one airline.

  10. @ Boraxo – it’s not just US bound flights that have liquid restrictions; I have had water confiscated from SYD to SIN, LHR to HKG, HKG to PVG, and many, many others…

    It may be stupid, but it’s global stupidity, not just American

  11. While your point about water is valid – what is the point of spreading a rumor that has no proof? It is just as likely that they all ate something at an airport restaurant or many other options!
    Citing a small piece of information and then (mid)interpreting it and enlarging the exposure without evidence is NOT helpful 🙁

  12. @Sam: Frontier doesn’t serve free water on its flights. And if all these affected people bought water on Frontier, they would have called sealed fresh bottles. So either that pack or bottles or batch of bottles is the culprit or it’s CLE water fountains.

  13. On US bound flights at HKG they don’t screen bags at the gates for water. Stopped that for awhile now.

  14. @Gary. Like the blog, but you often get sloppy. Have you even read the Wikipedia article you cite to for your Detroit comment? Why don’t you just change it from “in Detroit” to “in Flint” and it’ll at least be a factually relevant jab and not just misinformed slop. As someone else mentioned above, Detroit and Flint are also miles apart and, for that matter, Flint has its own fully functioning commercial airport. You can check Wikipedia for that, too.

  15. And, to no one’s surprise (except perhaps Gary’s), they tested the Cleveland airport’s water and found it to be perfectly fine.


    @John — I agree that some foreign airports can be more irrational than US airports when it comes to liquids. Last year, I was passing through LHR on my way to Africa and had to be re-screened. I had a 4 oz bottle of contact lens solution which I’ve carried without incident for years in my quart-sized zip-lock bag. But since this container is technically 118 milliliters — 18 over the limit — the security agent made me spill it out. I couldn’t even get a “medicine exception.” This obviously caused me significant inconvenience and expense, for no other reason than “rules are rules.”

  16. Airport water fountains have been available at many airports for more than 30 years

    Many families travel on a restricted budget, and they can not afford to buy at the airport bottled water for all

    Sometimes, you can be in a hurry to catch a plane, and do not have time to queue, to buy a bottle of water, then a water fountain comes very handy

  17. After a 12 hour flight, during approach, your plane can have an extra 50min delay, due to weather conditions or traffic restrictions

    Once the aircraft is on the ground, there is no parking available due to de delay, so you have to wait for another 30 minutes

    When you arrive at the airport building your body is probably dehydrated and the Jet-lag makes you sleepy and distracted

    Then, you find yourself in a 30 min queue to clear the passport control line

    Then you realize that you are very thirsty, that is when a nice water fountain comes very handy

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