Flying with legally-purchased pot? Be careful.

My “At the Airport” column for USA TODAY this month is all about what travelers need to consider when flying with cannabis products. Here’s the story: 

In January, California joined the growing list of places where the sale of recreational marijuana is allowed and now one in five Americans lives in a state where buying pot can be a tourist activity.

But if you’re considering traveling with pot, be careful.

Marijuana is still an illegal drug under federal law and post-security areas at airports are ruled by federal agencies. So, as in Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Alaska and Nevada, bringing legally-purchased pot past a security checkpoint in the country’s most populated state can still get you into hot water.

Or maybe not.

The Transportation Security Administration says its officers remain focused on security and detecting weapons, explosives and other threats to aviation and passengers – not on sniffing out drugs. But if a TSA officer does finds marijuana or another illegal substance during the security screening of carry-on or checked baggage, the policy is to call in local airport law enforcement, said TSA spokeswoman Lorie Dankers.

“The passenger’s originating and destination airports are not taken into account,” said Dankers, “TSA’s response to the discovery of marijuana is the same in every state and at every airport – regardless of whether marijuana has been or is going to be legalized.”

But at most commercial airports in California, as in other states where possession of small amounts of recreational marijuana is now legal, once airport law enforcement steps in, nothing much usually happens.

According to the Los Angeles Airport Police, which operates at Los Angeles International Airport and several other Southern California airports, if someone is stopped by the TSA with a state-legal amount of medical of recreational marijuana, airport police would not charge them with anything, “Because it is not a crime.”

The same goes for John Wayne Airport in Orange County.

“If the TSA calls us [about finding marijuana], we’d go up and make sure it is within the legal quantity. If it is, we’d just stand by while the passenger decides what to do with it,” said Lieutenant Mark Gonzales, airport police services bureau chief with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, “TSA may not want it to fly, but that doesn’t mean it is illegal in California.”

Gonzales says so far his team hasn’t been called to the airport checkpoint by TSA to deal with a marijuana issue. “People are reading the law and seem to know what they need to do to get through the checkpoint,” said Gonzales, “I don’t think a lot of people are risking it.”

To alert flyers to the rules about traveling with recreational pot purchased legally in California – and to advertise their cannabis company – in November Organa Brands ran an ad in the bottom of the bins at the security checkpoints at Ontario International Airport.

The message read: “Cannabis is legal. Traveling with it is not. Leave it in California.”

“We were very confident in the positive message that the trays carried,” said Organa Brands spokesman Jackson Tilley, although the company wasn’t too surprised when a month into the campaign the airport asked that the cannabis messages in the trays be removed. “If the landscape changes and cannabis ads are welcomed in airports, we’d be thrilled to run a campaign again,” said Tilley.

There are currently no marijuana-related checkpoint tray ads, signs or ‘amnesty disposal bins currently at the San Francisco, Long Beach or other California airports contacted for this story. But in Nevada, where sales of recreational marijuana became legal in July, 2017, it’s a different story.

Reno-Tahoe International Airport has a sign in its smoking area reminding travelers that marijuana use is not allowed. “In general, we have not seen a big impact from this new law at the airport,” said airport spokeswoman Heidi Jared, “However, we are closely watching other airports and how they are handling this unique situation.”

At McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, there is a formal, airport-wide ban on possessing (or advertising) marijuana, with notices about the Clark County’s Commission’s ruling posted on the airport’s website. And, starting next month, signs about the policy and amnesty boxes for marijuana and other cannabis products will be installed at key locations at McCarran, including at the airport’s consolidated car rental facility.

“These disposal boxes will be outside of the buildings, not at the checkpoints,” said McCarran spokesman Chris Jones, “The intent being [cannabis products] are not allowable anywhere inside the buildings, be it pre or post-security.”

Meanwhile, in Colorado, which back in 2014 was the first state to license stores to sell recreational marijuana, Denver International Airport still maintains its policy of prohibiting marijuana anywhere on airport property.

“Police ask passengers found with [marijuana] to discard the drug,” said airport spokesman Heath Montgomery, “But we’ve had so few instances that we don’t track these contacts anymore.”


Is that a national park in your bathroom?


You may now have Grand Canyon National Park in your bathroom, Denali National Park in the kitchen and American Samoa National Park in your den.

Not the parks themselves, of course, but their scent.

In honor of National Park Week (April 20-28) the Air Wick fragrance product company and the non-profit National Park Foundation (NPF) have rolled out a new set of National Park Collection candles, oils, automatic sprays and reed diffusers with scents said to be inspired by “the unique flora and fauna” of six of the country’s national parks.

“There are over 400 national parks in America to discover and explore, each unique in its own right,” said an NPF spokesperson. The parks featured in the new collection “engage consumers and offer a variety of seasonal scents.”

Those parks are: Grand Canyon National Park, Hawaii’s Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park, Virgin Islands National Park, the National Park of American Samoa (the only national park south of the equator), Denali National Park in Alaska and Gulf Islands National Seashore in Florida and Mississippi.

While the NPF receives some of the proceeds from sales of the national park-scented products, at first whiff the partnership strikes some as a bit odd.

“With many kids content to not even go outdoors, much less experience the parks, do we need new efforts to replace real park experiences with idealized commercial substitutes for fresh air?” Kurt Repanshek wrote in National Parks Traveler magazine when the initial licensing agreement was made.

But the National Park Foundation hopes the air freshener line increases awareness of the national parks and “inspires families to experience the parks first-hand.” And Air Wick’s perfumers are confident they’ve created fragrances that evoke these iconic destinations.

Fragrance experts walked the parks, studied how visitors use and view the national parks and, using “headspace” technology, took air samples from the parks to capture the scent molecules at specific locations.

“We can capture a scent anywhere; a flower in the jungle canopy or the air sweeping over the alpine meadows of Yellowstone,” said Richard Koontz, home fragrance manager for Reckitt Benckiser, which produces Air Wick.

“Those ‘olfactive bits’ can be put on a map and reconstructed by a good perfumer,” global scent expert Roger Schmid told NBC News, “And if the work is well done you can recreate a scented trail that corresponds to the geography of a park.”

Koontz said Air Wick’s fragrance experts created “aromascapes” of the parks by using a mixture of scents.

“For Grand Canyon National Park, we worked from a headspace of an actual cactus flower, so we could be sure the final creation was authentic and true. The perfumer added a touch of citrus to make it sparkle, like dew on the cactus flower, cool marine notes to evoke the rapids in the Colorado River, muguet [Lily of the Valley] and a touch of white peach – just for beauty and harmony.”

Tropical plumeria and sweet honeysuckle were used in the aromascape of Virgin Islands National Park and coconut and island palms were used to evoke American Samoa National Park.

“These air fresheners are usually not that expensive, so the rendition could be difficult,” said Schmid, “But what is certain is that scent is linked to memory and can make you travel.”

If you’d like to experience – and smell – a national park in person, National Park Week runs through April 28 and a wide variety of special events such as birding tours, living history encampments, talks and walks are scheduled at parks throughout the country.

From Monday through Friday, April 22 to 26, every national park is offering free admission.

(My story about air fresheners that smell like National Parks first appeared on

More posh airport amenities

From my recent Bing Travel slide show, here are a few more posh airport amenities:


Offering travelers the world’s largest airport slide, a transit hotel with a roof-top pool and free foot massages, live entertainment, movie theaters and computer games, Singapore’s award-winning Changi Airport consistently tops the posh chart. Posher yet: five fanatically-tended-to themed gardens displaying, respectively, ferns, orchids, cactus, sunflowers and more than 1,000 live butterflies.

Posh perusing is available at Taiwan Tayoun International Airport, which now has a library with 2000 paper books and 400 e-titles for passengers on layovers. The much larger Airport Library at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport opened last year. The “sitting area with added value” offers a multi-media collection of books, films and music about Dutch history, culture, art and literature.

Maintaining a posh state of mind in transit is easier if you look and feel great. Thankfully, spas offering manicures, haircuts, facials and back, neck and foot massages are becoming commonplace in many terminals. At Finland’s Helsinki Airport, relaxation goes a step further: a Finnair-branded spa offers a choice of spruce, stone, steam or a traditional Finnish sauna.

They say music hath charms to soothe the savage beast. So can music relax stressed-out travelers? We think so. Especially if you catch one of the regular concerts offered at airports in Austin, Nashville, San Diego or San Francisco. The poshest airport musical act may take place at Portland International Airport, where John English (“The Voice”) delivers Frank Sinatra tributes twice-weekly.

For more, see the full posh airport amenities slide show on Bing Travel – or check back here tomorrow.

Feeling elfish? Help build a village in India

I’ve just re-upped for a stint as an embedded elf during this year’s Spokane Fantasy Flight

The outfit is fun, but I’m thrilled to be part of a magical event that flies about 60 kids from the city’s shelters and community programs to the North Pole for a day of over-the-top adventures.

Alaska Airlines helps out with a plane and a huge team of elves does the rest.  Watching all the jingle-belled elves make their way through the security checkpoint is an adventure on its own.

This year I’m also participating in a project called Passports with Purpose, a bevy of travel bloggers banding together to raise funds for a great cause.

Last year the group raised nearly $30,000 to build a school in rural Cambodia. This year they’re working with LAFTI, an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of the Dalit (untouchable) population in India.

The goal: raise $50,000 to build a village in India that will provide homes for those who’ve never had them.

Contributions to the project are tax-deductible, but each $10 you kick in gets you an entry in a prize drawing for some incredibly cool and useful items; everything from hotel stays and airline tickets to electronics and travel gear.

I asked the folks at to be my “prize partner” this year, so if you donate to the Passports with Purpose project, be sure to enter to win the surprise box filled with at least $75 worth of essential, curious and luxury travel-sized items. (If it’s not on the list now, it will be there shortly.) surprise bag stocks travel-sized items in every category you can think of: food and beverage, household, pharmacy, cosmetics, toys & games, travel and survival.

The first time I checked out the site I was looking for TSA-friendly hair care products, but I found a whole section of single-serving food products, travel-sized rolls of duct tape, toilet paper and seat covers, emergency supplies and a specialty boutique.

In talking with co-founder Paul Shrater, I also learned about the themed kits the company puts together and all the military care packages they send out.

I’ll share more information about my prize pal here shortly, but in the meantime, please check out the Passports with Purpose website and join me in helping to raise funds to build a village in India.

Changi Airport’s giant slide joined by racing cars

As we noted here back in June, (and again in August because it’s so darn entertaining)  Singapore’s Changi Airport has been thrilling passengers with the world’s largest airport slide.

Changi Airport Singapore - World's Largest Airport slide

Changi Airport's giant slide

Now, to celebrate the 2010 Singapore Formula 1 Night Race, which takes place in the streets of Singapore from September 24-26th, Changi Airport is having its own Grand Prix Festival.

Changi Airport Singapore Grand Prix Festival

From now through September 30, 2010 both airport visitors and travelers can participate in racing-themed activities that include remote-controlled race cars, racing game consoles and prizes.

Changi Airport Grand Prix Festival remote control cars

Could it be possible to have too much fun at an airport?