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TSA Fines Woman $2,000 Over Apple Butter

TSA Fines Woman $2,000 Over Apple Butter
Jeff Edwards

A Michigan woman who was determined to bring home a souvenir jar of apple butter says she will continue to fight a hefty fine from the TSA for “attempting to circumvent security.”

When a TSA agent at Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT) told Mary Hostein, 63, that she couldn’t bring a pint-sized jar of apple butter in her carry-on, the West Michigan woman refused to accept that her souvenir was really in violation of airport security policies. However, rather than fight the agent’s ruling, Hostein simply walked away and attempted to pass through another security line. After a second agent told Hostein that her apple butter was prohibited, she accepted the “second opinion” and left her spread behind.

Hostein’s brush with the TSA occurred in January of 2013, but she recently told Grand Rapids NBC affiliate WoodTV she is still dealing with fallout from the incident. According to Hostein, she didn’t think anymore about the lost apple butter or her experience with TSA at CLT until about a month later, when she received a letter from the agency informing her that she was being investigated for attempting to circumvent security after attempting to bring the prohibited item through the checkpoint a second time.

Hostein says she initially didn’t believe what she was reading, telling WoodTV she recalled thinking, “Is this for real?”

Hostein responded to the letter as requested and explained her side of the story in writing. This time, she didn’t hear back from the agency for over a year. In June of 2014, Hostein received another letter from the TSA informing her that she is liable for a $2,000 fine for the infraction.

Hostein says that she has been unsuccessful in attempts to get information from the TSA about how to defend herself against the charges and the imposed fine. She says efforts to negotiate the amount of the fine have also been ignored.

The latest letter from the agency, coming nearly two years after the her apple butter was impounded, simply demanded that she pay the fine or face further legal action. Still, Hostein vows to continue her fight against the seemingly immovable force of the federal government.

“I think they’ve treated me like I’m a criminal,” she says. “I’m a nobody fighting a government agency that I feel is being relentless.”

[Photo: WoodTV]

View Comments (25)


  1. diburning

    October 9, 2015 at 9:33 pm

    “I think they’ve treated me like I’m a criminal,” she says.

    Take responsibility for your actions!

  2. Fredd

    October 10, 2015 at 1:57 am

    Sounds like she tried a variation of the FT “Hang up and try another agent” mantra.

    IMHO she’s entitled to due process, which seems in ever-rarer supply these days.

  3. celsius1939

    October 10, 2015 at 4:02 am

    She needs to wait for them to bring an action against her. Then go to court. She did try to cheat the system and that should cost, but $2000? The best “fine” would have been putting her on a no fly list for a period of time. She needed to be taught a lesson and others should know that lesson.

  4. Misanthropic Flyer

    October 10, 2015 at 5:51 am

    Good, just be glad they didn’t tackle you and throw you in jail. This person is so stupid.

  5. drvannostren

    October 10, 2015 at 6:37 am

    Ok on one hand, I think it’s wrong to not inform her/allow her to defend herself. That’s not right.

    But seeking a second opinion…come on how stupid are you? One agent tells you that you can’t bring your damn butter, just leave it, or stand there and ask for someone else to explain it, don’t try and walk through another line idiot.

    I’m SHOCKED that people still don’t know these rules. Even infrequent travelers, they know well enough that they MUST travel carry on only, lest they pay for a bag, yet they don’t know they can’t bring liquids etc. Just check your damn bag, it’ll cost like $25, or leave the $5 worth of apple butter and buy it somewhere near where you live.

  6. scubaccr

    October 10, 2015 at 6:50 am

    That’s not attempted circumvention, lady made no attempt to sneak it through etc, is simply going for a second opinion which she accepted

    I have called out for supervisor at least twice and had an over rule but that is rare as the supervisor is going to be loathe to override a colleague in public , and I did that for item I knew should have been allowed in my home country

  7. Mr. Vker

    October 10, 2015 at 10:30 am

    This wasn’t a blunder. That would be if she was fined for going through the first time. Then, I think TSA was WAY over the top. She was told the rules and tried to circumvent them. (Do I think apple butter is a threat? No. But, there are a list of things I may not agree with that I have to abide by.) I agree with diburning: Take responsibility.

  8. thepla

    October 10, 2015 at 11:37 am

    Sort of fast to ask her take responsibility for her actions. Let’s read FT and see how many times some say HUCA (Hand Up Call Again) because they thought first agent was incorrect. This is not really different. She thought ruling was wrong and wanted to try another agent. She claims when second agent did same thing she left item behind

  9. clbish

    October 10, 2015 at 11:38 am

    You did it. Pay the fine!

  10. anabolism


    October 10, 2015 at 12:29 pm

    This is so asinine. First, of course, is how pointless the ban on liquids and gels is. There isn’t a person who actually believes that her apple butter was a risk. Second, given how arbitrary and inconsistent screening procedures are, who can blame her for trying a second time?

  11. BOB W

    BOB W

    October 10, 2015 at 9:37 pm

    clbish is wrong. Period.

  12. UncleDude

    October 11, 2015 at 6:24 am

    The problem is the Global lack of constancy..

    The latest farce is Aerosol Cans only imposed by a few countries USA being one,

  13. weero


    October 11, 2015 at 9:06 am

    If you bring a pocket knife (or worse), the US-TSA takes your ‘weapon’ and disposes of it.

    If they gave her pack her item of questionable consistency, then the agent must have been pretty unsure if the latter was in violation of any rules. A second opinion seems in order in my book.

    Sure the way she handled it wasn’t diplomatic or professional but I had no idea that re-runs with TSA “rules on the fly” were against some regulation either.

  14. Carl Johnson

    October 11, 2015 at 9:18 am

    anabolism, exactly. I can’t believe who people are attacking this woman. For one thing, they’re misusing the regulation, which talks about an attempt to circumvent screening by artfully concealing something. This woman didn’t conceal anything. Secondly, she wasn’t trying to circumvent screening in any way. Clerks are stupid and lazy, she figured the first clerk was too stupid and lazy to know the rules, so she tried a second clerk. It wasn’t an attempt to circumvent screening, it was an attempt to get the rules properly applied.

    They’re basically charging her with a crime, while trying to circumvent the constitutional protections afforded to criminal defendants, and they’re not actually enforcing it themselves, they are just sending letters. What she needs to do is just ignore it and wait for them to refer it to the Justice Department. If they do, the Justice Department will probably just throw it away. And if they do sue her, she should file a bar complaint against the attorney that signs the papers.

  15. pharmalady

    October 11, 2015 at 11:59 am

    It’s called UPS, dear. It’s cheaper and you don’t have to carry all of those souvenirs with you.

    Good lord…

  16. emcampbe

    October 11, 2015 at 12:32 pm

    Forget about whether the ban on liquids is pointless or not. The rules are the rules, well-publicized. It’s not like she shouldn’t have known. And its not even like these are airline rules – these are the laws of the US…if you want to fly, no liquids or gels over 3.2 ounces.

    There are better ways to ask for a “second opinion” – how about asking for a supervisor if she really felt she was right.

    The punishment is a bit harsh, certainly. But if people think they can get away with bringing stuff on that isn’t allowed by going to the next lane, take note.

  17. Carl Johnson

    October 11, 2015 at 2:05 pm


    “It’s called UPS, dear. It’s cheaper and you don’t have to carry all of those souvenirs with you.”

    Don’t make waves.


    “The punishment is a bit harsh, certainly. But if people think they can get away with bringing stuff on that isn’t allowed by going to the next lane, take note.”


    If people can get away with bringing stuff on that isn’t allowed by going to the next lane, that proves the rules are meaningless and nothing the TSA does affects aviation security (except negatively). If the lady can go to one lane, have a clerk stop her, go to the next lane and have the clerk pass it, that means the first clerk was too stupid and lazy to know or follow the rules. That’s the TSA’s problem, not the passenger’s.

    The TSA misses 95% of weapons brought to the checkpoint because they concentrate so much effort on stopping liquids. What the TSA needs to do is stop the war on water, focus on doing things that affect aviation security, and fire the 75% of the clerks that are not needed if the TSA restricts its activities to meaningful activities.

  18. pharmalady

    October 12, 2015 at 7:45 am

    Get over your bigotries of “clerks”, Carl. And grow up.

    It does not matter whether TSA misses this percentage or that percentage of whatever.

    She broke the rules by trying to bring the apple butter (which is a liquid) on board when it is very clear that she was told she could not. She then tried to pull a fast one by going to another lane and she got caught. That’s wrong, and the lesson proved to be expensive for her.

    Why don’t you spend YOUR time trying to change the rules rather than defending a woman who clearly broke the existing rules after being told what they were? Stop trying to rationalize her breaking the law.

  19. Mangar

    October 12, 2015 at 9:59 am

    Oh noes! She broke…… “The Rules!” – Never mind that the rules are stupid, and without merit. Nor that, she didn’t actually bring her evil terrorist butter on the plane. She simply tried a different TSA line, failed, and threw it out. This is just stupid, unless of course your an authoritah worshipping sheep.

    With that said: She will have due process. These fines are civil penalties, and she is entitled to a hearing before an administrative law judge. Usually these kinds of fines are issued for people who forget “banned” items they are carrying, and the fines are generally low enough so that it’s not worth getting a lawyer or fighting it. 2k however, is probably worth a day off from work. The closest correlation legally would be to a parking ticket.

  20. zerolife

    October 12, 2015 at 10:11 am

    Her story seems to be missing something. If she just left the jar behind and walked away after her second attempt, then how did the TSA even get her contact information? I’ve accidently had liquid with me, they will just throw it away, no investigation and I’m sure it happens hundreds of times a day. This is unless she made a big circus.

  21. Carl Johnson

    October 12, 2015 at 11:11 am

    Pharmalady, why don’t you spend your time volunteering to help victims of waterborne diseases, rather than denigrating and sneering at airline passengers who make the (quite reasonable) assumption that TSA clerks, given their well-known and frequently observed laziness and stupidity, don’t know or follow the rules of their jobs.

    Or, you can spend your time as you choose, and I will spend my time as I choose. “Told the rules”? By a screening clerk? How many times have screening clerks told passengers that the rules prohibit screening at the checkpoint. There’s no reason to assume that any statement of the rules by any screening clerk is correct, so she was justified in trying another clerk who would understand the rules better.

    And seriously? It doesn’t matter that the TSA misses 95% of weapons? The TSA misses 95% of weapons because they spend all their time worrying about whether cupcake frosting and apple butter are liquids. The War on Water is a leading reason the TSA has no effect on airline security, other than to increase the (fortunately so minimal as to be practically nonexistent) danger.

  22. pharmalady

    October 12, 2015 at 6:16 pm


    Why don’t you spend your time doing something more productive than whining about TSA? She broke the rules, got caught trying to get around them and was fined. Ignorance of the law has never been a successful defense, but you seem to think it is.

    And I have spent more time on medical missions actually helping people than you have spent behind a keyboard whining about a woman who broke the law. If an officer of TSA told her something, then guess what? She was informed.

    No sympathy here, except for your mother.

  23. Douglas Kidd

    October 12, 2015 at 7:28 pm

    Typical of TSA, vindictive, vengeful, and petty; more interested in terrorizing passengers than protecting them.
    Btw, the law doesn’t say you can’t bring liquids or jels through security. The purpose of screening, according to 49usc44902, is to determine “whether the property unlawfully contains a dangerous weapon, explosive, or other destructive substance.”
    So was she carrying a dangerous weapon, explosive, or other destructive substance? No, and TSA knew it.
    Since when is getting a second opinion a crime? My experience has been that TSA screeners often don’t know their own rules. One TSA HQ employee told me “There is a divorce between policy and enforcement.” The ‘TSA cares’ help line will tell passengers one thing, the screeners will disregard it and say another.

    So why harass a woman over something that was not “a dangerous weapon, explosive, or other destructive substance”? Based on my experience, TSA employees seem to enjoy harassing elderly women.

    Here’s a better idea. Fire the TSA employee who imposed the fine, apologize to the woman, and pay her for her lost apple butter.

  24. Carl Johnson

    October 13, 2015 at 7:43 am

    Pharmalady, haha, sure, you’ve spent time on medical missions, sure you have. Sure, you’ve done stuff with your live other than sneer at victims of bullies with plastic badges.

    The regulation is against *circumventing* security. She didn’t circumvent anything. So you can talk about a “woman who broke the law” all you want, but it didn’t happen, no matter how often you repeat the words “broke the law.” Those words aren’t a magic spell, you can’t make something true by repeating it over and over.

    And “If an officer of TSA told her something, she was informed”?????? Don’t make me laugh. The TSA doesn’t have officers, they have clerks who do a job that is as challenging as that of a Wal-mart greeter, and don’t come anywhere close to exhibiting the initiative and resourcefulness displayed by the worst Wal-mart greeter. TSA clerks have repeatedly told passengers that filming at the checkpoint is prohibited. Q.E.D.

  25. Parkerthon

    October 14, 2015 at 9:36 am

    Oh come on folks. I understand bitchy non-compliant passengers need to be brought to heel when it comes to taking TSA security seriously, but if she sought a second opinion(and didn’t try to sneak it through the second time) by simply trying another line and making her case again, I don’t see how the word “circumvent” is applicable here. She gave it up, got some nasty gram from TSA, replied to the threatening letter in writing, and then this perfect example of government bureaucrats fines her a year later? That’s even more ridiculous than being emotionally attached to a jar of apple butter.

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