POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, May 29, 2011
When Onaona Pomroy Maly went to Kauai earlier this month, she was given a gift of Kauai poi to take home. It was just a weekend trip, so she didn't bring a suitcase. She was all happy carrying her gift poi, and then — oh, no! — her hand-carried poi didn't make it through the TSA screening at the Lihue airport.
It's one thing to have to dump a bottle of Coke Zero at the security check. It's quite another to leave your poi behind. It's like leaving family.
Maly mentioned her poi mishap on Facebook and a string of comments followed. Lots of poi had been flagged at the security check and people were sour about it:
"My poi was confiscated at the airport," Puni Patrick said. "Crying didn't work, so I had to check it in."
"They tried to take my bag of pa‘iai from Waipio Valley when I left Kona a couple years ago," Leah Kihara recounted. "Since it was like gold to me, I told them I'm turning around and sending it thru with my luggage and the Hawaiian Airlines agents let me add it to my bags."
"They tried to take mine on the way back to Oahu, but it was Kauai and I made a sad face and the guy let me go ‘just this once,' " said Jacy Youn.
One lady said while TSA wouldn't allow her to hand-carry poi, they said nothing about the hairpiece shaped like a blade that was holding up her bun.
The TSA began restricting liquids in 2006 but it seems like, at least anecdotally, poi got a pass until recently. Of course, no poi connoisseur would ever think of it as a liquid. If your poi is liquid, you've got a bad mix or a cheap host.
Yet it comes under the classification of other non-solid food items that are similarly restricted in carry-ons, including yogurt, peanut butter and spaghetti sauce. Of course, only a true evildoer would turn a bag of poi into a weapon of mass destruction. That would be a terrible waste of poi.
"Poi is considered a liquid or paste similar in consistency to toothpaste and will only be allowed through the checkpoint in limited quantities not to exceed 3.4 ounces and properly packed in a quart-sized, clear, plastic, zip-top bag," said Nico Melendez, TSA public affairs manager for Hawaii, California and Arizona. "If passengers wish to transport poi on flights between islands or to another destination, the best way, to avoid problems at a checkpoint, is through their checked baggage where it is permitted."
In Maly's case, she called a friend who came down to the airport to rescue the poi and take it home. Others report standing outside the security checkpoint and scarfing down as much poi as they can rather than throwing it away or handing it to the security agents.
"All items that are surrendered to TSA officers are properly disposed of and not kept for individual consumption," Melendez said. But given that the object of surrender is poi, perhaps the most valued and revered Hawaiian food, that part might be hard for some to believe.
Bottom line: Pack your poi.
"I transport poi from Hanalei to Oahu to Washington state all the time, 30 pounds at a time, frozen in gallon Ziploc bags. No problems," said Tom Quinn. "A Kauai boy needs his fix."
Janice Bond of Kauai tried this method when she traveled to a wedding on the mainland: "I froze it flat and the morning I left, took it out, wrapped it in foil, wrapped it in a kitchen towel, put it in a large plastic Ziploc bag and placed it in the middle of my suitcase in a separate section. It got to Georgia OK."
Lee Cataluna can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.