It’s been more
than a year since the World Trade Center attacks, and,
for the most part, it seems air travel in this country
has returned to pre-attack normalcy. Gone are the tanks
stationed in front of airports and the armed
|The culprit: an Ace Hardware wirecutter/stripper
guards inside. Travelers
are reverting to their pre-attack complacency, ignoring
the prescribed two-hour-in-advance arrival time. The baggage
checkers have ceased their “has anyone unknown to
you packed your bags” spiel, and even the feds have
lightened up, downgrading their code-red terrorist alert
to a less foreboding code orange.
But the question remains: Is the sudden slackening of
rules a sign that the FAA has gotten its act together
and feels secure enough in its handling of the situation
to back off all the precautions? Or have we already gone
I’m sure most Americans would scoff at the former
notion, especially in light of repeat breaches of security
following the attacks. It seemed a day didn’t go
by that we didn’t read or hear something about some
wise guy, under the guise of “investigative journalism,”
smuggling some sort of forbidden contraband aboard: a
nail clipper, tweezers, hunting rifle, cattle prod, what
have you. Americans began to wonder if the whole screening
process was a joke, and the workers were really just watching
Mickey Mouse cartoons on that monitor all day.
Being the steadfast journalist I am, I decided to step
up to the plate in a highly covert sting operation to
test our local aviation-security professionals. In fact,
it was so covert that I myself was unaware I was conducting
the mission until halfway through.
My first piece of trickery was to fool airport security
into thinking I was nothing more than a run-of-the-mill
housewife, so as not to raise suspicion or warrant a random
“wanding.” The plan seemed to be working as
I set my carry-on bag onto the conveyor belt, emptied
the contents of my pockets (my boarding pass and a few
pennies) into the basket and silently passed through the
As I awaited my bag on the other side, ready to walk a
free woman, I saw signs of trouble. The checker had stopped
at my bag and called her superior over. Apparently, I
was being targeted for one of the random bag checks. With
people filing past me, she asked if she could examine
the contents of my bag, and I obliged, explaining that
I was not nearly as neurotic as the contents belied. She
sorted through the usual stuff (wallet, books, magazine,
trail mix, address book, gum, keys) and some more personal
items (golf glove, industrial supply of Extra-Strength
Tums, unwrapped candy covered in lint, dirty tissues).
I marveled at her thoroughness and tenacity, she had practically
turned the entire thing inside out but still did not seem
As I stood there and more people shuffled past, she dug
deeper, rooting for some sort of secret compartment. I
smugly watched, dreaming up a snide remark for when she
handed the bag back to me, defeated. And that’s
when she hit pay dirt. Her eyes lit up as she latched
onto cold, hard metal deep within the recesses of my bag.
As she fished it out into daylight, her look turned to
one of befuddlement as she held the bizarre, dangerous-looking
contraption in her hand.
“It’s a wire-cutter,” said another screener.
I wanted to correct her and tell her that it was actually
a two-in-one wire-cutter/wire-stripper, but I thought
it best to play dumb.
“Oops. Guess I forgot I had that in there,”
was all I could muster while trying to confine my nervous
laughter, knowing full well that jokes of this nature
are not taken lightly at airports. But the harder I tried
to keep a straight face, the more contorted with convulsive
laughter it became. I thought about explaining to the
incredulous onlookers how I actually had been using it,
not as a weapon, but to pry a Zip disc out of my floppy
drive at work. It was in my bag because, after weeks of
cluttering up my desk, I had finally remembered to stuff
it in my bag to take home – where I promptly forgot
all about it.
But before I could get a word out, the screener asked
me to step aside and ordered me through two double doors.
I was sure this was going to be the interrogation room.
I wondered what sort of torture they would subject me
to: Floodlights? Electrodes? Firehose? Celine Dion ballads?
As I pushed the doors open, I was elated to realize I
was once again back in the lobby; they were going to spring
me. The woman who busted me followed and kindly informed
me I could not take my wire-cutters on the plane, and
they would have to go in my luggage. I one-upped her and
offered to put them in my car, which was in the parking
And that was it. As soon as my near-international incident
began, it was over. No strip search. No FBI thugs. Not
even a brisk “wanding.” All I got was a polite
request to take my hand tool back to my car – that
and a look of disbelief that anyone could be so stupid
as to not know she was toting a 10-inch metal wire-cutting
apparatus in her purse.
And as I walked back to my car – the morning air
cooling my humiliation-scorned cheeks – I was relieved
to know our security officials were standing vigil against
terrorist threats, making airline travel once again secure
and safe for all Americans `85 that and I now had an explanation
for why my bag had been so damned heavy the past few days.