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Security - Keeping the airways safe from clean laundry
True Story: 5 Sep 03

During my attempt to return home from a recent business trip, I experienced something that fully reminded me of how severely the events of 9/11 impacted my personal freedom and privacy.

I've a very funny tale regarding the ever vigilant Greater Peoria (IL) Airport Security Forces. During a routine manual inspection of the bag I wanted checked (not carry on, mind you) they discovered two suspicious items that they pulled out and set aside:

  • rubbing alcohol in its plastic bottle
  • a thick blue liquid in a plastic bottle which air chemically tested as an explosive (I'll tell you what the substance really was in a bit.)

The initial TSA bag inspector pondered over the flammability of the rubbing alcohol, so she queried another bag inspector and they both queried their manager AND their official list of items not permitted on planes.

Mind you, the bottle clearly stated, "Flammable. Keep away from flame". But reading the label wasn't part of their process in determining the answer to their question, apparently. Since rubbing alcohol wasn't on their forbidden list, they figured it wasn't flammable so I was allowed to keep it.

The second item caused more excitment, as you might have guessed. As a result of the initial chemical test, they summoned a law enforcement officer, the TSA manager, and an airline representative to surround me. They asked me several questions including if I had been at a demolition site or around people who used explosives. Then TSA manager finally explained the reason for all their squawking and wing flapping.

The blue liquid substance in the plastic bottle chemically air tested as TNT!

I tried very hard not to burst out laughing, but I couldn't help looking a bit bemused and humored. I figured if I rolled on the floor with laughter they might decide to get even and do a cavity search on me.

Oh, they did finally ask me what the substance was. I told them, "It's liquid laundry detergent; something I use to wash clothes with. It wasn't in it's original 32oz container. I wasn't positive, but I thought the brand was All." :D (After I got home I checked. It was Arm & Hammer laundry detergent)

Undaunted by my answers, the initial bag inspector continued, x-raying the bag, retesting and rexamining all the contents of my luggage several times more.

The second and third air chemical tests came back negative. However, the TSA manager had to fill out a long report on the spot; the police and airline rep were expected to sign the report before they'd allow my bag on the plane.

But that was only the first half of the fun. Because I was now classified as "special", I and my carry-ons had to be thoroughly inspected at the security gate. They carefully examined the bottoms of my bare feet, and waved that metal detector all over me, pulled everything out of my handbag and examined everything inside each little bag and pocket.

After that, I was declared safe to travel on the 30 minute puddle jumper flight from Peoria to Chicago.

What scares me the most is these security clowns will get accustomed to actively avoiding the use of common sense and intelligence and spend all their energy getting worked up over the hazards of things like laundry soap, thus they'll systematically lose their ability to actually put two and two together when true intelligence is really needed.

I'm now more concerned about airport security than I ever was before. If I never fly a commercial airline again, I'll be quite content.

I've told this tale to a few friends who fly frequently. They were not at all surprised, saying that kind of tragic comedy happens frequently.

Desiree [shaking head]


Last update to this page: 7 Sep 03. Send comments, questions or suggestions to Desiree McCrorey.