My face dropped, and there was an eerie silence as other travelers having their bags checked and X-ray scanned, all of a sudden took an interest in the dialogue between the security guard and me. “A knife?” I replied, hiding any emotion of fear and panic. Yes, I am in an airport, and yes the expression on his face is humourless. In an instant the exuberant mood I was in evaporated. “No, I don’t have a knife”, was my affirmative reply. This scenario isn’t really happening; I tried to convince myself. Yet, as other travelers looked on, and more security guards converged near my bag, I began to realize that the situation was becoming quite serious indeed.
“Would you take everything out of your bag,” he quietly requested as we moved over to the long table just after the scanning machine. “Sure,” I complied, as my brother under his breath said, “oh no.”
This was not a great way to begin a European vacation. In view of the fact that airport security had been stepped up, since the events of September 11th, more personnel had been hired, more random checks were being made, and here I was under suspicion of carrying a concealed knife in my carryon bag. What could be worse, short of packing a loaded gun? Thoughts of being arrested and questioned for hours in the back room by airport and local authorities filled my head with trepidation. And what would my three family members do? Would they have to go on without me, or would they have to curtail their travel plans?
I unzipped the black bag, and unpacked my clothing, etc. from the sports bag, and emptied the side pockets. Thankfully, no purported knife was found. Could the security guard have been wrong? It is possible, I confidently told myself.
The tenacious, but thorough guard wasn’t satisfied, however. He noticed a hard vinyl covered cardboard panel at the bottom of the bag. “What is under this panel?” He asked, like Sherlock Holmes just about to crack his latest case. “I don’t think there’s anything under there,” I replied less confidently as the search continued, not certain how this scenario would end. There was definitely something under that panel, what would it be? Would it be a long lost key chain, or some other long forgotten item?
The security guard, as resolute as a pit bull, lifted up the cardboard panel and reached under with his hand to feel around. When his hand emerged, he held up a small black pocket knife clenched between his thumb and forefinger. He was right! His persistence had paid off. He would have a great story to tell his comrades over coffee today. The bottom line is the detection system this airport has in place works.
“That’s where that knife went!” I exclaimed, sounding guilty and unconvincing at the same time. “Thanks for finding it for me.” Unknown to those travelers, now breathing a sigh of relief, feeling secure that their flight would be safer. The truth of the matter is that I really did lose that small but useful pocketknife. I had wondered where it had vanished. After searching for it in every conceivable nook and cranny for a month, I assumed it was gone for good, lost in the yard somewhere. How ironical that it would show up here today, in such a hostile, politically incorrect venue. Why me, of all people? Well, why not me?
The guard, however, was sympathetic and understood my dilemma. He knew I had not intentionally tried to smuggle the knife through security. “It’s all right, these things happen,” he consoled, “I just need to write down your name, address and phone number.” This was standard procedure I was assured.
“Is the person who brought you here still in the airport?” He asked as was about to hand me the pocketknife. “My sister-in-law brought us,” I replied, “I don’t know.” The guard handed me the knife and pointed in the direction of the entranceway, “why don’t you see if she is still here and give her the knife?”
I hustled out of the scanning area and amazingly found Monika just outside the entrance to the boarding area, talking with a friend. Surprised to see me, as I interrupted her conversation, I quickly handed her the knife, without an appropriate explanation. “Please give this to Trish,” I asked, and rushed back in to the baggage checking area, bypassing the metal detector. The guards excitedly motioned for me to go back and walk through the metal detector.
I repacked my bag, rejoined my family in the boarding area, and from there I was on my way to Europe. What an adventuresome beginning to what turned out to be a lovely European holiday, one that I know I won’t soon forget.
Now, normally, one incident per trip would be sufficient to ruffle the feathers of even the most seasoned traveler, but two…well, I guess I’m just prone to having these experiences.
Upon returning from Europe, my carryon baggage went through the scanner at the Frankfurt airport terminal. The woman operating the X-ray machine scanned my same black bag the first time, and noticed something unusual. She scanned the bag a second time, this time having an assistant view the X-ray with her. Still puzzled and conferring with her colleague, they scanned the bag yet another time. Both of them were still perplexed. She asked, “do you have a cigar cutter in your bag?” Puzzled, I replied, “No.” I’m thinking, what am I a target? How could this scenario be happening again?
“Would you please empty the contents of your bag,” the security guard asked officiously. I complied and after unpacking several items, she could see what the problem seemed to be. Apparently, the hook on my belt in the bag, at the angle the X-ray was taken, looked much like a cigar cutter. Go figure!
I am far from being the world traveler, but my curiosity has gotten the better of me. How is it that the X-ray equipment at the airport in my relatively small town of Kelowna, B.C., can pick up a closed pocket knife concealed under a panel at the bottom of my bag, and was correctly identified by the security guard, whereas, the scanner at the Frankfurt Airport had projected an image of my belt which was incorrectly interpreted as a cigar cutter by the security guard. Is the problem with the scanner having low resolution or contrast, making it difficult to identify the scanned items, or is it the position of those items in the luggage, that make them difficult to ascertain what certain items are, or does the problem lie with the security guard and his or her interpretation of the scanned objects?
One thing is for certain. Security at airports has been stepped up considerably since the events of September 11th, 2001. That is a good thing. I know there are travelers who resent being singled out to have their carry on baggage dumped out and
checked over or searched if they set off the metal detector alarm. It is human nature to feel we have been affronted or violated, but we have a choice how we react.
Having to experience a minor inconvenience, knowing that the security people at the airports have everyone’s best interests at heart, should not result in a blatant outburst of anger. It would bode well for all of us to exercise a little patience, understanding and a great deal of cooperation, when we decide to fly in these times. Just accept it, after all they are just doing their job. Security may even get tighter as time goes on, with threats of increased terrorism throughout the world. Thankfully, these stepped up security procedures are here to stay. With time, technology will improve these procedures to make them more efficient and move travelers more expeditiously.
So, in the interim, when you encounter that over zealous security guard that asks you to every last thing out of your carry on bag, and deposit them on the table for all the world to see… do it cooperatively. Say a kind word, and put a smile on your face. Who knows, when you least expect it, you too may just have that lost pocketknife, nail file or corkscrew you lost during that last trip you took. It may turn up under that panel in your bag! You can sheepishly exclaim, “Oh that’s where it went! Thanks for finding it for me.” Hopefully, like me, you will be able to pass it to the person that brought you to the airport, otherwise it goes into the bin. By the way, what does happen to all those hazardous items in all those bins in the airports around the world? Makes one wonder doesn’t it? Hopefully, they don’t find their way to the landfill sites. That would be a shame.