Frank Rogala

Federal Airport Security, Cheese, Wires…

In my ongoing coverage of my experiences with federal airport security, my last trip (between John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California and Flint, Michigan), was a noteworthy, as it left me without two items I had packed and a broken suitcase latch.

Leaving on December 16, 2007 on American airlines flight 2294 at 8:30 a.m. whoever decided they needed to open my clamshell suitcase was either:

  • unfamiliar with the sliding lock that fastened each end of the suitcase, or

  • just felt like doing a bit of destruction

Samsonite Oyster Clam Shell Luggage

The suitcase was designed before the day luggage needed to be opened and inspected and so is equipped with a combination lock. Nowadays, of course, the lock is always left open and I have written the code with a black marker on a piece of duct tape which I have affixed next to it. The combination was set about ten years ago to my birthdate, which unfortunately is 9/11. I have since lost the instructions on how to change the combination and having a large label with the combination 911 on my suitcase is probably not a good thing.

It seems these hardshell type cases are rare these days. I prize this one as it gives me a safe way to travel with sensitive electronics (external hard drives, Sirius radio, etc.).

Because those little side latches seemed to pop open on their own I have taken to putting a luggage belt around the suitcase (four of which have disappeared within the last six months). Because those latches pop open so easily, I always make it a point to make sure those little sliding locks are set before I check the suitcase. In 10 years of flying with this suitcase I've never had a problem with this arrangement.

However, whoever inspected my bag at John Wayne Airport on the first leg of my flight found it necessary to pry that (non locking) latch off, breaking it.Luckily the main (center) latch and the remaining side latch survived and the belt around the suitcase didn't vanish this time.

Finding a Samsonite repair location, even in Los Angeles, was a challenge. I think like each repair places are disappearing as most people just toss damaged luggage and replace it with those cheap imports that seem to be everywhere. The first two locations I tried from the Samsonite web page were out of business. Luckily, the third location answered the phone, however, it was an hour away by car.

I was relieved to find out that the part is still available, but had to leave the suitcase and will have to drive an hour again to retrieve it later this week.

That is only the first part of the story...

On the first leg of my return flight (December 31, 2007, Bishop Airport, Flint, Michigan, American airlines, Flight 4352 leaving at 2:55 p.m. - which ended up being nearly 7 p.m.), whoever checked my bags here to replace 2 - 50 foot ethernet cables after they inspected my bag. I had taken care to pack these in a box separately away from any electronic devices so that it would be apparent that they were harmless.

I had recently heard that Federal Security was suspicious of people packing cheese in close proximity to wires. I assume that cheese, under an x-ray, must resemble some kind of plastic explosive. A spokesperson said that it was thought that terrorists were making dry runs using unusual items packed with each other that would appear similar to an explosive device. Well, yes, of course, what sort of person would travel with cheese and wires in the same suitcase?... um... well that would be - me! Since I do not digest milk products very well, and since I am usually traveling to a remote location in northern Michigan, I often pack vegetarian/rice/tofu cheese's. The vegan cheese usually is thrown in at the last moment (so as to spend as little time out of the fridge is possible) and may end up either in or next to a box with power adapters, headphones, etc. Since I heard this story about “cheese and wires” I have been careful to keep these items separated physically.   On this flight I was packing no... cheese.

This is the second time I have had items missing from my suitcase. Previously I've had remotes control my Sirius asked S.- 50 vanish from my luggage (see my previous post regarding remote controls and airport security).

When I unpacked I also noticed that the rubber bands that I had put around the DVD case for the Bel Ami video Just for Fun, (Gay porn) had been removed (is that more than you needed to know?). I can't imagine what type of explosive device my gay porn DVD resembled?

We have created a security force that has very little accountability to the people whose property it handles. Since I see little bar coded stickers stuck on my “inspected” baggage it would seem that there should be a way to make an inquiry of an inspection that had resulted in missing or broken items. I would be happy if my report resulted in nothing more than the education of a officer on the workings of a latching mechanism, or perhaps the implementation of a procedure that helped to avoid lost items.

Forget my loss and inconvenience, having officers focus their attention on what truly represents a threat to your and my health and safety is what is really important here.

John Wayne Airport, designed before September 11, 2001, has no matter inspection in view of the public (as does LAX, albeit a much older and busier airport). Thus no one has any way of knowing what happens to their luggage once it disappears on that conveyor belt.   Bishop Airport in Flint Michigan has federal inspectors outside where passengers can see them, however, since I checked in a couple hours early my bags were not immediately inspected and I left the "check in" area and entered the secure area of the airport before they were inspected.

Since I have committed myself to a schedule that has me flying from California to Michigan monthly for the next nine months, I can only continue to do as I have in the past - take a deep breath and say a little prayer as I watch my bags disappear on the conveyor belt.

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