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Packing Cubes and the time my Rick Steves guidebook set off the TSA bomb alert

I am traveling to Scotland and have the Scotland guidebook packed in my carry on suitcase. I was pulled aside by TSA and had my bag searched. Apparently the guidebook is the size and shape of explosive devices that they are looking for. I am using packing cubes for the first time and was already impressed with how easy it is to pack. I am now even more impressed and so glad that all of my clothing was stowed in packing cubes and the TSA agent only needed to pull out the one containing my electronics, chargers and guidebook. So kudos to packing cubes and owners of the Scotland guidebook - be aware that your bags may be searched.

Posted by
39 posts

This reminds me of a flight home from St. Petersburg, Florida last year. Visited my daughter for a long weekend and purchased four bars of handmade soap at the farmer's market for my husband (he loves one particular vendor's soap). I put my trusty RS Euro Flight bag on the belt and stepped through the metal detector. The belt stopped and several TSA agents were staring intently at the screen, after which I was abruptly told to meet the agent at a table to empty my bag. Out came all of my clothing and belongings, thankfully packed in packing cubes and other small bags. The agent immediately zeroed in on the paper bag containing the soap and scolded me for not letting them know it was in the bag. When I noted that I did not realize soap was a problem he stated that it can look like plastic explosives on the x-ray screen. I was very glad all of my stuff was contained in packing aids because his next words to me were, "get this repacked, we need the table cleared immediately."

Posted by
4431 posts

I never think to use packing cubes for 'incidental' type carry on, but I might take up the habit. I often wait to shop until the airport on flight home, so at least everything is in the duty free bag - they got a little 'excited' about the metal coffee canisters when leaving Istanbul. I have also learned what other items tend to lead to a search - alarm clock, TSA approved corkscrew and head lamp. These now go into a clear plastic bag, and when I take out my 3-1-1, the gadget bag comes out too. Both go into the bin and luggage is left alone.

Posted by
6932 posts

Oh, Janet, I'm laughing out loud because my husband will really enjoy your story. I rarely purchase souvenirs when we travel - happy with the memories of photos, experiences, etc. But, my one souvenir that I love to bring home is the complimentary hotel soaps/shampoos, especially if they have the hotel name or city on them. Using some of them afterwards will immediately remind me of the location, plus the scent brings back those memories. When we stay at the same location for several days, I can acquire a good amount of some to bring home. My hubby has teased me that he won't carry any of these home in his suitcase because the small soaps could look like a layer of explosives! I always thought he was just kidding. If I ever was searched because of these soap souvenirs, he would end up with the last laugh - ha!

Posted by
489 posts

to Maria: What is a TSA approved corkscrew ?> I may need one.

Posted by
4431 posts

Tgreen, TSA approved corkscrew is minus the foil 'knife'. I get mine at the DollarStore. It has a little metal piece for cutting the foil. It is often looked at by security and they always check where the knife usually is, and run their finger over the metal bit. Amazon sells a variety, and plenty of google 'hits'. Mine is like the Jetsetter one, but only the one hinge. As I said - DollarStore (in Canada) and only $1 so no great financial loss. Taken it through Canada, USA, South America.
https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_1_17?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=tsa+approved+corkscrew&sprefix=tsa+approved+cork%2Caps%2C161&crid=2VI37UBA62RJU
Here is the TSA comment
https://www.tsa.gov/travel/security-screening/whatcanibring/items/corkscrews-no-blade

Posted by
6198 posts

rkhoar and Janet: A couple of years ago when we were returning from Spain, my DH was pulled over by airport security. In his bag were all the gifts we were taking home: boxes of chocolates! They showed up on the scanner like layers of munitions. Actually, the security guys laughed about it, and said it happened all the time.

Posted by
5697 posts

Almost got stopped for suspicious metal objects in the checked bag coming back from Hawai'i -- but the second security agent glanced at the screen and said "six-pack of Coke." Even got the brand name right!

Posted by
208 posts

Since I only pack carry-on, my bag and personal item always spend a looooong time in front of the xray screen. When they start looking quizically, or talking to each other, I often wished they would just show me and ask me what it is -- I'd be able to tell them in a second! But they won't even talk to me. That is, until they have me open it up and then are satisfied with whatever it was.

Thant's interesting, Janet, about the soap -- on our last trip, I came home with several bars of olive oil soap -- I love and use it at home, and I decided that those would be great to bring back, to enjoy, for months to come. Which they were -- and they didn't stop my bag to have a look at those.

And, yes -- having almost everything packed in cubes or organizers makes the process much simpler, and it is easier/faster to re-pack and get out of the way.

The one time (and lesson learned) I made a mistake... when a portion of my clothing are destination-specific, and I will be unpacking them all, I will bundle-wrap those in their own cube. Last year, I thought I'd put my more delicate jewelry (for a cruise) bundled in the middle of my cruise clothing. Of course, that's what the security person was interested in, so I had to unbundle that cube to get to the middle of it and show him my jewelry. I won't be doing THAT again!

cheers,
Vivian

Posted by
1194 posts

I learned a long time ago never to bundle anything in the bundle except clothes. Metal objects get their own baggie.
It also helps when trying to make weight limits. Grab the jewelry, electronics, and books for stuffing in the pockets.

Posted by
13684 posts

Terrific stories! A plus for cubes no one has mentioned!

Posted by
3509 posts

Well I got some strange looks from the TSA guy on my connecting flight back from Italy when I had a kilo of parmesan cheese, wires from my iPhone charger, a pack of AA batteries and a wind up alarm clock that all got tangled up in my carry on. They were not amused as to what it looked like on the x-ray screen.

Another time returning from Alaska I was chosen to have my hands and bag swabbed for explosives. I had visited an active gold mine earlier that day where they were doing some dynamite blasting and touched some of the rocks. Everything showed positive for explosives. I was searched very intensely and if the plane had not been delayed, I would have missed my flight. This was on 09/10/2001.

There have been several other situations like this, including one where the TSA person asked what I had in my bag and I said "Pepper Grinder" and she said OK and did not search my bag. Trusting one there.

Where this is going is I have learned over the years to not touch certain things if I hope to fly soon after and to bag everything is smaller bags inside the suitcase where it makes sense so that I can easily open my bag without the contents spilling everywhere and then repack everything quickly when the inspection is done. Packing cubes work very well.

Posted by
106 posts

Thanks for creating a place I could put my story!! I packed my shoes and checked my luggage. When I arrived in Edinburgh one of my shoes was gone. I confirmed with husband my shoe was not in the family car or still at home. Then I remembered I had jammed my electric toothbrush and a battery charger in my shoe. I guess one or the other caused a problem. Had to purchase a new pair of walking shoes in Edinburgh

Posted by
915 posts

Vivian,
I'm with you!
I flew through Denver a few weeks ago, and the line started backing up when the agent at the screen couldn't figure out something in my bag.

"What's in your shoe?" she asked.

"Er, nothing, unless it's a small pebble or something."
They kept staring, and I thought, Why don't you just show me so that I can help you?
Finally they put the bag through and the next agent said it looked like bells.
Bells?
Finally I realized they were talking about the small metal tassels at the end of my necklace which I had removed so that it wouldn't set off the metal detector. So much for trying to be helpful by putting the item in my bag instead of wearing it.
Oh, brother!

Posted by
731 posts

I'm learning

  1. Wear ALL jewelry on my person when traveling.
  2. Buy smallish packing cubes for my RS Euroflight bag.
  3. Keep my TSA approved cork screw and all metals in a separate baggie.

We have brought that corkscrew in our carry on for previous trips and it always draws the curiosity of the TSA agent. Our first trip brought about a conflict between 2 agents.....trying to decide whether or not it was "legal". In the end we got to keep it!

Posted by
322 posts

My story happened in Denver. My mother collected small pewter animal figurines. I toured a factory and bought her about a 3" statue of a bear on a rock. I put it in one of my shoes in my carry on. My bag was removed to one side and I was pulled out of line and they ask what was in the bag and couldn't think of anything alarming. I took a step toward the bag thinking they wanted me to open it and got really yelled at to step back. They opened and examined the item. I guess solid metal is not a good thing to pack. I told my mother no more pewter from my travels.

Posted by
683 posts

My variation on this theme is my carry-on computer bag, which has a lot of chalk dust in one of the pockets because I use it for teaching during the school year. The chalk dust apparently was close in density or whatever to some explosive substance, and I was questioned closely by TSA personnel, and examined by an explosive-detecting machine and a dog . While all this was going on I kept thinking "I'm really glad they are this thorough"; and the computer bag now stays home :-)

Posted by
10880 posts

A zip lock bag of ground coffee draws their interest.

Posted by
1540 posts

When we were in China a couple on our tour forgot their charger. In a Chinese airport, the husband decides he can fashion one with the wires from the cheap plane headphones, some batteries and some other stuff. He started stripping the wires and gets to work. We jumped in right away and he sheepishly realized it wasn't a good idea in an airport.

Posted by
5423 posts

Bottles of spices from The Spice House in Milwaukee also gets you diverted while the TSA agent unpacks your bag to figure out what that mystery item is.

Posted by
9338 posts

I took two flights departing from U.S. airports with a teapot in my carry-on earlier this month - got stopped and they took the teapot out both times.

Once, it was stuff with homemade chocolate chip cookies that I was taking to my nieces. On my way home to France, it was stuff with clean socks and underwear.

I should have pulled it out ahead of time! The other thing was it has a special metal "dome" that fits over it (I suppose to keep the tea warmer), so i'm sure that made it more interesting to the agents. But it was very definitely teapot shaped!!!

Posted by
1309 posts

I have been traveling back and forth between Copenhagen and Birmingham. I always carry a small bottle with nitroglycerin pills for my heart and it was never commented upon in Copenhagen, but every other time in Birmingham. In the end I put it in a check-in bag for all to see.

One time traveling back from London we were stopped end they rummaged our bag (they wouldn't let me do it myself) and found a scented wax candle we had bought in Camden Lock Market. My wife swore she would never buy anything remotely like that again.

We lost a corkscrew (with small wheels instead of a knife) in Istanbul airport. It had traveled with us from Copenhagen to London and back, to Milan and back, but not from Istanbul. Not all security rules are equal.

Posted by
11613 posts

My RS corkscrew was confiscated in Amsterdam.😥

Posted by
1097 posts

My bag of soaps from Provence also got me pulled for closer inspection.

Posted by
2136 posts

Ditto a damascene item purchased in Toledo, Spain.

Posted by
32287 posts

Not all soap and candles are examined as explosives. I've seen a number of reality police and immigration/customs shows from around the world and both bars of soap and candles are often used by drug traffickers to try put off the sniffer dogs and scanners.

Posted by
352 posts

Blocks of baked tofu look very suspicious on the x-ray

Posted by
362 posts

My other half had his bag searched because he had two apples in there and his phone charger had landed on top of it. I suppose the configuration looked suspicious.

I've had my bag nearly ripped apart once by a TSA agent who finally decided that it must have been the approved packet of wet wipes that had triggered...whatever that triggers for them to take another look. I also had a change purse filled with coins trigger an inspection of my bag. THAT time the TSA agent yelled at me for not knowing to take it out and place it in the bin along with everything else.

I never travel with more than 4 quarters now, and I don't put them into the same compartment.

I did not know that there was a TSA approved corkscrew. One reason we always have at least one checked bag is so that we can put a corkscrew inside the checked luggage.

Posted by
8329 posts

A lot of things people are describing as suspicious, are just hard to see through on x-ray. Like the wheel of cheese I bought at the gift shop in the Milwaukee airport. TSA had seen zillion and knew what it was. Just had to check anyway.

Posted by
3016 posts

I was bringing back a hard flat packaged halva-type cake bought in Istanbul airport, via Frankfurt.
Well, that stony faced agent at Security there made me unwrap it while he sniffed it and took it off to be X-rayed.
He still didn't smile when he eventually handed it back to me half an hour later.
In the end, it wasn't nearly as tasty as the one I had eaten in Istanbul !
My cheap silvery metal bracelet bought for E1 in Termini Station in Rome always alarms at security, but my artificial knee does not.
I always bring about 10 bars of lovely soap from Italy, but they haven't caused concern yet!

Posted by
20 posts

What was wrong with the change purse? Why would you have to take it out? I usually have several coins in the coin section of my wallet and they've never said anything to me.

I wonder why he made such a big deal about it?

About 30 years ago, my middle-school aged sister was going through her Nancy Drew phase and decided to pack her water pistol in her purse to pretend to be a detective. That did NOT go over well with the security officers at the airport, nor with my parents after the whole debacle unfolded. My sister spent a three-hour flight being periodically asked some variation of "what on EARTH were you thinking?"

Posted by
362 posts

What was wrong with the change purse? Why would you have to take it out? I usually have several coins in the coin section of my wallet and they've never said anything to me.
I wonder why he made such a big deal about it?

I couldn't say. All I can guess is that a bunch of coins showed up as something which couldn't be read on the screen. Other than that, I have no clue.

Posted by
2527 posts

My TSA approved corkscrew was confiscated in France...probably because I consume less wine than other alcoholic beverages.

Posted by
4431 posts

I wouldn't do checked bag just for a corkscrew - they sell them everywhere, and I might not invest a lot of money in a TSA approved one, given the posts here where they have been confiscated.

It does boggle the mind how something with a sharp twist of metal that will cause a good deal of discomfort can pass but the 1 inch somewhat dull blade doesn't. I guess Europe doesn't see it the same as North or South America....

Posted by
2721 posts

Candles will always get you searched IMHO.

Also, a trick at TSA agent told me was put the "corkscrew" and anything else near the top of your luggage so it's easier for them to identify. Seems to have worked. (I use the wing type of corkscrew. It's never been a problem in the US, but has been taken in France.)

And if you are flying out of LAX just assume that they will take forever scanning your luggage even if they can't find anything to look at. (I once sent through an empty bag. Still took them several trips back and forth. I think it's more "look at what we are doing" than "we are doing a good job")

Posted by
193 posts

I know these aren't funny at the time they happen, but reading about them here has been good for some chuckles :). Cynthia, your sister's Nancy Drew stage story made me laugh out loud!! It also reminded me of a similar story of mine. Traveling home from a SC beach trip with my aunt and cousin, we got stopped in security as they pulled a large water gun out of my cousins bag. That thing looked sooo sinister as TSA pulled it out!!

Posted by
489 posts

In our observations, it is much easier to bring things back to USA from Europe thru one of their TSA's. No problem bringing my corkscrew, small swiss army card, or my folding hiking pole out of Croatia to USA thru Istanbul. Now coming home we always check bags, but it was very nice to be out of ORD in less than 15 min.

Posted by
20 posts

lol - I'll have to tell my sister that she's not the only one! My parents were so mortified, while I'm sure that it's nothing that the security agents hadn't seen before. Just look at all the people who "forget" that they have machetes in their carry-on luggage!

Posted by
4431 posts

Cynthia....'machetes'!?!?.....or was that an autospell for 'matches'?
Matches, I can understand, machetes I remember to leave mine at home.

Posted by
20 posts

No - matches would make more sense though. I have a friend who was a TSA agent and she actually caught someone with a machete in his carry-on and he tried to tell her that he "forgot" that it was there!

Posted by
4 posts

I have no story to add (and I hope to keep it that way as we prepare for a trip to Germany in September) but I wanted to thank you all for sharing your highly entertaining stories. It's made me chuckle a good deal this morning, which I so very much needed! :)

Posted by
1373 posts

I can add to mark's gold mine story....i foolishly helped a kid search for the bullet casings after grave side services for a veteran a week before i flew w the same jacket and gloves.

A recent January in Florida i hit up a Barnes and noble for books, daily calendars and some boxed Christmas craft kits. My checked roller bag had a whole layer of dense paper and was packed like a work of art. It was opened an rearranged

Posted by
1017 posts

RKHOAR - I can relate to you.... May 31 I left for a river cruise down the Rhone to Paris. It was work related on a cross -stitch cruise. I work at my local needlework shop in Tulsa, Ok. We had chartered the entire Ama waterway boat for 150+ ladies and plus some husbands who came along for a two week pre/post cruise( some of our shop customers around the states and a designer from Canada)
OK we were to bring a finished pin cushion that we stitched for a drawing. I had a stuffed pin cushion about 5 by 8ish or so filled with lizard litter. It was in a baggy in my RS rolling tote in the zipper top flap. It went thru security (in Tulsa, OK very small easy airport), I past thru the security machines.... my bags went thru the scanner. The TSA lady asked me if this was my bag. I replied yes. she stated she had to check it. OK.... (I was pre tsa, OK, I forgot, my liquids are in there.) She said that was not the issue. She went straight to my top of my bag where the pin cushion was located. She took it out and asked what this was. I replied that Is was a pin cushion for my cross stitch river cruise for an exchange. She stated she never heard of such a thing., what is in it, sand? No, I replied, lizard litter.

Then she got a little strip and ran it across the pin cushion, put it in a machine. Then got another strip and ran across my entire opened suitcase. She said ok, good to go. I knew what she was doing, I just let her do her job without any confrontations. I just got a kick that my little pin cushion caused a stink at our little airport. Memories to remember. I told the lady who got my pin cushion that she better check her bag or they may think she is a drug mule. LOL! Plus it was actually about two pounds. Glad I loaded it off on someone else.!!

Posted by
2721 posts

My experience is that little airports often spend more time "finding" things to examine. I once spent 30 minutes with the TSA in Mobile, AL discussing my numeric keypad. It plugs into a laptop. They had my laptop bag with the laptop and wanted me to make the keypad "do something", I kept explaining that it only did something if plugged into the laptop, they kept questioning. Finally after saying they had never seen anything like it they reluctantly returned it to me.

I walk in the gift shop just past security and......they are selling these. I wanted to go suggest to the TSA they come look, but decided against that idea.

Posted by
6198 posts

Kim, what the heck is lizard litter? I'm assuming it's not actual lizard poop...

Posted by
1017 posts

Jane .... yes you put in their aquariums. It is very very fine walnut shells. It is good for making pin cushions. Don't like sand or fiber type stuffing. It makes them more sturdy.

Posted by
6932 posts

These funny incidents (funny afterwards) remind me of the Mr. Bean at the Airport humorous scene!