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What has got your luggage searched?

Reading a post about new xray tech coming for checking luggage got me thinking about the few times I packed something that set off the people who check the suitcases as they go thru the xray.

One was when I was coming home from California - I had bought some handmade soaps and had them sent to my airbnb in SF. (The postage to Canada was insane). So I had 6 nice big rectangles of soap and all my wires for my ipod and ipad and whatever else I needed cables for jumbled in there - of course I got a hand check for that! Upon reflection - it could certainly have been blocks of explosives (face palm - I should have put them in my checked bag!).

And once coming thru Nice airport - I had bought some caramels at La Cure Gourmand and had them stuffed into a ceramic mug I had bought. Another hand search and that was exactly what they checked. Hmmm - does that look like drugs to you?!

So on this long holiday weekend, wondering what innocuous item(s) you've packed that's resulted in a hand check.

Posted by
1082 posts

My favorite is when I was coming home from visiting my parents in central Illinois. My then 14 year old son was traveling with me. He had packed some clay from their back yard in his luggage which resulted in a hand search. I told the TSA rep that it was clay but apparently he did not take me seriously. When he found that clay in his bag, he called out to another rep "hey, this kid has dirt"!

Told us that "dirt" should be checked in the future.

Posted by
1418 posts

Coming home from Croatia via Heathrow i was flagged. I had purchased a Pinocchio bank - it was cylinder shaped with Pinocchio sitting on top. They opened it looking for liquids, they thought is was wine or something. What really bothered me was they emptied my bag, opened everything else, discovered it was not liquid, then shoved everything to the side and told me to basically get lost. When i tried to repack my bag they got very nasty. My husband went to speak to a manager who was very helpful and let me repack my bag. I understand they have a job to do but the nastiness was upsetting. We now avoid Heathrow whenever possible and when returning from trips, we check our bags. I try to bring only the basics in my carry on tote.

Posted by
1930 posts

Our most recent search event happened when we arrived at Sea Tac and the Beagle sniffed a scent from my carry-on. My bag was searched. They found nothing. I had eaten a sandwich 13 hours before & the cute pooch could still pick up the scent.
Years ago we were visiting Australia and the authorities found my "Bucky Neck Pillow." The contents was either Buckwheat or Millet hauls. They confiscated it and poured out the contents. When we returned home the Bucky company graciously replaced the contents. Since then I use another type of pillow internationally.

Posted by
15 posts

Greetings,
Gummie vitamins apparently look like explosive on the X-ray scanner. I had three weeks worth in a ziplock snack bag. Four TSA staff searched my bag at the same time. Everything was removed. When they were done, they each apologized and said they were not allowed to help me repack my bag. I thanked them for being so professional. elisa

Posted by
2681 posts

More and more there is always 'something'. AAbattery in alarm clock, TSA approved corkscrew (which eventually was confiscated in Grand Cayman), meal bars that look like C 4, granola bars, the tins of Turkish coffee bought at the duty free, and the one that really stumps them is a round massage roller in a base.
I try to pack these things either near the top or in actual baggies and put into the tray, but there is something new every trip.
One more reason I am falling out of love with 'carry on only'.

Posted by
9409 posts

I do not know what caused the false reading of explosives on my backpack when changing planes at FRA, but it was a bit nerve-wracking.

Flew LHR to FRA on our way to SEA and had to go through security at both LHR and FRA. The screener pulled my backpack aside for random swabbing then started to make notes of the readings on his clipboard. I asked what was wrong and he said “The police are coming. Your pack tested positive for explosives.” The German officer was very pleasant but as you can imagine, it was a moment... I have since learned it could have been a lotion or even my Wet Ones hand wipes, although I have traveled with both for years.

Posted by
3790 posts

Ours have been swabbed a few times...I think the first time we flew from Halifax. Then maybe in London at one of the airports. They just ran a baton with a pad on it then put it in a scanner/detector/whatever. Then allowed to go on. They may have told me why they checked, but I can’t recall now.

Posted by
172 posts

My set of 6 aluminum crochet hooks was confiscated by security when I was leaving Mexico. So sharp and dangerous! Now I travel with wood or plastic ones. My luggage was opened and examined once entering Mexico. So glad that I use packing cubes!

Posted by
246 posts

Homemade canned salmon from Alaska. The kind in the Ball glass jars. Every single time. I think because it's packed with liquid in the jar. I wrap the jars in bubble wrap then roll laundry around them. The TSA in Anchorage is used to this. But, one time, a newbie wanted me to open the jar so he could verify. A manager quickly intervened and told him this is a common item leaving AK.

Posted by
7584 posts

We were flying to Texas to visit my mother-in-law. She loves my Chinese food and I wanted to cook dinner for her one night. I knew I could get all the ingredients I would need there, except the pot sticker wrappers I prefer. I had two frozen packages wrapped in foil. They pulled my bag off to the side while they were puzzling over the X-ray. I asked if they were looking at the round shaped package. Yep! I told them what it was, they opened my bag and verified, and we all got a good laugh out of it.

Posted by
4947 posts

You have to consider that the X-ray machine can't tell what something is, just that it has a suspicious shape or can't be seen through. They are required to check, not just take your word because of your honest face.

I had two things trigger a search: a large container of talcum powder, because it just looked like a bottle, possibly of liquids. The other was a 2 pound wheel of cheese. This was at the Milwaukee airport; the cheese bought in the gift shop there. Before opening my bag, the TSA inspector said "its cheese, right?" She said they see hundreds of them daily, but they have to check anyway since its too dense for the X-ray to penetrate.

Posted by
78 posts

In Greece this summer, they had me open my Rick Steves style backpack but were quickly convinced that I had nothing but a small toiletries bag and dirty laundry with me.

In Las Vegas, I got searched because I stupidly bought a snow globe souvenir as a present for my neighbor and put it in my carry-on (I almost never check bags anymore). I told a friend I was traveling with to put the jar of bacon jam he bought in his checked bag, but he didn't listen to me and TSA confiscated it as it was considered a "liquid" that was too large.

Posted by
151 posts

Going through EWR in June, I had brought a 3.4 oz unopened bottle of maple syrup for my hosts in England... I'm not sure if the TSA agent had ever seen maple syrup and was looking intently at it for a good little bit, but eventually let me pass...

Posted by
111 posts

My 3 oz bottle of contact lens solution was confiscated at Heathrow. It was my fault and I've should know better.

I know the CL solution doesn't have to be inside the 3-1-1, and TSA has never said anything about it, but when passing security at Heathrow they even confiscated my solid makeup remover because it said "balm" on the package, and wasn't inside the liquids bag. But they passed my backpack through the x rays one or two times after that, took everything out, swipe it to check for drugs and explosives. Finally they let me through sans those 2 things, maybe after an hour. Good thing I had a long layover.

Lesson learnt: Heathrow security is very strict, I can buy anything there at Boots, and packing cubes helped me keep my bag organized again in a whim.

Posted by
2361 posts

A friend had packed clay for facial masks and her carryon was searched and the clay subjected to chemical testing. Years ago, when I was leaving Greece, my 3 oz contact lens solution was removed from my 3-1-1 bag and confiscated.

Posted by
763 posts

I had the snowglobe experience, too in December 2017. It never even occurred to me that it contains liquid. At the Vienna airport, the security checker knew she saw something on the x-ray but could not find it as I had a lot of stuff like a down coat stuffed in my daybag/carryon. She let me go through.

It was only during the flight to Heathrow that I realized what had caused her to search. I was frantic at Heathrow security that it would be confiscated so I disclosed it and asked what I should do. Answer - if it fits in your quart-sized bag, you are fine. It did! You know I would have discarded everything else to make it fit, especially as I was on my way home.

When I got to Philly and was waiting for my checked bag, security started making announcements to those travelling beyond Philly to make sure any snowglobes were in checked luggage. I guess they run into that at that time of year. I am glad I got mine home. So head's up to anyone on the market for a snowglobe this winter, especially folks visiting Christmas Markets.

Posted by
4947 posts

packing clay or anything else that also looks like plastic explosives is probably not a good idea.

Posted by
16763 posts

Earlier this month a smaller-than-snack-size baggie in my purse triggered a thorough search of my carry-on items at Heathrow. It was souvenir coins, enough to make an impressive wad.

The checkers at Heathrow have always been totally courteous to me. However, the UK doesn't allow medically-necessary liquids outside the passenger's single 3-1-1 bag.

My checked bag has been opened several times on domestic trips. I suspect it's the jar of peanut butter, which I've read looks like plastique on an X-ray.

Posted by
44 posts

My parents bring me a block of really good Romano cheese. Apparently, it looks like explosives.

Posted by
5634 posts

I have been pulled aside for US Agricultural Dept search twice, only passenger from our flights. Amsterdam to JFK, searching for tulip bulbs. They found some but not all!
Flight from Athens to JFK, Greek Honey opened, agent stuck his finger in it and gave it back. Yuk!
He was looking for a type of fungus???
There is no way I was the only one with tulip bulbs or honey from those destinations. Both in luggage that was carried on.

Posted by
3283 posts

Spices, teas and anything "powdered" are a sure way of getting searched. I was worried, and then was told, its all fine, they just have to check.

I like to carry a child's rounded end scissors to cut moleskin. That caused a search in France and it was confiscated!

My sons are scientists and work in labs. They can't ever get thru TSA without having their backpacks and hands swabbed. They just make sure to allow some extra time.

Posted by
2310 posts

DIA can be a problem airport. They do a lot of TSA training there. We have been flagged several times for food stuffs-cookies, muffin mix, flour. It all gets cleared but at the expense of a bag you have to repack and the occasional nerve racking delay.

Posted by
2486 posts

Fourteen year old granddaughter was pulled aside twice on our recent trip. We had no idea she had needle nose pliers, glue and a flower press in her backpack. She explained to TSA in San Francisco that she was making earrings and they let her take it with her. On our return flight from Paris she was pulled out of line again and the agent this time took her pliers away and tossed them aside. I had brought an extra bag specifically to be able to check a bag of food and tool items on the way home from our cooking vacation. Evidently she didn’t make the connection when I kept telling them, put your poky, liquid and powdered items in the checked bag.

Posted by
3925 posts

Anything dodgy goes in the checked bag, that way I can deny all knowledge.

Posted by
1493 posts

Flight from Athens to JFK, Greek Honey opened, agent stuck his finger in it and gave it back. Yuk!
He was looking for a type of fungus???

Disgusting!!! and so unsanitary!!! Idiots!!! After he returned it, did he really expect you to eat it? What if he transferred some type of germ from his filthy finger or glove if he wore one - still disgusting.

There should be disposable tester sticks similar to a popsicle stick for testing.

TSA could be an acronym for something I cannot write on forum.

I always carry on a bag and check a bag - similar in size so not too bulky (for those questionable items or larger food items I may buy.)

Posted by
1256 posts

I mentioned a couple of wooden items on my Customs declaration (an ornament, and a kitchen utensil) and wound up showing them to the Agriculture folks so that they could see it wasn't a hazard.

Posted by
872 posts

I love to buy bags and tins of tea on my vacations. Then, each time I brew a cup in coming months, I'm back in Paris, or Rome, or Lake Bled, Croatia. I have learned to pull my tea out of carry-on luggage and put it in the bin separately, right on top, so that the screening agent can see it right away, and they don't have to go digging in my suitcase. However, before I started putting the tea in the bin separately, one tin of marvelous Mariage Freres tea from Paris was spotted deep in my carry-on luggage during my transfer screening in the US. The TSA agent dug deep into my suitcase and extracted the suspicious tin. "Hmmm..." he mused. "It's tea," I explained. "And the tin is full," I offered gently. He proceeded to turn the tin almost on its side and yank the top off. Almost half of my precious green tea spilled all over him, the contents of my suitcase, and the floor. No sound from him...just some tongue clicking as he tried to fit the top back on. "May I?" I asked, and he handed over the tin. I stuck the top back on. Sigh.

Posted by
324 posts

I missed a travel sized bottle of hand sanitizer in my duffle bag, and had all of my bag searched at LHR.

Posted by
1493 posts

And the tin is full," I offered gently. He proceeded to turn the tin almost on its side and yank the top off. Almost half of my precious green tea spilled all over him, the contents of my suitcase, and the floor.

Once again, TSA brain freeze with lack of common sense. (Testa di pesce) No direct insult to the fish.

Posted by
1057 posts

A packaged and sealed 8" round of Turkish halva type cake from Istanbul Duty Free shop.
I was trying to spend the last of my lire.
When I got to Frankfurt, the agent took it away and looked very suspiciously at it.
He then took it away for x-raying, still looking at me like I was a criminal.
I finally got it back; but when I opened it at home , it tasted dry and awful!

Posted by
3790 posts

My mom carried a full size face cream in her purse for 2 or 3 trips. They never caught it in Canada or at LHR. And we had a couchsurfer stay and she had a small bottle of stain remover in her purse. I rem when she was here looking thru her purse and said...well, they missed that. Good job TSA...haha

Posted by
555 posts

When my son used to travel with his metal clarinet, that always freaked out someone at TSA.

Posted by
266 posts

It has happened to me twice:

  • Iznik tiles from Turkey triggered a bag check at Dulles. The TSA agent was extremely polite about it, and she explained that they had to inspect the package because they couldn't recognize it on the scanner. All of the bubble wrap had to be untaped and unwrapped. She ooh'ed and aah'ed over how pretty they were, and we commiserated about how it was better to transport them as hand luggage instead of checked luggage. After she finished, she wrapped it all back up again and taped it back (with TSA emblazoned packaging tape).

  • Another time, in Atlanta, the flash gels and memory cards for my camera triggered a bag check. The flash gels are just little pieces of colored Mylar, maybe 1"x3". I never figured out what was so exciting about them, but they had to swab each one, along with the SD cards. Interestingly enough, the rest of my camera gear didn't seem to bother them. (I was on my way to Carnivale in Venice, and I had a lot of camera gear.)

Oh, yeah, and on the same trip coming back from Turkey, I had a few apricots in a ziplock bag. I was honest about it on my customs form, and the agent sent me to the agricultural inspection area with big, whirring machines. When the agent at the agricultural inspection place saw my tiny little bag of apricots, he just looked at me incredulously and said: "They sent you here for that?" I said yes. He just laughed, shook his head, and sent me on my way. And I enjoyed the apricots when I got home.

Posted by
6032 posts

I feel kind of out of place here. Almost 20 trips outside the US and many more than that in country and I've never had my carry on bag searched, and as far as I know I've never had a checked bag searched (never any indication that it was opened). I have traveled with a friend who travels with a bunch of medical equipment and medications and she's had her bag searched often. I must say I have inadvertently brought back a few confiscatable (?) items in both carry on and checked bags, but never had any issue. I must look terribly honest. :)

Posted by
767 posts

I work at my local cross stitch store in Tulsa and we sponsor river boat cruises about every 1 1/2 to 2 years to our customers. I went on our cruise for the Christmas markets and the Danube. We were to stitch a pin cushion for an exchange. I had it wrapped up in my suitcase and it went thru the scanner and the tsa agent asked me to open up my suitcase and she went right to my pin cushion. She asked me what it was ( cross stitch Eiffel Tower). Told her it was pincushion for my cruise. What is in it!? Well, lizard litter is in them for keeping the pins and needles. She took out the drug stuff and wiped it and my suitcase and put in the machine. Then said I was ok and left me to repack my suitcase. This was I. Tulsa my airport and very small , only two terminals

Posted by
3283 posts

Nancy, I always feel a little sad (haha) when I go through customs, like I'm so boring, no one is interested in me. They ask what I have and I say some cheese, some wine and whatever, and they just wave me through.

Posted by
487 posts

I always get my carry on searched when I fly through Heathrow- why, I still have no idea. I follow the rules religiously since we travel often. They never find anything. Funny, that's the ONLY airport I get bag checked at. I chock it up to the fact that I have Scottish surname :-)

Posted by
11704 posts

My bag gets searched by TSA often. I'd guess it's my little first aid kit that sets off TSA alarms. I have a little zip up pouch, a little larger than a coin purse I pack. The kit includes a tiny pair of tweezers and a tiny pair of sewing scissors (round ends) as well as some thread/needle, bandaids, Clariten, antacids, imodium, alcohol wipes, etc. Fortunately my bag is very small so it doesn't delay me for more than a minute.

On the other hand I rarely get searched by customs. My small bag rarely attracts much attention. The last time I had my bag searched was coming back through the Global Entry line from France in 2016. I bought a small Gargoyle statue for my son in Paris and had it in my dirty clothes. I'd forgotten about it until they asked.

I've always thought I'd attract more attention because I pack so little. In that respect, I stand out from most people who come through.

Posted by
631 posts

Once at our very small local airport, I had to pull out all the blocks of American cheese I was taking to our daughter living in Japan. :)

Another time, returning from Zurich through Heathrow, I was concerned about the chocolate I was bringing home. Zurich was a breeze. But going through security in Heathrow, sure enough, I was asked to step aside and empty my carryon bag. But instead of the chocolate, it was the small, just-over-the-limit bottle of herbed olive oil (nowhere near my 3-1-1 bag) I had bought a friend very early in the trip and completely forgotten about. I am sure he saw the horrified look on my face when I realized I had forgotten it was there. :) After looking at it for several minutes, he responded that “probably the herbs accounted for the slight amount over the legal limit” and handed it back, advising me to move it to my checked bag at my next flight change in Dallas. An unexpected and much appreciated moment of graciousness.

Posted by
395 posts

Power clothes detergent. Not because is was confused for drugs, but because powder detergent apparently is an ingredient in bomb making.

I actually had stopped taking detergent on trips. However, I buy the large box from Costco for cheap and I detest having to pay so much for detergent when I travel. So much easier and cheaper to bring it from home. Plus I know it won’t fade my clothes or make my skin itch.

Posted by
1057 posts

Years ago when I lived in the Middle East, I was flying and changing planes in Bahrain.
The Customs/Army guy took out my large toothpaste tube.
I had just come off a 3 hour flight.
He opened it, and squeezed, and the entire contents, which were under pressure from flying, ended up all over the front of him and his face.
Didn't feel sorry for him.

Posted by
141 posts

Lead crystal candle holders shaped like raspberries do indeed look like hand grenades on an X-ray!

We also learned to preemptively pull our water filter out and place it separately in the bin. It usually requires explanation too.

The strangest request was in Vancouver, where I was asked to assemble my flute and play it to prove it was a flute.

Posted by
67 posts

One thing I didn't realize when going through security ahead of a trip last year was that RFID sleeves contain metal. I had my Passport and a couple of credit cards in these sleeves in my money belt (was I was wearing), and I kept setting off the alarm/sensor in TSA. We couldn't figure out why--I thought the sleeves were just plastic. Lesson learned, now I put my entire money belt in my backpack before going through the scanner!

Posted by
11677 posts

A loaf of my favorite gluten-free bread ( Canyon Bakehouse) got pulled out of my carry-on and inspected by TSA at SFO last week.

Posted by
7126 posts

I’ve never gotten my luggage searched. I’m surprised to see so many here have gotten theirs searched!

Posted by
1009 posts

Nine volt batteries. I have a great little LED flashlight that snaps on to a 9V battery. If the light is anywhere in the bag, especially if it is near the wires for a cell phone charger, my bag gets searched. If I remember, my best solution is to keep the battery separate from the bag in the bin when it travels through the x-ray machine so the screener can instantly see what it is.

Posted by
378 posts

Epi-pens (Hong Kong and Florence, Italy); Macaroni (Long Beach); Powdered maple sugar (Boston); and the absolute best... a Dualit toaster purchased at the Williams Sonoma outlet store in Boston (it was a great find).

Posted by
1216 posts

Carry on- Clif bars because the scanners can't tell the difference between food and small blocks of explosives. Heavy trade paperback book because it was thick enough to block seeing what was behind it

Checked with resulting TSA inspection slip-half gallons of maple syrup (my sister lives down the street from a farm and I like buying straight from the tree), 16 bottles of Trader Joe's cat treats (no local TJ's and my Siamese girl love them more than life itself so I buy when I'm in a town with a store) Overstuffed laundry bag of hiking clothes after a week spent at national parks when temperature were often in the 30C/100F range. I kind of feel sorry for the person who had to poke through that stench

Posted by
1038 posts

3 page a day calendars in a checked bag w some other books got opened and searched.... probably looked like explosives. About 10 yrs ago I was stopped on my way to new Orleans with a pound if coffee in my carryon roller bag, they asked and I said I was returning to a catholic retreat Center w a small kitchen but no breakfast
provided, when TSA agent saw the
coffee filters, 3 foam bowls nestled in
clean pjs, 3 plastic spoons, 3 oatmeal
packets and trail mix, he said "I
believe you"

Posted by
2347 posts

My husband and I had each thrown an apple into our bags to eat on the plane, and we each got searched. Not because of the apple. But I learned that in future, I will put my apple in a baggie rather than have it handled by TSA. They have the same gloves on, going through dirty laundry, shoes, etc. And touching my apple. Yuck.

Posted by
66 posts

The cell-phone sized power banks/juice packs that will charge your phone when you can't plug in. Going in and out of LAX and Shanghai last year, stopped every time. Hasn't happened domestically or going to Europe, however. China also did a thorough check of all components of my DSLR and spare camera lenses.

Posted by
1139 posts

This is a sad story: returning home from my father's funeral, I had a large memorial candle in my RS convertible carry-on. The agent pulled the bag off the belt and started to tease me about being a romantic/seduction artist, and his partner saw that I was wearing a torn black ribbon pinned to my jacket and grabbed the man's sleeve to stop him from talking. The partner whispered to him and he changed his facial expression and let me move on.

I've had several other misunderstandings over the years, including a harmonica and some dried fruit snacks not common in the West.

Posted by
298 posts

My travel hot curlers recently have caused issues in both US and Europe. It started in Paris while catching the Eurostar.

At Heathrow I watched 2 girls try to stuff their 3-1-1 items into the little bag that you have to use there from their generous bag they use in the US. Always something to remember when traveling through that airport. And a question does anybody know if they use those same bags throughout the UK or just Heathrow? I'll be leaving from Scotland next year.

Posted by
11153 posts

This thread reminded me that in the past, the collapsible umbrella in my carry on was noted on the X-ray a few times, and triggered some questions (since it looks like a "weapon" on the X-ray). But it's been a few years or more since that happened, and I still travel with the same umbrella model.

Posted by
3790 posts

larlock - I've never had to swap out my 311 bags coming or going to anywhere via LHR.

Maybe they misunderstood - to the best of my knowledge 311 bags are a standard size across the board - does anyone know any different?

My impression is they give those out to people who either forgot to pack their stuff in a 311 (which I guess could happen for a new flyer) or if you maybe have something else that should go in your bag that you didn't put in - I think they used to tell you stuff like lipstick and lip balms should go in, but the last few times my lip balm was in my coat pocket and had no issues.

Posted by
8906 posts

Several years ago I was at Orlando Airport returning home from a Disney vacation. I purchased a toy model of the monorail train and packed it into my carry-on. As it was passing through the x-ray scanner at the security checkpoint, the TSA agent at manning the scanner looked up from her monitor and gave me a horrified look. She called over a supervisor who then called over a police officer, I was then brought over to the monitor and asked to explain what was on the screen. I looked at the screen, and was horrified by what they were also horrified by...the toy monorail looked exactly like the ammunition clip of AK-47. It took me about thirty seconds to realize the mix up, and I explained what is was and they opened the bag to verify, and we all went our separate ways:)

Posted by
16763 posts

The one thing I know is different at LHR (vs. US airports) is that you are not allowed to have medically-necessary liquids outside your 3-1-1 bag; everything has to go inside that one bag. I learned that when I used most of my 3-1-1 space for miniature jars of mustard and had a medical item in a separate bag. Not acceptable. I will note that the checker was very nice about my error and helped me more-or-less get everything into one bag (not totally sealed). I didn't end up having to throw anything away. It probably helped that security was not backed up at the time.

Posted by
2486 posts

We had an experience with 3-1-1 bags at CDG this summer that I thought was unusual. Two of us had our small liquids in clear, zippered bags I’d purchased online. The website said they were specifically for air travel and they were marked 3-1-1 on the side with big numbers. The security agent pulled the bags out of the trays, handed us kitchen style plastic bags and indicated everything must go in those two. We had no trouble getting everything into their plastic bags. We had previously passed through several airports including LHR without any problem and have traveled internationally with them again since the July-August trip without a problem. I don’t have any explanation for what got them in trouble at CDG.

Posted by
3227 posts

Many things, all in my carry on. Here are a few:

  • Roll of quarters. $10 worth of quarters in the paper roll from the bank. I was told to unroll them and was allowed to keep them. Entire bag tossed and left for me to repack.
  • Parmesan cheese, package of batteries, mechanical alarm clock, headphones. All tangled together looked like a bomb. Again, allowed onward after bag contents dumped.
  • Package of bath soap bars. Entire bag searched for explosive looking object. Allowed onward.
  • Two pepper grinders. Shout from TSA person "What is that???" Said pepper grinders. Response "OK, just checking." No physical search.
  • Assorted packages of frozen meats from hunting trip. Each package carefully squeezed and intently looked at, not unwrapped, and got a stern lecture about trying to confuse the TSA agents by having such items. Was allowed to keep everything.

And finally the one I remember the most. Returning from an Alaska vacation had visited a goldmine earlier in the day where they were actively blasting out rock with dynamite. We were allowed to touch the ore and pan some. Got randomly selected for the explosives swab at the airport. Showed positive so entire bag was dumped, empty bag run through X-ray multiple times, each seam in bag inspected, all of my dirty clothes checked. Found nothing other than the bag handle and the clothes I wore earlier to the mine that tested positive for explosives. They believed my recounting of the mine visit after showing them the ticket for entry and the small canister of gold flakes I had panned. Was allowed to pack everything up and get on the plane. I threw away that carry on bag after running into the same issue of detecting explosives on a couple later trips. Why do I remember it? This was 9/10. My overnight flight was one of the last to land in the US and allow passengers off before the 9/11 events occurred.

Posted by
16763 posts

Good grief, Mark, they should hire you as a tester--a sort of secret shopper to evaluate TSA screeners.

Posted by
17642 posts

I've only had my bag searched once. It was in Atlanta where I was changing planes on a connection from Stuttgart to Denver on Delta. The woman in front of me went right by the gate agent with a bag that obviously did not conform to carryon regulations. I followed her, and the gate agent made me set down my carryon bag and thoroughly went through it. I don't know why. I don't think she was really a security person, just the ticket taker. I'm sure I scowled at the woman with the over-sized bag. Maybe the gate agent thought that made me look suspicious. Or maybe she was afraid I would report her for not checking the size of the first woman's bag and wanted to be able to claim I was just complaining because I had been checked. If she had been doing her job, she would have checked the size of the first woman's bag.

Posted by
664 posts

You've never really had your luggage searched until you've had to have it taken back off the airplane. Flying from Nuremberg to Seattle (back from a trade show) we had to watch all the luggage be removed from a 747 (in Amsterdam) so we could identify our bags and present the paperwork that went with the items we were carrying. Not our fault, we had paperwork from every country involved (including USA), it was all correct, but somebody failed to annotate something on the manifest and it needed to be re-inspected. Lot's of unhappy people due to the 3 hour delay...

Posted by
688 posts

-shrink wrapped bags of spices and teas from the Egyptian Spice Market in Istanbul
-bars of soap in the same bag as above
-a plastic bag of my husband's Metamucil with a plastic dosing cup
-travel scissors

All were eventually let through.

Posted by
70 posts

Coming back from Rome in the Dublin airport I was pull aside, and the agents did a body scan and hand patted me down.
I don't know why, maybe it was the bag of risotto in my carry on, or the fact I was wearing black tights and sneakers, with a dress. I wear tights to keep my legs warm on the plane, with a loose fitting dress, but it seems an odd choice to some people. The Irish security agents were charming and bantering with one another so that was interesting to watch as I waited my turn to be searched. They scanned my electronic appliances with some gadget also looking for what I don't know. (Explosives?) The other women pulled out for body searching were wearing eccentric clothing too. Maybe the fashion police are in charge of security for Air Lingus.

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6 posts

I've been pulled over a couple of times to have the TSA agent wipe some square of fabric all over the outside of my luggage. I thanked her for cleaning it, but was puzzled what the swiping was for. Actually, I still don't what it was for. What made my one bag get searched back in 1999 was when TSA saw me obviously struggling with my personal item because it was heavy. When he pulled me to the side table he asked, "What's in this bag? Why is it so heavy? You can bearly lift it." I calmly said, "My parents. I'm taking them back home to be interred in our family plot." He turned green for a moment, asked me for the cremation paperwork, spoke to his supervisor, came back and not only carried my parents for me onto the plane, but he had arranged for an escort in Newark to help me with my bag to the rental car counter. I am forever greatful for his empathy and kindness, even though he was kind of freaked out.

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16763 posts

I think the swiping is a test for explosive residue but am not 100% sure. I believe it's sometimes done randomly.

Posted by
3790 posts

I'm fairly certain the swab test is for explosives - could also be for drugs. I've had the swab test a few times - they told me it was random. I think once they may have put the suitcase back thru the machine after the swab, or maybe did a quick open.

Ahhh - here's what CATSA says

Explosive Trace Detection (Swabbing)

CATSA uses explosive trace detection (ETD) as a security measure. Screening officers may swab your carry-on baggage, clothing, shoes or laptop. When a trace of person is required, the screening officer will swab your hands, waist area and foot (or footwear) and then use ETD technology to test for explosives.

Certain items and passengers must undergo ETD testing, including passengers who:
•Are randomly selected
•Are wearing medical casts or large bandages / dressings
•Have prosthetic or orthotic devices on their person
•Have implanted medical devices
•Are travelling with live animals (including service animals)

If an ETD swab is needed, you can ask to be screened in a private search room.

Posted by
485 posts

Our bags got pulled in AMS last May. Turns out the two plastic bags one containing Euro coins and the other containing Pound Sterling coins caught their attention. Told them where where we had been traveling for the last 30 days, they rescanned and set us on our way. Is what it is!

Posted by
1845 posts

Ana Maria, that is a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing it. A couple of times I have been pulled over after my personal item has passed through the X-ray so an agent can look into my bag. I never know what triggers the extra attention and have been promptly waved through.

Posted by
1878 posts

Brunswick GA is a training site for TSA and they may be a little overzealous. They confiscated a sealed bottle of mouthwash from checked luggage and the only explanation given was “it was too big” at 1.5 liters. I have to remember not to wear Levi’s 501s on a plane as the button fly always results in a serious groping that in any other context would be a crime. I think the way they have the tables set up at Heathrow in the transfer area seems to make it hard to remove everything from your person that may cause secondary screening. There is just not enough room or time with people climbing over your back. I always get secondary screening there and I think that is the way the system is designed. My default expression may seem crabby to some which probably does not help, plus when I go through airport security I actually am crabby.

Posted by
8569 posts

Travel size roll of duct tape (LGW)
0.5 ounce bottle of hand sanitizer ( in 3-1-1 bag) (Guernsey)
Immersion heater (JFK)
Solid anti-perspirant (Berlin Tegel and LCY)
Extension cord (LCY)
Randomly selected--twice (RDU and LHR )

There were others but I don't remember or was never told why. Nothing has ever been confiscated.

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53 posts

I'm an environmental scientist, and a few years ago I was traveling to Mexico (Veracruz state) to assess a potential remediation site and assess samples. I had a soil probe to take coring samples. Each section of the probe is about a yard long, stainless steel. It was in my checked luggage. No problem leaving the US, but when I arrived in Mexico, their customs was very interested in it. They ended up making me pay a $60 "duty" to bring it into the country, even though I explained what it was and that I would be taking it out again. I think I got shaken down, but they gave me a receipt, so I was able to get reimbursed by my company.

Posted by
612 posts

What an interesting thread, thanks for starting this Nicole.

I have been "checked on a number of things from Bath Salts from the Dead Sea in Israel to coffee in the Phoenix airport. The most unusual was when my husband and I took my two nephews and niece to San Diego. My one nephew wet the bed the night before our flight and we wrapped up the dirty clothes and stuck them in the suitcase. It was marked positive for explosives in the security line. We tried to tell the TSA agent that it was the PJs from the "accident" as they searched the suitcase. My poor nephew as mortified.

Posted by
9 posts

Package of coffee....every time. Now if we have checked luggage, we pack it there. If not, put it in the bin outside the carry on.

Posted by
1503 posts

Candles. I’ve learned to just take them out and send them through the scanner on their own.

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4 posts

A Wegmans Italian sub at BWI and a bag of bialys at Laguardia (which started a lengthy conversation with the agent about the difference between a bialy and a bagel).

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785 posts

Another LHR story - searched for the jar of marmalade I bought at Harrod's and completely forgot was technically liquid. Lost that one, thankfully it wasn't very expensive. The agent was very nice about it. The older American woman ahead of me whose bag she had also searched was being a total bee-atch, completely unnecessary, going on and on about how they had ruined her whole day. [eyeroll]

My favorite was in San Francisco. They didn't search my bag, but the agent behind the monitor loudly asked me, "Is that a salami?" It was.

Posted by
58 posts

My mother in law got her bag searched because if a toy she was bringing to our son when she visited a few years back.

It was a toy tractor with a flashlight inside. You pull and handle and it pops open and makes noise and the flashlight turns on. Wanna guess what that looks like in an x-ray machine??

Even better when TSA searching the bag finds the trigger handle and hears the tractor noise starting up. MIL thought the guy might wet himself!

Posted by
3790 posts

Claire...I know exactly the toy...we sell it at the store I work at. And it is super noisy!

Posted by
3133 posts

What has got your luggage searched?

Absolutely nothing. Dumb luck. I knew 24 hours in advance that I would have my hand luggage emptied and gone over at the gate. The dreaded SSSS.

When I went on the Delta app the day before my flight home to JFK from Heathrow, I was not issued a boarding pass to upload to my Apple Wallet. I was told that I needed to check in at the airport. I had to go to the ticket window; the kiosk wouldn't even print a boarding pass. So I got the boarding pass from the ticket window with SSSS written on it.

Since I knew in advance this would happen to me, I put nearly everything in my checked luggage so all they had was a nearly empty tote bag and my purse.

Posted by
8569 posts

Heathrow the other day.

I had an early morning flight and had, by accident, put my travel size toothpaste into my toiletry kit rather than the 3-1-1 bag.

Of course, Heathrow being Heathrow found it. My bag was sent to the side for inspection.

The agent assigned to searching the bag asked the machine operator what was wrong. The operator said "toothpaste." The searching agent looked at me and I said it was possible I had accidentally put my travel sized toothpaste into my toiletry kit rather than the 3-1-1 bag.

Big mistake. I tried to show her where it was but she just asked me to step back and leave it to her.

Apparently, leaving a travel sized toothpaste in your luggage is very serious. Very serious indeed.

As she proceeded to take everthing out of my bag, and I mean everything. she kept eyeing me with suspicion. I smiled.

Big mistake. Suddently, out of nowhere, ropes dropped from the ceiling and armed police dressed in combat gear, rappelled down. Their laser sighted automatic weapons were aimed directly towards my heart. Doors on the side flew open and men in dark suits and dark glasses came running towards me. They flashed their credentials yelling they were with MI5 and wanted to ask me a few questions.

"What was I really carrying?" they screamed thinking my travel size toothpaste was just a diversion. "Do you want us to turn you over to the Americans where they could send you to Guantanamo?" one asked assertively.

"No", I said. "I just want to go to Iceland."

By this time there were about 10 people behind me waiting for their bags to be searhed as well. The women checking my bag was still going through mine, swabbing everything and making numerous trips to the bomb detection reader.

Finally, after what seemed like forever, she finished and thanked me for being cooperative. Like I had a choice.

Okay, the part about the armed police and MI5 weren't true but I sure felt as if that would happen.

The moral of the story is simple.....at Heathrow, make sure anything that is supposed to be in the 3-1-1 bag is in the 3-1-1 bag and nowhere else.

Posted by
3790 posts

Oh good lord Frank - lol. But it sure is hard not to look 'guilty' even though you know you have nothing to be guilty about when your bag gets put aside.

On the flip side, when we were flying via Gatwick to Naples with my mom back in '15, she packed her full size something - shampoo or lotion - in her carry on. They pulled it out, put it thru one of those 'sensor thingies' (that IS the official name...lol), saw it was all good and just put it back in her bag. No making her throw it out or having a fit about it. Do they still use those machines, or are they too traveler friendly? She did get checked on the way back to London because she had a fridge magnet wrapped in bubble wrap.

Posted by
487 posts

I rarely go through LHR without getting my bag checked or my person. They never find anything amiss, but it's become a running joke with my DH.
The last time through LHR, it was because i had a full metal splint on my finger - two days before leaving for a trip to Spain I'd cut off the tip of my finger (totally stupid but that's what happens when you are rushing to finish a project and thinking about your vacation!). ER doc couldn't stitch it so superglued it a few times and told me to keep the cage on until the glue peeled off on it's own.
The security guy told me to remove it and I kindly explained what had happened and why I needed to keep it on - he turned rather white and told me I could keep it on and that he'd just look at my hand (you could see a bit of my finger since I had to keep it loosely wrapped for air circulation I honestly thought he was going to lose his lunch!

They did search my carry on and personal item - good thing we had extra time because with my hand I was pretty useless at putting things back in my bag (and that is one other reason I am a devoted fan of packing cubes!!)