Problem at airport security

Had a problem the other day at airport security. After I placed my
travel bag on the belt I was asked if they could go through it. I
was then asked what kind of medications I had in my bag and if I had
papers from my MD for them. Since my rx’s are just normal things I
was kind of surprised and said that all were in the bottles that they
come in. I then rattled of the names of my rx’s - interesting thing
was they had a printout in front of them with exactly what I was
carrying and knew before I told them. Then they asked if my husband
or I hunt - perhaps If we cleaned guns we would have gunpowder
residue from our hands on the bag, (neither of us use guns) and we
were both flabbergasted. Seems there sensor was detecting TNT!!!
Shocked the heck out of all of us. Well, there everything went out
of the bag and onto the counter – everything that I always have had
in my carry on with the exception of some of my new jewelry pieces
and the polishing cloth I use. They finally let me go since they
could not find anything. We were thinking after, perhaps there is
something in my silver jewelry, the dichroic glass, some of the
polishing compounds or maybe it was the new titanium coated druzy
that I had just set and was bringing with me to show. Nothing else
made any sense! Have any of you encountered something like this with
your jewelry supplies? I did not have any problem at other security
gates but am concerned when I travel to China this might happen again
and I don’t want to have a communication problem there!!!


I wrote an article a couple of years ago for a company that makes
airport security scanning systems. The machines analyze the contents
of bags and report the atomic weights of suspect items - they’re
probably more sophisticated now. Cool stuff, albeit a bit Big
Brother. If you fly out of one of the busy airports, you’re more
likely to have your bags subjected to this level of search.

Always ask for a private room if airport security wishes to check
your jewelry bag. Louise

Hi Elle, I had a similar problem with airport security. They did
sample rubbings off my fanny pack and put the samples through some
machine. When they couldn’t find anything, they let me proceed.

My theory is that there might have been metal dust, rouge dust, etc.
on the fabric and this tripped up the scanners.

Donna Shimazu

Hi Elle, Thanks for sharing your experiences. Sometimes airport
security can go a little overboard. Since I haven’t traveled much by
air since I’ve been designing jewelry, I am anxious to hear if anyone
else has had similar experiences. Hopefully, it was an isolated
incident. Which airport was it?


JoAnna Kelleher, owner
Pearl Exotics Trading Company, LLC
Phoenix, AZ
Phn# 623.845.0998
Fax# 623.845.0917

Oh, airport security, a highlight of my busy travel experience.
Business takes me on the road at least on week a month. Most of my
trips mean pass age through airport security with my jewelry
collection. Travelling with a sample line is stressful enough, but
airport security do their best to add to the pressure of carrying a
quarter of a million dollars in a littl e bag. When going through
security I always make sure that the area is clear of people that
might grab my bag before I get to the other side, I clear my pockets
of metal objects so that I can quickly proceed thru the scanner, and
I always hand the X-RAY operator. All too often I get a responce lik e
this, “Hey Gladys check out this JEWELRY” or simply “OH JEWELRY”
This is usually done in a tone that is loud enough for everyone
within 40 feet to hear. Great to allert any Columbians that have dosed
off in a dark co rner. Another thing that happens to me, and this
almost always happens wh en I am in a rush to get on a plane. The
guard speaking Ebonics will pull my bag after it has gone through
X-RAY and tell me they have to open the bag to inspect it. Of course I
try to explain that this is not needed, I am a jeweler and most get on
my flight. After a few minutes of one sided whispering the inspectors
usually can be convinced to take the goods to seperate room for
viewing rather than opening everything right out in the open. This is
where it gets a little harried especially with female insp ectors as
most women like fine jewelry, one look at my jewels and they to want
to see the whole collection . Yup, you guessed it a little trunk-sh ow
for the security staff. “Oh Phyllis look at these rings. Are these
all diamonds? These must be really expensive! Can I try on this ring?”
All t he while I am watching the clock out of the corner of my eye to
make sure I have not missed my flight.

Unfortunately budgets often force airport security firms to hire the
lowe st level of intelegence known to man. I have no solutions to
airports and their security measures. Traveling by car is certainly no
safer. In the end I do believe it neccessary to get out of my idyllic
community on the coast of Maine to visit clients around the country.
It seems that at this point I can not yet accomplish all over the

Travel Safe,

WEll heres a great story! I was going to do a in-shop teaching
session to Kansas City one week and I saw that there was a rather
inexperienced security guard on duty! I said to myself “heres some
fun!” I said to the fellow, You ARE going to pull me aside aren’t you?
he replied “why?” so my stuff was scanned. “okay buddy open everything
up! lets check out those tools you have!!! they are all pointy and
dangerous!” I said they are my jewellery tools, I can’t let you on
board with those!.. they might hurt someone!!! yeah sure! so a
rather experienced fellow turned up and looked at them …and my
business card…okay, have a nice trip! “he has to learn a few
things on this job!” I think it is better to explain ahead of time to
the security guard that you are on
a business trip and need no to worry of the contents!..gerry, eh!

I do about 15 shows a year almost all by air. Airport security is an
entry level job. They get paid little and that is demonstrated by the
quality of the workers. They sometimes do it out of boredom; that is,
ask to inspect your bag. Be insistant; don’t be bullied. You can and
should always ask for a private inspection. They will always do that.
Anonymity is part of your best security.

Gee - What an amazing problem. Just read through this string and it
seems to me that ALL airports should have the option of a private
scanning of the contents of one’s carry on and one’s person. That is
terrible to have everyone around you know the value of what you are
carrying. Security should provide a private room (as Louise
mentioned) - like when going into one’s lockbox at the bank.
Unbelievable . . . I’m just picking myself up off of the floor after
reading Etienne’s post!

I remember once as a child - the local interisland airlines check in
station (before scanners I think) took my girl scout pocket knife and
put it in a separate box and it rode in the cockpit with the pilot!
That experience left a strong memory with me and so, I have always
opted to put my tools in the check in luggage.

Airport security is rightly stringent, but how DOES one succeed in
carrying tools onboard - if they can be confiscated at security? It
seems that there should be a preboarding form or something that should
give us permission and allow us to carry these items with us. Some of
my tools are as treasured to me as diamonds! There are times when I’d
rather keep a few of them with me than send them through as luggage -
there are too many instances of lost bags.

. . . After reading Etienne’s post about having to reveal the value
of your carry on to the public is UNBELIEVABLE - there must be another
private way. It must be an especially unnerving experience when the
valuable stones are worn on one’s person - at the scanning station -

That’s all - a very thought provoking topic here. I do know that any
fresh fruit and mangoes (for sure) are confiscated at our check ins -
but how can we take our tools onboard if we choose? Cynthia
in Honolulu - a very BUSY airport destination. :slight_smile:

Every time I travel by air and am taking jewerly and tools with me ,I
inform the people at the check-in before I go through. I went to
France and took torchs,tools and some other small equiptment with me
,as i was going for 3 wks. and wanted to work there.I did the same
thing but this time I went directly to the counter and informed them.
They took my case at the counter this time. As for carrying jewelry
and gems with me ,I have not had aproblem with
Columbians lurking in the corners or people speaking Ebonics. Louise

All, Many of the dealers I know who have large inventories, usually
$500,000 or more US dollars, ship their finished products by secure
carrier rather than carry them during transportation to and from
shows. It is very risky to carry your inventory.

Gerry Galarneau

I travel overseas frequently and I always take my small crochet kit
of hand tools with me. I have rarely had a problem with airport
security except for LAX in Los Angeles where I will more often than
anywhere else be asked to look in my bag. Sometimes it is the plastic
bags with coils of gold wire which they want to look at other times
it’s the box of tools.

Having made my tools myself I really can’t risk the possible loss of
checking them in my baggage. They are also very pointed and sharp,
like a shoemaker’s awls set in wooden handles, and I have found that
how I pack them makes a great deal of difference towards how the
security personal will react to them. I have a small metal box which
I put the crochet needles into, having stuck the pointed ends deeply
into a wine cork so they are not so obvious. This box fits inside my
kit with the other tools; pliers, snips, ruler, tape, eyeglasses,
etcetera. If asked to do so I will open and show the contents of the
kit myself, not handing them anything directly, merely allowing them
to see what’s inside. Usually at this point I’ll tell them that I’m
an artist and these are my hand tools. If there is a problem I ask to
speak with their supervisor which is often in itself a quick

Granted, many of the people at the airport security facilities are
not highly trained, and they might not have a very extensive
background in customer relations, but they are still just trying to
do their job. Be polite with them and diplomatic, don’t raise your
voice or get upset unless you are given justifiable cause. Generally
they don’t need to handle your items, they just need to see what it
is that looked strange to them on the x-ray monitor. If you anticipate
any difficulties check with the security office before heading to the
x-ray and metal detectors and tell them what you are carrying. If you
have extremely valuable contents it is perfectly rational to insist
on showing them to the security personnel in private.

Michael David Sturlin, jewelry artist @Michael_David_Sturli

Michael Sturlin Studio, Scottsdale Arizona USA

Great advise about the private room for checking your bags. I will
kept that in mind for future trips. Fortunately, the only jewelry I
carry is my personal stuff and not work I would be transporting to
shows, So I just have a few pieces with me. My concern was the
detection of TNT in my bag. The only new things I had in my bag were
a few silver pieces set with dichroic glass, a small used polishing
cloth, and this new titanium coated drusy that I had just set. After
talking to a few friends we all started to suspect the titanium
coated drusy. What do you all think? Is there something in the
coating that could trigger a sensor of TNT (Dynamite)?


Recently I attended a workshop in Florida. I had to check my tool box
at the airline ticket counters. I wasn’t even given a chance to go
through “security”. I was told that the hammers could be used as
weapons (largest was a 10 oz. chasing hammer), and various other
things could be used as weapons. I wasn’t given a chance to show or
explain. “Lady, check it or leave it.” Fortunately, everything came
through fine on both ends.

It would be nice if there was some sort of declaration form, listing
the purpose/reason why tools need to be carried on, even if they wish
to place them in a secure area, rather than being handled with the
luggage. It irritated me my tools were deemed as lethal weapons, but
the lady who was carrying a bag which looked like it carried several
bricks, and probably a metal nail file, got through without question.

The titanium coating isn’t doing it. On the last trip I took out of
Austin ( new terminal) My leather backpack tripped the machine and
they went through it. Contents were only a few floppy discs and a Sony
Mavica. The bag has been all over the world and this was the first
"search" .The explosive sensors are supposed to look for nitrate
residues and I think they crank the sensitivities up to ridiculous
levels. Suspect the polishing cloth.


Some airlines and/or security guards have gotten quite
security-conscious since all the hijacking bit appeared on the scene.
And some of them are not too reasonable about it. There is one guard
in San Francisco (who always seems to be there when I go through) that
always calls the armed policeman over when she sees my badge (retired
sheriffs’ deputy). Not because she thinks I might be carrying some
other weapon (I’m not) but she says “a badge can be used as a weapon”.
Apparently someone told her that sometime, and that’s her big thing
now. The cop always wonders what the problem is, since I’m not
carrying a weapon. but the big thing you have to accept, whether the
security person is right or wrong, is that he/she is the one who “has
the say”; has the authority to be arbitrary. The thing that amazes me
is that my pocketknife never causes problems, yet one time in Alaska
they dug out a Ulu (an Eskimo knife) and made me check it. different
airlines and different airports have different policies. I came home
from North Carolina with a hand-carved walking stick. Had to change
planes 3 time. At the first checkiin I asked about checking it, and
they said, no, take it inside with you. So I did. At the next plane
(same airline, different airport) they said I HAD to check it. (And
then it missed connections and it was 2 days after I got home before
they finally found it.)

But, you do also have to look at it from their viewpoint. Would you
not consider that a chasing hammer could be used as a weapon? I would
surely hate to get bonked on the head by one, even a 10 oz one, in the
hands of some big strong bruiser. And sharp tools are great
stabbing weapons! They have no way of knowing your intentions. You
can’t tell a potential hijacker by just looking at him/her!

Unfortunately, a declaration form such as you propose would be just
the thing a highjacker could & would use to get their weapons on

I am sympathetic, but we have to be realistic. The crooks have
spoiled things for the honest people!


 My concern was the detection of TNT in my bag. After talking to a
few friends we all started to suspect the titanium coated drusy.  

G’day Elle: I cannot see how titanium could possibly trigger a
detector set for explosives. TNT, of course stands for Tri Nitro
Toluene, which is a very powerful explosive indeed. Dynamite is nitro
glycerine absorbed in kiesulguhr - an inert absorbent clay-like
material which makes the hypersensitive nitro glycerine less sensitive
to shock and so more usable.

The explosives detectors are supposed to be sensitive only to some
nitrogen compounds with a certain molecular structure.

I might be a bit n�ive, but I do not believe for one instant that
your bag may have at any time contained a high explosive! My own
feeling is that the airport moron was simply amusing himself at your
expense. (it is a boring job fit only for a moron/idiot) The only
counter to that is to kick up a fuss and demand the attention of a
superior; the more superior the better. (Try and get the bastard
sacked! For the education of the others.) Robots are reviled - I revile
the telephone ones too - but a robot which senses explosives without
the intervention of a semi human employee is to be preferred. – John

@John_Burgess2 of Mapua Nelson NZ