A Word of Warning re: airports, the TSA, and 60 luggage tags

So last week I made about 60 customized luggage tags as gifts for colleagues at our annual SAP Users Conference in Orlando. To keep them well organized in my carry on, I taped them in batches of about 15 each, stacked, and put all found bundles sideways in my carry-on, kind of like a long loaf of bread.

Well,guess what: In an airport X-ray machine, 60 pieces of cut PG maple ply with rounded corners look like… something that shouldn’t be going on a plane. Think some type of plastique/ explosive material.

Needless to say, I was pulled aside for secondary screening. And when they looked at them, they actually thought they were very neat, complimented me on my work, but then swabbed several of the luggage tags “just to be sure” - and apparently, because of the laser burning the PG material, the scan came back as a questionable / dangerous material.

Luckily, after they took one stack to manually inspect them, they did eventually clear them… and they have been a big success with colleagues… and I may get one or two referral credits, I hope.

But I did want to alert the community to be aware of how NOT to pack some of the materials when travelling… and to note that lased plywood MAY create a false positive when swabbed and scanned.

Todd. :wink:


:rofl: at least you’ve got an interesting story to go along with them also.


Love it! You had an adventure! :sunglasses:


Great story!!! I ALWAYS get pulled aside for the explosive “shake down”. Guess I will have to pack a bunch of luggage tags so they let me go sooner!!!


I always opt out and get the patdown. Once, I tested positive, and had the wonderful experience of sitting there for almost an hour while they tried to clear me. See, the problem was that the machine was broken… When they tested fresh swabs out of the box, they all tested positive too.

I asked the guy, “so, if your machine isn’t working right, what happens next?”

He said, “you have to understand, when you opt out, you are opening a can of worms.” He then said, “But the machine is working. There are explosives in this airport.” He was super serious. OK, Agent Man, carry on.

After an eternity of watching the guy and his buddy waste swab after swab, they changed tactics. The guy took 2 steps to his right, to the OTHER machine sitting there the whole time. It worked properly, and I was free to go.

Fortunately I never found out what happens if you can’t be cleared.


hehe. Six years ago I went to Denver with my daughter for a mother/daughter getaway. We went to the “Taste of Denver” where she bought some Christmas presents for her brother. I agreed to take them home with me so she wouldn’t have to ship them, as I live in San Diego, and she was living in CT.

I got pulled over by the nice young men for a secondary screening. They kept asking me what I had bought on my trip. I kept answering “nothing!”

(I didn’t think of the two large brick shaped packages of mushroom starters. After all, I didn’t buy them! lol)


Lol, long time ago I had a “bouquet” made of pasta flowers in my carry on…that looked scary in the xray at the airport…big organic matter blob and lots of metal wires…yep, they took a very close look at that.

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Returning from Mexico, TSA actually swabbed a carved wood otter I was bringing back. I don’t think they like anything wood…

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My favorite TSA story is about the agent who asked my husband about his hearing aid controller, which he had hanging around his neck. He explained what it was, whereupon she informed him that he would have to demonstrate its use for her. He lifted it, pressed a button, and said, “Okay, now I can’t hear you.” She looked at him for a beat, then wordlessly waved him on through.



I have schlepped a lot of laser cut plywood through TSA, but apparently not enough! Great story, and I’ll be more paranoid next time going through the airport.


Hearing aide story gave me a huge grin…

After the 9/11 responses, we were always forced to ship our tools and instruments to the location we were going to be working at.

It just got time consuming and stupid trying to justify the various tools and electronics to people who have been taught to distrust these exact sort of things. Explaining that it violates the warranty to open that Oscilloscope (or whatever), just gets you a stare-down. There is no thinking out of the box at the airport check station and anything with wires of some sort will initiate an adventure.

It appears that now I can add smelly laser items to the list also.


Try explaining to one of them why your carbon fiber belt buckle doesn’t set the machine off. I just hope these people are not the best & brightest they could have hired. :exploding_head:


I was heading home from a conference one year, and one of my colleagues had a poster tube with him. It goes through the x-ray, and they ask if there is any liquids in it. He said no.
They open it and dump out about 20 mini bottles of shampoo and conditioner from the hotel! He had completely forgotten he put them in there. :rofl:


I do that. I use the hotel soap and don’t use separate shampoo & conditioner. But I bring them (& the extra bars of soap) home. Our Boy Scout troop collects them and makes up personal care packs for the local shelters. The hotel has factored their cost into your room rate and in fact I’ve had some give me extras when I mention it. They said they have to toss out even unused ones because they can’t assume the guest hasn’t adulterated them and they don’t want the liability.


I’m a Wisconsin native and when I visit, always hit my favorite cheese factory before I leave. Large amounts of cheese also apparently look like bombs to TSA scanners too. If they were smart they’d confiscate it for snacks…


Try a YouTube search for “nothing to declare”, a British TV show. Two things that surprised me: the number of cigarettes people bring back from Spain, and how often they are sure somebody is up to no good but have to let them go because they can’t prove it.

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Sounds like someone is seeking attention! :sunglasses:

heheh, I do a lot of IoT hackathons for work, plus I generally only fly with carry-on, and when the two overlap, I carry on a small box of Raspberry Pi’s, assorted batteries, breadboards, LOTS of sensors, bundles of wires, an Alexa or two, and a USB soldering iron (interestingly, they always take my plug-in irons, but I’ve never had a problem with the USB one once I detach the cable). All that in addition to my normal computing gear and hotel network setup.

I always get the side-eye from the guy at the machine. “I know, I know, step to the side…”

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I used to have crazy pattern-bleached hair, and I would get “randomly” selected for additional screening every time I flew. Haven’t been selected ever since I stopped with the patterns.


My daughter-in-law is half Afghani (the other half Norwegian), born and raised in Oregon. She kept her own surname when she married my son, and as a result she routinely gets the extra screening; they’ve just resigned themselves to having to allow extra time for it when they travel.

Ironically, her career and area of expertise (supported by two bachelors and a masters degree from MIT and a doctorate from Georgetown) involves predicting and preventing the things that cause groups and societies to tip over into terrorism.