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For hygiene or for terror?


Note to self: It is no longer all right to pack my toenail clipper kit in my carry-on airline luggage.

If you haven't been an airline passenger since Sept. 11, things are much, much different than you remember. And, thankfully, the passage of time since the attack on America has diminished neither the resolve nor the attention to detail of security personnel.

After waiting in line for an hour to pass through the security checkpoint at the Columbus, Ohio airport last week, I placed my carry-on bag on the x-ray conveyor and asked a security person what I should do with my cell phone.

"Put it on the conveyor, sir," he said with disdain in his voice. And then he raised his voice so as many people in the several-hundred-deep line as possible could hear him.

"Please be ready when you get to the checkpoint to put ALL of your items on the conveyor," he bellowed. "If you aren't ready, it just delays things for everyone."

It used to be that I would put my cell phone in a little basket, walk through the metal detector, and head to the gate. But that was then and this is now.

As I went to retrieve my carry-on bag from the x-ray inspection, a security guard approached.

"Is this your bag, sir?" he asked. I answered in the affirmative.

"Would you mind if I search it?" he asked in what I perceived was a courtesy question only. Whether I objected or not probably wasn't truly a consideration. I figured it must be a random and-or routine part of post-attack procedures.

The gentleman started to go through the things in my carry-on bag. He opened my travel toiletry case and started taking out my shaving cream, deodorant and ... my little travel toenail clipper kit.

And as he opened it, it hit me.

I was bringing sharp scissors and a metal toenail file into the passenger cabin. Six weeks ago they would have been categorized as personal hygiene items. Now they were potential weapons of terror.

At that split second, it crossed my mind that in this highly charged setting, this might be viewed as a serious offense. I just hoped that the security folks would see the combination of embarrassment and stark realization of what I had done.

Another man approached, looked at the sharp scissors and pointed metal file, and asked, "Are these your items, sir?"

"Uh-oh," I thought, but I confirmed that they were.

"You can't take these on board," he said, and confiscated all of the items.

As the day progressed, I was randomly searched on two other occasions, both times by friendly but thorough airline employees. While it was inconvenient and even a little embarrassing, I walked away from each search feeling good about the fact that the airlines and airports are now being so thorough. I was glad that security found the potential weapons in my carry-on bag. It showed me that whether by innocent mistake or conscious act, it is now much more difficult to get items that could cause personal harm to others into the passenger cabin.

Bottom line: Don't expect to whiz through security any more. And that's a good thing for passengers, pilots and flight attendants.

As a security person re-packed my carry-on bag following the search, I said to him, "It never even occurred to me (that there would be a problem with the toenail clippers)."

"Things are different now," he said.


This column was written Oct. 26, 2001, and published in several print and web publications across the country.

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