If there are any doubts as to whether the airport screeners at security checkpoints are doing their jobs properly and efficiently, then based upon my own recent experience, let me dispel those doubts.
Whether purposeful or purely accidental, as was my unfortunate situation, if you are caught attempting to bring an illegal item through security, especially a weapon, then you will be arrested.
We are all aware of the current rules concerning items such as makeup, shampoo, and other liquids and lotions, but in our efforts to make sure we adhere to those rules, we may inadvertently overlook other items that pose a far more dangerous threat to safety and security.
When packing your bags, take care to examine all pockets and pouches for items that may have been left inside during previous ventures or uses. I made the mistake of ignoring a small side pouch on the backpack I was using as carry-on baggage for a trip to Canada to visit family.
That morning, as I was preparing my bags for the trip, I emptied out the main area of the backup, and packed it with a few items I would be taking on the plane with me. It never occurred to me that there might be something in the small side pouch that had the potential to ruin the whole trip, not to mention my life.
I received my rude awakening when attempting to go through security, and the baggage screeners began to spend an extra-long time examining the contents of my backpack on the x-ray screen. In the few seconds that they informed me that they were seeing something on the screen that warranted more attention, I suddenly came to a shocking realization.
I use this same backpack when I go hiking in the woods, and I sometimes carry a knife in the bag as well. I was horrified to think that I had left the knife in the backpack. I informed the baggage screeners that I might have done so, and I thought that at that point, they would open the bag and confiscate the offending blade, give me a stern warning, and send me on my way.
At least, that’s what I had hoped. Alas, the ordeal was just beginning. I first had to wait for additional security to arrive, and they further inspected the images on the screen, but had not yet opened the bag. After a few minutes, I was then informed that I would have to wait for the Port Authority police to arrive, and they would inspect the contents of the bag.
When the two officers arrived, they were highly suspicious of me, even after I informed them of the possibility of the knife in the bag and why it might be there. Although it was purely an innocent (and highly stupid) mistake on my part, as far as the officers were concerned, I was taking a knife onto an airplane, and they had no previous knowledge of my character.
They ordered me to empty the bag. I did so, and we all sat staring at the contents and the bag itself when no knife or other dangerous item was found. A sudden feeling of relief washed over me as it appeared that it was all just a misunderstanding, and that the jumbled contents of my bag must have simply produced a strange image on the screen.
My relief was short-lived when one of the officers noticed the side pouch on the backpack and unzipped it. Out came the knife. The officers were not pleased. The next step was waiting for the Sergeant on duty to arrive, whereas he would be making a decision as to whether I should be arrested or not.
The possibility of actually being arrested had not yet dawned on me yet. I was more worried about missing my flight. The whole situation began to take on a dreamlike quality, as I was shocked that these events were actually happening to me.
While waiting for the Sergeant, the officers and I spoke, and they quickly came to realize that it was an honest mistake on my part and that I posed no threat. Unfortunately, they explained that their hands were tied due to strictly enforced security regulations, and it was highly unlikely that I would be let go. They were very helpful, informing me of best and worst case scenarios and almost going so far as to apologize for having to arrest me.
And arrest me they did. The sergeant arrived and promptly stated I was under arrest. I was handcuffed and led out of the terminal to a squad car, driven to the Port Authority police station on the airport premises, where I spent much of the night being processed.
I was searched. I had to empty my pockets of all items and remove all my jewelry. I had to remove my shoelaces in case I decided it would be a bright idea to hang myself while in my cell.
Yes, I was placed in a holding cell, my own 6′ x 8′ room with a hard wooden bench and a sink and a toilet. My flight was taking off about this time.
During the next few hours, I was fingerprinted, had mug shots taken, and was questioned by a detective. Then I simply had to wait in captivity while the paperwork was completed and I was granted a desk appearance in criminal court. My charge was Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the 4th degree, a misdemeanor.
I began worrying about how I would ever be able to find a decent job or get a loan if need be, as a conviction would certainly hinder both. But luckily, I have not actually been convicted of anything as of yet, and at my court appearance, I will likely be told that after a probationary period of six months to a year, my record will be clean, as it was before this whole trying incident.
It was a surreal experience, but the officers also told me that it happens about three times a day. People simply forget to thoroughly check their bags before packing or going through security, so I implore you, don’t make the same mistake I did. Empty your bags completely after each trip and inspect them for any items that may not be lawful to carry onto a plane before leaving for another trip.
It may be an innocent mistake, but its a mistake that will cost you.