by Rhona Mahony. Last Thursday, December 5, I brought five ounces (140 grams) of old-fashioned black gunpowder to San Francisco airport. I also brought along a boarding pass for United flight 720 to Denver that I had created at home, in an computer art program. TSA agents accepted the boarding pass. They also took no notice at all of the gunpowder. Accepting the boarding pass was reasonable. Boarding passes that we design and print at home look just like ones designed by the airlines that we print at home. I had thought, though, that I might elicit a short conversation about the gunpowder. Mind you, I had packed the stuff safely. It was in three separate jars: one of charcoal, one of sulphur, and one of saltpetre (potassium nitrate). Each jar was labeled: Charcoal, Sulphur, Saltpetre. I had also thoroughly wet down each powder with tap water. No ignition was possible. As a good citizen, I had packed the resulting pastes into a quart-sized “3-1-1″ plastic bag, along with my shampoo and hand cream. This bag I took out of my messenger bag and put on top of my bin of belongings, turned so that the labels were easy for the TSA inspector to read.
It was my suitcase that caught the attention of the TSA fellow watching the baggage X-ray monitor. He frowned. Then he waved over a stocky TSA co-worker. The co-worker picked up my suitcase and carried it down to me at the end of the conveyor belt. “Anything sharp or fragile in here?,” he asked. “Not that I can think of,” I said. What had the first fellow seen? Continue reading →