Traveling makes me fat. Not vacation travel, where there’s mild exercise, such as paddling, hiking, or snorkeling, and more importantly, my wife, who doubles as my culinary conscience. But business travel makes me fat. There’s rarely exercise, because being ‘on the road’ means early starts and late finishes, reviewing one day’s work and making adjustments to the plans for the next day’s work. Meals seem more likely to involve comfort food, or to involve the couple beers that help lubricate dinner conversation, or both. So this trip was going to be different.
I loaded up lots of stuff I might ordinarily check as baggage. My backpack felt like it weighed as much as I do, with computer and projector and cords and handouts and connectors and charts and food… Oh yeah, my backpack and carry-on bag also included healthier food (I could have checked the carry-on bag, but wanted the exercise of carrying it). Since I’m one of those people who favor adding flavor to raw vegetables, my Baggies of cauliflower pieces and carrot sticks were accompanied by an unopened, store-sealed, packet of garbanzo bean paste laced with garlic, more commonly known as hummus. Little did I know what lay in store for me and my garlic flavor.
Most of you know what happens when attempting to board an airplane. Despite having to go through machinery that can see through my clothing, I have to remove half my clothing anyway. Top and bottom first, my hat and shoes come off, and go into a tray. Middle next, off with the belt, and hoping my pants don’t drop to an embarrassing level, both hands remove my coat, jacket, or sweatshirt. Pockets get emptied, computers get removed from protective bags, cases, or backpacks, and then while the machine looks at your body through your remaining clothing, complete strangers start examining your stuff. If you’re lucky, the strangers are satisfied to merely peer at everything via X-ray, but usually I get the bonus of strangers actually rummaging through my stuff. And they wear gloves, so I don’t get the satisfaction of telling them to keep their grubby hands off.
On this trip into the airport, as the stranger pulled my stuff aside to allow more room for rummaging, I decided to distract myself, in the hope of keeping my irritation level low. Geek, nerd, or both, I mentally assigned hazard classes to everything I could see the strangers pawing through.
1 – The ammunition for the handguns was probably screened through the checked luggage, and not carried on.
2 – Two divisions, at least I think the Binaca breath spray aerosol is non-flammable, while the cigarette lighter from the smoker at the adjacent table is definitely flammable.
3 – My hand sanitizer mini-bottle kills germs by using a high percentage of flammable ethanol, and I suspect the smoker’s cologne of being a flammable liquid, also.
4 – I didn’t see any stick matches in the smoker’s stuff, but my emergency, non-aerosol, underarm deodorant wipes are actually “solids containing flammable liquid” of Division 4.1
5 – Because my keychain flashlight kept turning itself on and exhausting the battery while still inside my backpack, thus being dead whenever I needed it, I’ve started carrying a lightstick instead. One of the two solutions that, when mixed, react to give off light, is actually an organic peroxide.
6 – Later, the lady on the plane coughing up half a lung may have been spreading a bit of UN3373, but I didn’t see any Class 6 DG in anyone’s carry-on.
7 – There are still some wrist-watches in use with glow-in-the-dark dials that were painted with radium or tritium. Like the one handed down to me from my grandfather.
8 – Some rechargeable AA-sized batteries are actually lead-acid batteries, not just NiMH or NiCad or lithium ion. I didn’t see many batteries, but I did see lots of battery-powered devices. I saw watches, iPods and iPads, still cameras and movie cameras. I saw laptops and tablets, Kindles and Nooks, DVD players and Blu-Ray players, mp3 players and noise-cancelling headphones. Who’s to say that none used rechargeable lead-acid batteries?
9 – Spare batteries for my own still camera are the <gasp> dreaded, primary, lithium metal, non-rechargeable type. Fortunately for my fellow travelers, I do keep mine properly packaged, aligned and rendered motionless in the retailer’s rigid, plastic packaging.
So, which of the seven classes of Dangerous Goods going aboard the passenger compartment of my flight that day did the strangers single out as being especially dangerous? Which of the battery powered devices or variety of spare batteries were noted as improperly packaged and flagged as potentially dangerous in flight? None, and none! My hummus was officially ruled a gel, and found to be too dangerous to be allowed on the plane.
Okay, okay, yes I know that there is a difference in perspective when looking for security dangers versus looking for cargo and carry-on dangers, and that difference in perspective leads to some differences in definitions and regulations. But, really, hummus is more dangerous than lithium batteries? And haven’t there been nearly as many (or more) airplanes set on fire or brought down by Dangerous Goods as by terrorists? Don’t we already have the infrastructure and systems in place to rapidly and efficiently identify and correct, improperly prepared dangerous goods going onto passenger planes? Can’t we get some cross-training for those security folks already looking for dangerous materials passengers try to take on board? Isn’t it as important to catch the spare batteries thrown loose into the bottom of a computer bag as it is to catch my oversized hummus? Are we missing a golden opportunity here to reduce the dangers of flying and increase general public awareness of what can be dangerous on an airplane when improperly packaged? Let’s not allow our focus on terrorism prevention to blind us to the other dangerous materials right under our noses.
They didn’t address my DG, but they took my hummus.
Written 1/26/2012 for HCB Magazine