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BOARDING A JET WITH A GAS CAN

New York Times

I'm a frequent flier, and have been for years. I fly regularly to Pittsburgh, Birmingham, Denver, Baltimore, Nashville and, occasionally, Jacksonville.

They aren't the most glamorous destinations, but that's where the business is.

Last year, I traveled twice to Istanbul to visit a Turkish customer. For me, it was a real adventure.

I don't mind all the security precautions nowadays. I'm actually grateful for the increased restrictions since I can no longer carry water samples with me. Clients now have to ship them to us. (I'm co-president of Pro-Chem-Co, a manufacturer of specialty chemicals in Lake Station, Ind.)

Water samples from our clients are very important. That's because water differs from place to place, even street to street. So our chemists need to adjust formulas to better match the local water supply.

On one trip to Baltimore about 15 years ago, I had to go to a hardware store to purchase a container to carry back a gallon of water. The only "container" this particular hardware store had was a gasoline can. I purchased it along with a plain cardboard box that fit the can.

Airport security wanted to see what was in the box. I explained carefully what it contained, what my role was with the company and what was in the gas can. It caused quite a stir and several security officers came over.

After I convinced them it was only water, I was still told to go to the nearest bathroom and dump it in the sink, and then throw away the container.

I found a bathroom and began to empty the can into the sink. Then, a gentleman walked into the bathroom and saw me pouring the contents of the gas can into that sink. He got very startled and left quickly.

After I was done pouring out the water, I then tried to throw the gasoline container into the nearby garbage can.

But it was a tad too large and I had to really push it hard to get it into the garbage can.

At that moment, a man walked in with his son and they both stopped in their tracks when they saw what I was doing. The man grabbed his son's arm and they practically ran out of the bathroom.

I figured it was time for me to stop what I was doing, and I left for my gate, just as the final boarding call was made. I was the last person on the plane.

I looked back and saw several state troopers head into the bathroom. I was so relieved when the plane door closed and we took off. I escaped.

Obviously, trying something like this nowadays would be illegal and stupid. But 15 years ago, things were much different. It didn't seem like a big deal, even though it probably was.

If I was lucky, sometimes all I had to carry was a bottle of water. Back then, the security personnel would just want to smell the liquid in the bottle, as though that would be telling. But one time I had to drink a sip of water from a sample bottle. I guess they figured if I didn't pass out, it was okay. So I took a big sip of the water. And they let me through.

No one followed me to see if I took an antidote.

Recently on a trip to Baltimore, a friend had a container of crab meat confiscated at security. I have to laugh. I once had to carry a steel sample, shaped like a sickle, on board a plane. Since it was a small airport, the security agent had the pilot take a look at it. The pilot didn't have an issue and let me right on.

I think he might have even given me a big thumbs up.

By James Taglia, as told to Joan Raymond of the New York Times.

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