25-September-2007 : A Good Reason To Stay With Your Bags Until They Are Cleared By The TSA!

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25-September-2007 : A Good Reason To Stay With Your Bags Until They Are Cleared By The TSA!

Something I started doing a long time ago, when checking my lights, simply to make sure the TSA repacked them correctly has a new purpose today for me.

This past Friday a USA Today staff photographer was flying home from Little Rock, Arkansas (LIT) to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (PHL) when her equipment caused a the TSA to over react, call the bomb squad, and evacuate the airport!

Whenever I place my gear into the care of a TSA screener, or when leaving my bag at the counter with a counter agent, I always ask them to inspect the bag in front of me. I explain the contents are fragile and that the bags contents always cause a hand check. I have only been refused a hand check twice. Both times the TSA ended up hand checking the bag in front of me after the CTX machine’s images of the inside of my bag caused alarm.

Let’s be realistic. A TSA screener is looking for certain shapes, items, configurations. They don’t know the particular ins-and-outs of certain professional specialty equipment. My rolling case holds two heads, a pack, two batteries, head-cords, power supplies, PC cords, pocket wizards, two Nikon speedlights, vice grips, etc. I understand that they can’t see through the batteries, the Pocket Wizards may look like triggers (and they are). I understand that my bag should go through a secondary screening. I like to be ahead of the game and just let them know up front what they are looking at and that I’d like to witness the inspection.

Rather than go on about this subject, I’d rather you all click the following link and read a first hand account of how a USA Today staff photog’s lighting bag shut down LIT and caused the terminal to be evacuated!


The lesson here , even for the most experienced flyer? You guessed, let them know what is i your bag up front and stick around until your baggage tag has a “TSA” sticker on it and us placed on the baggage belt.

Happy Flying!


  1. The truth is that the rules are changing from day to day, gate to gate, airport to airport, you name it. I just discovered your blog and I am fascinated with your stories. I wish that I can do what you do and have the guts to be independent… I feel that is too late for me anyway.

  2. Technically the rules stay the same day to day. The problem travelers face are security agents who do not fully know the rules and those who seek to change the rules on the spot. Over all the TSA agents I deal with on a frequent basis are professional, attentive and do a good job. It is the limited number of agents who do what they want that make the travel experience difficult at times.

    To make matters worse not all TSA screening check points are run by the TSA and the Dept of Homeland Security. Some airports, such as San Francisco Int’l Airport (SFO) have their TSA screening check points subcontracted out! The security screeners you see at the screening area are not TSA agents, NOT employees of the Dept of Homeland Security and not working for the Federal Government! If you look closely on these screeners sleeves you will see a different patch on their sleeve than Federal TSA agent and you’ll also notice “Team SFO” stitched onto the backs of their shirts. The point of the TSA was to keep security within the control of the Federal Government, instead the Federal Government found they could save a lot of money by returning to the old system of private security rather than Federal Security, at some airports.

    It is hard to have a uniform security process when not all screening check points are run by, or staffed by, Federal Employees!

    ……..as for travel, it’s never to late! If you like travel go for it! Remember, The Point Of The Journey Is Not To Arrive!

  3. The trouble is that security employees aren’t technically competent, just trained to look for certain things and not think for themselves. At an airport recently my carry-on camera bag was hand searched and they found three Pocket Wizards. “We can’t let you carry them one”, she said, despite the fact it was the third flight I’d been on that day and they hadn’t caused any problems before. I explained what they were. “Oh, that’s alright”, she said “I thought they were walkie-talkies” and let me go. Hmm ….

  4. I have had my Pocket Wizards questioned quite a few times.

    The funniest item I have had challenged, and it has happened more than once, is my small roll of gaffers tape! I have been told that a 2″ x 10 yard roll of gaffers tape can be used as a weapon against the flight crew!

    There are many irritating incidents with the TSA and many are funny once they are over.

    Keep in mind that many problems occur daily around the world with airport security from Memphis to Mumbai.

    Happy Flying!

  5. flyingfish: the gaffer’s tape doesn’t surprise me that much – I think the rules have relaxed a bit again, but it used to be that any possible restraint was banned from flights.

    So far myself I haven’t had any problems, even with a bunch of gear packed into a Pelican roller case. I just take the padlocks off before I hit the screener line and nobody seems to look twice.

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