Passenger puts black powder in checked bag: How’d that decision play out?

112315blog black powder

10 tubes of black powder a passenger attempted to stow in his luggage.

Credit: TSA

Let’s say for the sake of discussion that the guy – anyone think it’s a woman? – did not place the 10 tubes of black powder in his checked luggage as part of a terrorist plot or amateur sting operation against TSA screeners. The TSA mentions neither in its blog post that notes the incident.

Instead, this adult human being awakened one morning recently, began packing for a trip, realized he needed to transport 10 tubes of an explosive from his home in Utah through Salt Lake City International Airport, and decided the best way to do that would be to place the tubes in his suitcase alongside his shaving kit and underwear.

Post 9/11 and at a moment when much of the world – especially this country -- is on the highest of alerts about terrorism, this seemed like a good idea.

How? Why? What the …

OK, perhaps the passenger was simply confident in the fact that notoriously porous airport screening procedures would reliably prove porous in Salt Lake City. It was a simple roll of the dice that crapped out.

But might he have been unaware that black powder is not allowed in checked luggage?

Most of us fret about whether a shampoo bottle or nail clippers will escape TSA confiscation, and, should we have any doubt, we check to make sure.

 It took me less than 30 seconds to find the TSA list of prohibited items online and black powder isn’t in any sort of gray area; it’s explicitly listed: “Gun power, including black power and percussion caps.”

 Ignorance seems an unlikely explanation, so maybe our guy was simply making a statement, namely that in his opinion black powder should be allowed in checked luggage.

Statement makers are not unknown to the TSA, witness Evan Roth, a techno-artist I interviewed back in 2008. Roth’s thing was to stencil messages into metal plates that would in turn be placed into his carry-on bag. Here’s an example:

112315blog airport art Evan Roth

Here are a few more of Roth’s creations.

And how does the TSA view such expressions? Here’s what I was told back then: “Fair warning: there are detailed procedures on how to search this type of bag and it's not one of our quicker searches.”

Passengers who attempt to bring prohibited items – even firearms – onto airplanes are generally not arrested, but they do risk losing their property and often miss their connecting flights.

Chances are Mr. Black Powder missed his.

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