It almost sounds like an Onion headline, doesn’t it? But in this case, the story isn’t satire. It actually happened to 22-year-old University of Michigan student Rebecca Solomon on Jan. 5, 2010 when she arrived at the Philadelphia International Airport to fly back to Detroit.
According to Daniel Rubin at Philly.com, who reported on the incident yesterday, Solomon was understandably nervous, flying to Detroit on Northwest Airlines – the same destination and airline involved in the attempted bombing just 10 days prior. The bombing attempt, coupled with the fact that passengers are carrying on as much baggage as possible in order to avoid checked bag fees, made security lines a nightmare. So Solomon dutifully arrived 90 minutes before her flight.
After stepping through the metal detector, Solomon went to collect her carry-on bags when a TSA worker motioned her towards him, holding a small plastic baggie with a fine white powder in it. “Where did you get it?” he asked.
Solomon called the next moments the “longest 20 seconds of my life,” as her mind reeled with visions of a terrorist slipping bomb-detonating materials into her bag when she wasn’t looking. The TSA worker told her to answer truthfully and “everything will be OK.” The man watched as Solomon squirmed, then, unbelievably, smiled. He told Solomon he was just kidding.
After Solomon burst into tears, she was comforted by another female traveler as she collected the rest of her belongings. Both women (on separate flights) reported the incident to security personnel at their boarding gates.
Seriously? The TSA has long been criticized for security measures that seem more show than practical, as reported in this 2008 Chicago Sun-Times article about a Chicago high school student with a prosthetic leg and her treatment at airports. But even in an era where travelers are expected to remove shoes, belts, sweaters, and scarves, navigate a strict liquids and gels policy, and on top of it all, pay hefty fees for anything not carried on, someone thought this was funny?
And what does the TSA have to say about the embarrassing incident? Ann Davis, regional spokesperson for TSA says, “The TSA views this employee’s behavior to be highly inappropriate and unprofessional.” Yesterday, Davis reported that the worker “is no longer employed by the agency as of today.”
Have you had any similar experiences at airport security checkpoints, in Chicago or elsewhere? Leave a comment.