Giant sandals, sun tan lotion and leftover fried chicken crammed into a suitcase triggered searches Friday of several pieces of checked luggage at Myrtle Beach International Airport.
Pretty standard stuff, except for maybe the fried chicken, says Mark J. Howell, regional spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration.
Myrtle Beach tourists are more likely to pack jars of sand, which can also result in a searched bag.
Or relish. And, lots of golf clubs, Howell said.
It’s not always so much what’s in a piece of luggage that will flag an inspector, but the density of the item, and how the bag is packed, Howell said.
“Over-packed bags will tend to show as density on the machine,” Howell said. “If you pack super tight, if you’re sitting on top of your suitcase to try and get it closed.”
The TSA official took area media on a behind-the-scenes tour Friday of the inline baggage system at Myrtle Beach International Airport, to show how the belts and conveyors move baggage from the ticketing area through security and to the aircraft.
“This is something the public doesn’t get to see every day,” Howell said.
Currently, about 2,200 bags a day go through the airport, while 3,300 a day will ride the conveyer belts daily in July.
Howell said only a small percentage of those are searched by hand, and passengers are notified if their suitcases have been opened.
“Having loose wires kind of wiggling throughout your bag also sets the machine off,” said Howell, who advised winding cords tightly.
Shoes are suspect because of the Dec. 22, 2001, incident with shoe bomber Richard Reid, who unsuccessfully tried to detonate his shoes packed with explosives on a flight from Paris to Miami.
Some TSA officials are specifically trained to watch X-rays of checked luggage whenever a sensor indicates something suspicious in the bag. They examine the item just by using the computer program to view the item from different angles.
If closer inspection is warranted, a censor triggers a conveyor belt door to close a chute, rerouting the luggage to the inspection room where the bag is opened and inspected to find the suspect item.
Sometimes the packaging of sun tan lotion or other liquid products are lightly misted with a chemical and checked for explosives, other times it is quickly examined and repacked.
Officials say theft has not been a problem at the airport in Myrtle Beach, pointing at surveillance cameras positioned in the search room.
“The process is so quick, bags get to the plane before (passengers) do in about two minutes,” Howell said.