…because one of the folks I was traveling with had a knife in his carry-on luggage.
A no kidding switchblade knife. After not one, not two, but four layers of security.
A year and a half ago, I had a 48 hour notice before going to Afghanistan. Investigating plane crashes often include picking up and leaving on short notice and this trip was no different. I managed to pack, get my dog taken care of at a local pet resort, and purchase tickets within those couple days with an early morning flight out of Phoenix. As a team, we came from different parts of the country, flying into Baltimore before boarding a trans-Atlantic flight. The flight was pretty uneventful and after a quick layover at Abu Dhabi IAP, we boarded the plane to fly into Doha IAP (now relocated at Hamad IAP) in Qatar. The amount of security was astounding, taking off our shoes just before boarding and the palms of our hands were swabbed.
The trip home, a week later, was where it got interesting. We were still exhausted from the jet lag and had been working for 15-18 hours each day. A few flights later, we were back in Qatar and we got on a bus to catch our flight out of Doha. As we were getting our tickets, two folks’ tickets weren’t reserved as planned even though we requested return tickets from the Commercial Travel Office two days prior. Luckily, thanks to a charged Blackberry with international service, we managed to get ahold of the Commercial Travel Office and they were able to get the tickets.
Everything was fine. Or so we thought. I remember going through security and then handing my ticket over to a gentleman who was checking it and my passport, continuously asking where I was going. The language barrier, and the culture, made it a little difficult to get through the airport. Having worked with and mentored Afghans while in Kandahar for five months, the cultural difference in that part of the world is very noticeable and sometimes tense. Eventually, we made it through to the gate. It was late and we had one final security check prior to getting on the bus and eventually to the plane. We had already been through three layers of security, to include our bags being x-rayed and being opened. During the last check, the security personnel noticed something suspicious in my buddy’s carry-on bag. I cannot reiterate enough that this bag of his had already been opened and x-rayed three times prior to this.
He was so sure it was a belt. Totally sure of it. The security personnel proceeded to open his bag and pull out a switchblade knife. And he, of course, could have sworn he had put it in his checked luggage.
So what happened? Well, they took his passport, his ticket and a couple of folks on our team had already boarded the bus and the rest of us were waiting back to see what would happen. A purely accidental misplacement of a knife led to the unsurety of whether or not we’d be able to get on that plane. It was definitely not something we anticipated. The rest of the passengers went through the final security checkpoint prior to boarding the bus and we still waited. This was the only flight out of Doha and we had to be on the plane at all costs.
What seemed like an eternity, the issue was resolved. I don’t’ know how, but my buddy’s ticket and passport, and his personal belongings, sans the switchblade knife, were returned and we boarded the bus. The bus ride to the plane itself took at least ten minutes, on the other side of the airfield and it was a relief to finally board the plane. I remember sitting down in my seat, breathing a sigh of relief at finally going home.
So here’s a lesson kids: double check your luggage for contraband, like, y’know, knives and such.