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Charlotte Amalie
Wednesday, May 29, 2024


Nov. 10, 2001 – Sue Sanderson was shocked when scanning equipment at a Worchester, Mass., airport security checkpoint indicated she was carrying explosives.
She was amazed when security personnel eventually told her the offending items were two dozen ears of fresh corn on the cob that she was carrying with her to St. John as a present for her hostess.
That was after she had spent a half-hour at the checkpoint, holding up everyone in line behind her, for a thorough search of her carry-on bag and the arrival of National Guard and police personnel who finally decided that a pesticide sprayed on the corn had caused the chemical swipe test to indicate an explosive.
The scanner operator claimed that the packages of corn, which were in plastic wrap that was not sealed, had been tampered with. For reasons never explained, Sanderson said, they confiscated her corn.
"What was I going to do? Hit the pilot over the head with the ears of corn?" she wondered later. She was further perplexed that the security worker never bothered to check her knapsack — and when he told her that the nail clippers in her carry-on were okay, but if they had been toenail clippers, he would have taken them.
Sanderson's situation is not unique among air travelers in these confusing post-Sept. 11 days. Airports and airlines are struggling to ensure safety and reassure passengers, but conditions vary by airport and airline.
"It's a judgment call," said Edward Hasbrouck, author of several travel books, among them "The Practical Nomad." He said travelers today must be prepared for any contingency. "There is potential for nuisance and delay," he said.
Hasbrouck said the rules are pretty much the same at all airports and airlines, but it's up to
the on-site inspectors to interpret them. As one example, he said, some inspectors allow people to carry plastic knitting needles and crochet hooks aboard, but not their metal equivalents. "They're going after sharp objects," he said.
Hasbrouck advises travelers to pack anything that might be questionable into the luggage to be checked at the ticket counter. The less you put into your carry-on baggage, the better your chances of avoiding delays, he said. And if there's something questionable in a carry-on bag, you may find yourself having to leave it behind with the inspectors.
Also, he noted, the days of multiple carry-ons are gone. Airlines now allow one small carry-on bag plus a purse or briefcase, and that's it. "If you're one of those people who carried everything on, get over it," he said. "Resign yourself to checking it in."
He also had sobering news for people accustomed to showing up at the airport at the last minute. Nowadays, he said, it can take more than two hours to complete the normal check-in process at major hub airports such as Miami and Atlanta. His advice: Get to major airports early. Make it three hours to be sure.
In the Virgin Islands, airport officials suggest arriving two hours before scheduled takeoff for inter-island commuter flights and three hours for flights to the mainland.
One reason for check-in delays, Hasbrouck said, is that airlines have stepped up their secondary level of screening. He said they had long a second check for people who fit their unpublished profiles of passengers who might pose a danger. Since 1998, he said, airlines have sent passenger information to the federal government, which has alerted them to any potentially problem travelers.
The parameters are now tighter, he said, and those people face more extensive searches. Additionally, he said, the airlines are conducting random secondary searches. "A significant number of people selected for secondary screening miss their flight," he said.
Hasbrouck predicted even longer delays over the Thanksgiving and Christmas/New Year's holidays. While not many flights have been full since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he believes they will again be jammed come the holidays. And, as a result, "It's likely security will be overwhelmed," he said.
Just to be on the safe side, he suggested that passengers show up at the airport four hours early for holiday flights. While there's a good chance that you'll spend a lot of that time waiting in the departure lounge for your flight to leave, it's better to do that (come prepared with a good book!) than to miss your flight.
As Hasbrouck pointed out, if you do miss your flight during the holidays, it may not be easy to find a seat on another one. This means you will have to scramble to find alternative transportation or stay home.
On the positive side, Hasbrouck said he feels that all of the security precautions are a response to the flying public's fear, not to a real threat. For more information and advice from him, visit his Hasbrouck.org web site.
To learn what the major airlines serving the territory have to say about their security rules, go to their Internet web sites:
American Airlines and American Eagle.
Delta Air Lines.
US Airways.
United Air Lines.
Continental Airlines.
The smaller commuter airlines serving the territory and regional carriers such at LIAT do not have security information posted online.

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