I forgot to mention this incident after we moved from Hawaii to San Diego. As everyone who has flown in the US knows, you have to send your bags through x-ray machines. After 9/11, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is the federal agency responsible for baggage checks at airports. The TSA screeners are supposed to monitor all passengers and baggage going through the checkpoint, to the point of requiring people to remove their shoes for independent x-raying.
Even though they are required to check every bag going through the x-ray machine for contraband, which is mostly explosive devices (you can pack firearms in your checked baggage provided you have a permit for them and you notify the TSA officials), it turns out is actually pretty easy get something past the screeners.
All you have to do is distract them.
It’s pretty obvious, really, at least at the Honolulu airport. They only have one person watching the x-ray machine for the checked baggage and the most of the other TSA workers are already distracted by stupid passengers and moving luggage around.
When I have flown in the past, I was required to remove my steel-toed boots from my Navy seabag so they could be inspected; obviously they looked weird when the whole bag went through the x-ray machine. Additionally, I always use a standard padlock to lock my seabag, not one of those wimply TSA-approved luggage locks (especially after the reports of TSA workers stealing items out of luggage).
Anticipating issues with my seabag, I informed the harried TSA worker about my boots and of my “non-approved” lock. She directed me to wait by the x-ray machine in case the TSA agent their decided the x-ray of my bag looked suspicious enough to be opened for a visual inspection. So I walked over and waited.
As I was waiting, another TSA worker came over with a coffee for the guy at the x-ray machine and started talking. My bag and at least 3 others sailed through without being looked at. The two workers just talked, neither one looking at the screen. As a matter of fact, the x-ray operator turned away from the screen so there was no way he could have even been glancing at it while talking.
Needless to say, my bag sailed through security without scrutiny, along with several other bags. It doesn’t take a lot of brains to figure out that someone could just wait for a certain bag to get to the x-ray machine and simply say, “Hey, how’s it going?”, to the operator so the bag goes through without being looked at.