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Airport security prank scares college student

Jenna Johnson

Like many college students who log thousands of frequent flier miles between their campus and their hometown, University of Michigan student Rebecca Solomon is a pro at airport security: Coat off, sweatshirt and scarf off, shoes off. Then her laptop comes out of its case. Walk through the detector. Reassemble.

But as Solomon left Philadelphia earlier this month to return to school, the routine turned scary when a Transportation Security Administration worker refused to return her bags.

Answer truthfully and you'll be fine, he told her, Solomon wrote in a Jan. 10 column for The Michigan Daily. Just be honest, he said.

Then the TSA employee reached into her computer bag and pulled out a tiny plastic baggie of white powder. "Where did you get this from?" he asked.

Solomon, 22, panicked, wondering if the substance was bomb-detonating powder that a terrorist slipped into her bag while she dug out her driver's license for the attendant. Or maybe it was drugs, and she was headed to jail.

"He let me stutter through an explanation for the longest minute of my life," Solomon wrote. "Tears streamed down my face as I pleaded with him to understand that I'd never seen this baggie before."

Then the TSA worker smiled, waved the bag at her and said it was his.

Solomon, still crying, didn't find the humor.

After being consoled by a fellow traveler, Solomon filed a complaint. She was told the employee was in charge of training TSA screeners to look for contraband. Two days later, Solomon received a call from the airport and was told the employee had been disciplined.

TSA spokeswoman Ann Davis told The Philadelphia Inquirer that she does not dispute Solomon's account of the incident. The worker is no longer employed by the agency, but Davis said privacy laws prevent her from saying if he was fired or left on his own.

Solomon said the ordeal surprised and angered her: "As passengers and patrons of airports, we have a lot of responsibility to comply with airline security. Our safety depends directly on how well we follow the rules. This same standard needs to be applied to the staff."

By Jenna Johnson  |  January 24, 2010; 3:50 PM ET
Categories:  News Overload  | Tags: University of Michigan, travel  
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