Due to a recent experience while flying to Motorama 2018, I decided to write this article.
Over the past year, I have noticed that
people are concerned with flying to
events, so I would like to convey part
of my experience relating to carry-on
baggage and the TSA screening.
As long as you follow the
regulations and keep your carry-on
items separate from your explosives
and fertilizer, you should be fine.
My experiences so far indicate
that the following things may happen
when you bring suspicious items
2. Your case is flagged and examined.
3. The chemical swabbers identify
1. Hopefully, your carry-on makes
it through with no problems.
You can increase your odds by
knowing that the scanner identifies
dense items such as wires, metal, and
lithium batteries. The screener running
the machine can then flag areas for
further inspection. They mostly seem
to flag tightly packed items or areas
with large metal objects.
You can increase the chances of
making it through cleanly by
separating the high density items from
your more mundane luggage. These
should be spread out in the bottom of
a tote. When the items are tightly
bunched, the screener can’t tell what
the items are and flags the case for
removal from the machine.
2. Once your case has been
flagged, it will be pushed into a
separate slide adjacent to the screener
and not within reach of you. A TSA
officer will pick up the case and ask
“Is this yours?” or “Whose is this?”
Be nonchalant. Do not panic. Say
yes and collect your other items. Let
them know if another flagged case is
They will ask if there are sharp
objects in there. The correct answer is
no. You should have removed the
sharp items already. This question is
because the officer does not want
their gloves or skin to be
compromised by items within.
The officer will then open your
case and start pulling stuff out. (If you
are on the ball, your other bags or
trays will have made it through. This is
a great time to be loading your
pockets and putting your shoes and
belt back on.)
The officer will open up the
container holding your batteries and
inspect them. They will frequently
wipe the items down with little wipes
which are then fed into a machine.
This machine identifies whether traces
of suspicious substances were found.
If everything goes well (which it
has for me all but one time), they will
tell you that you are clear and ask if
you want to repack the case or let
them. I repack as my cases are too full
to let them do it. You will feel the
need to rush, but don’t do it, as it
matters more to get everything back
than to get to your gate one minute
earlier. You need to make sure that
you got everything off of the table
and check the surrounding area to
make sure that you got your socks
and vintage T-shirts back.
3. On my way to Motorama, the
swabber found something.
Apparently, it was on the gasket of
my Pelican case, but I still don’t know
what it was.
Regardless, the mood of the TSA
shifts once the machine triggers. They
go from bored to alert, and multiple
officers converge. A representative of
your gender will come over to do a
pat-down after they have you remove
all items from your pockets and have
you take your shoes back off to be
run through the machine again.
My pat-down was not horribly
invasive and seemed designed to not
upset people while providing a decent
screening. He seemed to be mostly
feeling for fairly large blades and
bulges where there shouldn’t be. It
was less invasive than a Wilderness
First Aid course.
While getting a pat-down, all of
my off-body items were put back
through the scanner for another go.
The other contents of the flagged
case were swabbed for residues. I was
allowed to leave after no other swabs
detected residues. This took about five
minutes longer than normal.
In all, flying with suspicious robot
items in your carry-on is not
something to deter you from flying to
competitions. The TSA is fairly uniform
with regard to what happens, and
your experience should mirror my
own. Be careful with what you bring
and learn to deal with other people
touching you, and you should be fine.
Note: I carry on battery chargers,
power supplies, battery charging
cables, batteries, luggage scale, some
legal tools, and sometimes spare tires
and gearmotors for my 30 lber. My
weight strategy is to put items which
are dense and legal for carry on in my
carry-on. I do this after maximizing
the weight limit of my checked
I don’t carry on transmitters, so I
don’t know how the TSA responds to
them. I’ve heard they respond poorly
if they find residue.
I also don’t carry on robots with
sharp metal edges. I don’t feel that
bringing the robot with me is worth
the risk of having my wedge or
weapon taken away. SV
SERVO 05/06.2018 31
Flying with Suspicious Carry-ons
● by Ian McMahon