Travel: The Airport Toy

2022, Jan 23    

Cast your mind back to the year 2014, where I had headed to a London airport ready to depart for an international trip. As those who have travelled each week will state, you become so familiar with the process of traversing an airport that it becomes almost as subconscious and automated as breathing. Without thinking about the task of taking your belt off / unpacking your carry on you have already done it and have everything in your hands ready to go. Every so often though something new will catch you by surprise, and this time was no different.

While being next in line for the conveyor belt to have my property scanned I spotted the body language of the supervisor immediately go from "another day on the job" to that of someone completely devoid of emotion. When someone in an airport becomes that serious that fast it's never a good start, and watching them move their hand to the counter to press what I can only assume was a silent alarm button doubly so.

To this day I am still impressed by how little time it took for an armed police offer to get within 6 inches of me. Seriously, within 45 seconds of the change in body language I could feel someone breathing close to the back/side of my neck, and it wasn't from the two elderly people stood waiting behind me. A slight head turn was enough to make eye contact with the officer before facing forward again and deciding that moving would not be in my best interest. At the same time two other armed officers had arrived at both ends of the conveyor, while still being just out of sight of the person who had clearly gotten their attention.

The person in question you may ask, a middle-aged South African lady travelling with her young son. I will admit being overly curious as to why her luggage had required armed response, especially given she was travelling with a child (I may be somewhat unfamiliar with typical terrorist behaviour, but I never figured it would be like this). Being close enough to them I could see what was in the luggage while also hearing the conversation, which as it turned out was quite entertaining albeit at the expense of a short delay for all.

As the travel case was carried back to the conveyor, the now-serious supervisor asked the lady if he could open her bag to inspect the contents. No objection was made and the bag was opened as you would expect. What I didn't expect to hear was the clear clanging of glass bottles, a lot of them. At this point I thought that while not taking liquids through the airport is something everyone should be familiar with, I still can't see why armed response would be required. The x-ray machine wouldn't be able to determine the type of liquid, so maybe there were wires present or something that made it look like a makeshift bomb?

No... As the lady started to protest regarding the bottles of milk (yes milk) she had in the travel case, the supervisor lifted what appeared to be some items of clothing from the top before looking at the armed officer stood next to me and indicating that it was a false alarm. The issue as it turned out (aside from the many bottles of milk) was that of a toy gun, specifically a full-size version of the Colt 45. The lady had decided to bring the toy of her child in her carry-on, seemingly in case they got bored during the flight.

The final amusement in this (after the armed officers had disappeared just as quickly as they had arrived) was that of the case being zipped up and sent back through the scanner (presumably to have the liquids removed and tested after), only for the lady to argue with the supervisor about the toy gun not being put back into the bag. After arguing for a solid 30 seconds with the supervisor, he simply turned around and dropped the item in the bin before turning again and stating "you can't take this, no" and walking back to his post. I recall the elderly couple behind me asking what the issue was, and their shock as I informed them it was a toy gun.

All in a day of the life of a frequent flyer...