Is That a Bomb in Your Suitcase or... Whoops

While the cargo doors of the aircraft were being secured, one of our baggage handlers raced up into the cockpit to advise us that they'd heard a buzzing noise coming from a suitcase. Everyone started looking around to see who the culprit was that was holding up the departure.
12/20/2012 02:36 pm ET Updated Feb 19, 2013

With 40 percent of Americans predicted to be on the roads or in the air around the holidays, news stories ranging from the serious to the ridiculous are sure to abound. In her new book, "Tales" from the Tarmac, Claudia Helena Oxee, a longtime station manager and independent airline crew consultant, offers a glimpse into the strange and sometimes unbelievable happenings at the airport and beyond. This is the second of three excerpts for HuffPost.

THE AVERAGE FLIGHT day's success was usually determined by an on-time arrival and departure. Staff went to great lengths to turn the flights around in their allotted ground time, which is regulated by ATC. They do not just hang out at a gate indefinitely. They have designated "slot" times and are pushed back if the slot time is exceeded.

One summer evening, everything was moving along at its usual intensified pace. With only 10 minutes to spare before the 5:00 p.m. ETD, all 408 passengers were on board and safely buckled in, waiting for the departure. While our handling agents were securing the cargo doors, and as I made my usual last run into the cockpit for the final briefing, one of our baggage handlers raced up into the cockpit to advise us that they'd started offloading a bag from the cargo hold. Then they heard a buzzing noise coming from a suitcase just three tense minutes before push back. An apparent delay became inevitable, as our primary concerns were, of course, safety and security.

The captain and I went down to the tarmac and we waited ramp side (aircraft parking) for Port Authority police while the buzzing bag was offloaded. Once it was retrieved, I sprinted back up the stairs into the cabin and made an announcement asking that the person whose bag tag number matched the one just offloaded needed to identify themselves and accompany me down to the tarmac. Everyone started looking around to see who the culprit was that was holding up his or her departure. After a minute or so, all eyes were on this elegantly dressed middle-aged woman. She calmly stood up, never making eye contact, and followed me down the stairs.

Security procedures mandated that the woman open her bag in front of Port Authority police. All the on board passengers who had starboard (right side) window seats were in full view of this tarmac tryst. She was most defiant and refused to cooperate. Finally, after advising her of the legal ramifications and the prospect of not allowing her back on the aircraft, she opened her suitcase. Low and behold, fully encased in a black velvet bag, tassels and all, was a super-sized vibrator humming along at some serious RPMs!

In lieu of an apology from the passenger, we all felt that her humiliation level was abundantly sufficient, especially when she was told to remove the batteries in "plane" sight of everyone. From sheer embarrassment, I'm sure she would have preferred to fly in the cargo hold rather than walk back up into the aircraft. The distressed damsel's dildo dilemma had to be a life altering experience for her and an exasperating one for me because of the unnecessary involvement of PA police and the waste of everyone's time.

Subsequently, her bag was put back in the cargo hold, the doors were shut, the captain gave us the thumbs up, the chocks were removed from the wheels, and off she went.