Rebecca Solomon is 22 and a student at the University of Michigan, and on Jan. 5 she was flying back to school after holiday break. She made sure she arrived at Philadelphia International Airport 90 minutes before takeoff, given the new regulations.
She would be flying into Detroit on Northwest Airlines, the same city and carrier involved in the attempted bombing on Christmas, just 10 days before. She was tense.
What happened to her lasted only 20 seconds, but she says they were the longest 20 seconds of her life.
After pulling her laptop out of her carry-on bag, sliding the items through the scanning machines, and walking through a detector, she went to collect her things.
A TSA worker was staring at her. He motioned her toward him.
Then he pulled a small, clear plastic bag from her carry-on – the sort of baggie that a pair of earrings might come in. Inside the bag was fine, white powder.
She remembers his words: “Where did you get it?”
Two thoughts came to her in a jumble: A terrorist was using her to sneak bomb-detonating materials on the plane. Or a drug dealer had made her an unwitting mule, planting coke or some other trouble in her bag while she wasn’t looking.
She’d left her carry-on by her feet as she handed her license and boarding pass to a security agent at the beginning of the line.
Answer truthfully, the TSA worker informed her, and everything will be OK.
Solomon, 5-foot-3 and traveling alone, looked up at the man in the black shirt and fought back tears.
Put yourself in her place and count out 20 seconds. Her heart pounded. She started to sweat. She panicked at having to explain something she couldn’t.
Now picture her expression as the TSA employee started to smile.
Just kidding, he said. He waved the baggie. It was his.
And so she collected her things, stunned, and the tears began to fall.