On the Fly™ - Editorial Commentary by Travel Expert Stephanie Abrams

December 03, 2003: Batteries Not Included: A Cautionary Tale For Airport Travelers

It's odd how something as simple as batteries can become the focus of a trip! With all the traveling I do, it's not unusual that I have more opportunities to interface with the "unusual," which includes everything from sights to experiences. Now and then, I experience something so unusual that I share it with my listening audience at, "Travel With Stephanie Abrams!" nationally syndicated on the Business Talk Radio, on Sunday's in the 7pm EST hour, and place the story on my web site at www.sabrams.com because this is something EVERY traveler should know about!

What would you do if you were surprised by a security check-point guard at an airport who asks you if you have any loose batteries other than those which are in your camera, your computer, or installed in other carry-on items? If you are like me, you answer honestly and produce everything from the rechargeable batteries you carry in your camera case that cost $16.00 each, the 4 AAA batteries sealed in their blister-pack for emergency needs, and any other loose batteries that might be in the bottom of my computer case, briefcase, or purse.

You can only imagine my surprise, amazement and complete confusion when I was told by a security guard that loose batteries pose a security threat and that he must confiscate them! When I asked if he wanted the batteries installed in my equipment, he made it clear that he did not. So, you ask, if batteries are a security threat, why are only LOOSE batteries dangerous but batteries in a camera are not? Ah, you, too, are a thinking person! But, alas, there is no logical answer for you today! The security guard's response was, "We must confiscate loose batteries only!"

When you have a plane to catch and you have been delayed by various lines at the ticket counter and security, there is, generally, no time to debate the lack of logic, the fact that batteries are not included on the list of contraband items, and, because you are in another country, you probably are at a disadvantage when you don't speak the native language of your host country. Further than that, the thought crosses your mind that this would probably not be a good time to check out the quality of the detention cells used at airports for people who create "problems."

In retrospect, leaving 4 rechargeable batteries and 4 brand new AAA batteries was the right decision in the moment. There was also that nagging concern that comes along with the title, Travel Expert, that keeps me humble by remembering that, in fact, I can't know everything all the time! So, just maybe, a new rule, as illogical as it seems, could have been enacted that prohibits the carry-on of loose batteries. More absurd rules have passed before me in my lifetime, so, why not this?

The big clue that this procedure is a scam came only moments later as I passed the duty-free shop where, lo and behold, a free-standing rack displaying batteries for sale was in clear view! "Had again!" I mused.

In fact, dear travelers, this is a scam which, upon investigation, I have learned is popping up in various international airports. There appears to be a huge market for batteries and, most unfortunately, not-so-honest security guards are participating in this scam. The part that bothers me is not the penny-ante battery pilfering but the lack of character of a security guard who might determine next time that my diamond bracelet shouldn't go aboard with me or who might, for a fee, be bought off for some other kind of mischief.

Rest assured that I have taken this case to the highest authorities who deal with airport security in foreign lands.. I am working with Ministries of Tourism to clean up the rancid few who would leave a bad taste about a country in the mouths of travelers who otherwise completely enjoyed the hospitality of their host country. The moral of the story: Travel lightly and carry a big copy of the items which airlines do not allow on the plane. You will note that among the item considered contraband, "Batteries are Not Included." If you encounter an incident like this, please email me at stephanie@sabrams.com and I will follow-up. As a person with an entrepreneurial spirit, I have always fantasized about stopping on a busy road and setting up my own toll plaza and moving it to another road when the traffic patterns change during the day. Or setting up my own IRS office for the collection of taxes. At least my ideas remain fun-tastic fantasies! This battery confiscation project smacks of the same entrepreneurial spirit but, alas, it must go and is, indeed, under investigation.

There are other things you should do to make you passage through security at airports swift and painless. On your MUST DO list should be the following:

Minimize your carry-on luggage. It weighs you down, slows you down, and slows everybody else down!

Don't wear metallic belts and other jewelry that is laden with metal.

Wear slip-on shoes like loafers or other slipper-style shoes so that you can slide out of your shoes for inspections and slip back into them without having to sit down and unlace/lace-up and generally struggle with this time-consuming process. Often there is only one chair so those with difficult shoes and boots are greatly delayed.

Don't use hand lotion or hand creams before using your computer if you are carrying it aboard the plane. Many creams have glycerin as an ingredient, which shows up as a problem when your computer keyboard is swabbed and tested. You may miss your plane over this one!

Gentlemen, buy a little change purse with a key ring on it and stow all of your loose change with keys attached in your pocket. This makes it easy to empty and refill your pockets and minimizes the time for this process as well as the risk of leaving something behind.

Always travel with a very large shopping bag, the size of a teddy bear you might buy at Christmas time, folded compactly in your carry-on. If you are told that your briefcase, camera, computer and roll-aboard bag exceed the 2-item maximum for allowable carry-on, whip out your shopping bag and consolidate your items so that you meet the requirement. You will be allowed to proceed with you 4 items now that 3 of them are in one bag! Or consolidate everything into one bag and hold it in your arms so the bottom doesn't fall out!

Ah, the little inconveniences in life! They are still nothing compared to what the pioneers faced traveling westward on non-existent roads on wooden wheels or what Columbus faced with only a compass, a sextant and the North Star to guide him. Take a deep breath and forge onward! The world is a wonderful place to explore!

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