"Paperwork, of course, was required. His driver's license and other
identification papers were photocopied."
Since when do security agents record personal information at a
Maybe because they are going to send this guy's keys back to him in
the mail? Or maybe this guy's name is going to be put on a watch list
(Doesn't Volkswagon also have "switchblade" type keys?)
Put Down Your Key and No One Will Be Hurt
By JOE SHARKEY
Published: June 21, 2005
AFTER passing through security at the Minneapolis-St. Paul
International Airport recently, Nathan Rau noticed something odd -
stuffed animal puppets, actually - affixed to two electronic wands
used for body scans on passengers chosen for more intensive secondary
"They told me they use the covered wands to screen young children," he
said. "They said it makes the child feel a little more relaxed during
Screeners at Minneapolis are using their heads, Mr. Rau decided.
Mr. Rau, a 31-year-old Minneapolis lawyer, has a fairly
straightforward approach to evaluating airport security procedures.
"I'll give praise where it's due, but not where it's not," Mr. Rau
Praise is due to the screeners in Minnesota, he said. But not for the
screeners at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, who recently
confiscated his car key as a prohibited item.
"I'm leaving Dallas on a Sunday and at security it's the usual stuff -
shoes off, laptop out. My carry-on bag goes through the X-ray machine
and I hear the infamous 'bag check!' " Mr. Rau recalled.
Here we go, he thought. "A screener says, 'Sir, is this your bag?' And
I say, 'Yeah, and I need a private room if you're going to go through
it,' " he recalled telling the screener.
Mr. Rau explained: "As an attorney, I carry documents, and because of
the nature of what I do - I do intellectual property law - opening
them up in a public place could have repercussions for myself or for
He was told private rooms were for personal screening, not for
screening bags. That was not the case in Minneapolis, on the rare
occasions when Mr. Rau said he was randomly selected for a secondary
screening. "In Minneapolis, if you ask, they always give you a private
room and they're nice about it," he said.
At the Dallas checkpoint, the contents of his bag were dumped on the
table. "They pull out my car key," he said.
"What's this?" an inspector asked.
"My car key," Mr. Rau said.
Mr. Rau drives an Audi. Audis now come with stylish ignition keys
designed to house the key inside a holder, preventing rips and wear on
pocket liners. You push a button on a flat two-inch shaft and the key
As he demonstrated it, Mr. Rau could see the word forming in the minds
of the screeners, now three, on his case: switchblade.
"Now the bells are ringing," he said. After running the key through
the X-ray machine three times, the security committee reached a
conclusion. "Well, sir, that's a switchblade style, and that's a
prohibited item," Mr. Rau said he was told. "We're going to have to
Paperwork, of course, was required. His driver's license and other
identification papers were photocopied.
"And of course, I didn't have my car keys," he said. Luckily, he keeps
a spare in a little magnetized box under his car. But, it cost $300 to
replace the key at the dealer, who must add a computer code for a
He was carrying his house key at the time. In comparison with the flat
Audi key, "the house key looks like a saw blade," said Mr. Rau, who
first described the incident anonymously on www.flyertalk.com, a
On its Web site, www.tsa.gov, the Transportation Security
Administration has posted a list of items you are not permitted to
take on an airplane, in both checked bags and carry-ons. But the list
is not "intended to be all-inclusive and is updated as necessary," the
T.S.A. says, adding, "To ensure everybody's security, the screener may
determine that an item not on this chart is prohibited."
Mr. Rau said, "That is the ultimate out - it's totally at their
Mr. Raus said of his Dallas-Fort Worth experience: "They were not
ultra-rude about it. But you ever get the feeling you're just banging
your head against a wall?"
Yes, we get that feeling frequently, his fellow business travelers
will agree. Last week, the Business Travel Coalition, in a survey of
both individual travelers and corporate travel managers, found that
"inconsistency among airports was the No. 1 most troubling aspect of
the airport security process."
That survey, which also elicited opinions about screening in general
and about a proposed registered-traveler program that would expedite
screening for those who registered personal information and possibly
fingerprints in advance, is available at http://btcweb.biz .
Incidentally, it is not clear to me yet whether other Audi drivers
have had ignition keys confiscated at other airports. Telephone calls
seeking comment from a spokeswoman at Audi of America headquarters in
Auburn Hills, Mich., were not returned.