The One Thing You Absolutely Cannot Carry-On to a Plane

Never bring this on board.

If you follow the TSA propaganda Instagram account (and you should), you know people try to take some batamarang-shit crazy stuff onto planes. But there’s one item you absolutely must never, ever try to carry on, and it’s something that rarely gets mentioned.

Earlier this year, my wife Cheri and I were flying back to San Francisco from London Heathrow. We did the whole security dance, and stood around waiting for our carry-on bags to come out the X-ray machine. And stood around waiting . . . and waiting . . . and . . . it was my bag, of course, that got swept onto the conveyor belt scenic route for further investigation.

The hard-eyed, bearded TSA equivalent was polite but persistent. Yes, this was my bag. No, I didn’t have anything in it I wanted to tell him about. No, I didn’t have anything dangerous in it. Nothing sharp, no. No, I didn’t have any food in my bag. Nope, no sweets, either.

“Because,” he said, with a strange mix of triumph and puzzlement, “It looks like you have a giant bag of sweets in your bag.”

“Sweets??!!? Hmmm. Nooo . . . ?” Behind me, I could hear Cheri laughing.

“Do I have your permission to search your bag please sir?” I was passed along to a slight lady with fussy white latex gloves and a severe bun. Pretty sure the question was a formality.

While she was picking through my bag, I was trying to figure out what might show up like a giant bag of sweets on the X-ray machine. I arrived at the answer around the same time she did: Bananagrams! (For those who don’t know—shame on you—Bananagrams is kind of like a free-form speed Scrabble.)

Yes. My banana-shaped cloth bag full of Scrabble-like tiles had been flagged as a banana-shaped cloth bag full of huge, tile-like sweets. Which, from an airplane point of view, is apparently a banana-shaped cloth bag full of trouble.

Luckily, it didn’t take long to confirm my Bananagrams tiles were nothing but inedible plastic, a danger to no one but my future opponents. We all shared a sheepish little laugh about the unfathomable quirks of airport security/life, and the agent made a half-hearted attempt to repack my bag and an even lamer effort to zip it up.

When I finally rejoined Cheri, she said, “Oh yeah, I should have told you before: The exact same thing happened to me last time I flew out of here!”

As a sweet little postscript to the story, when Cheri tweeted about it later, this happened:

Second time in my travels that we’ve been pulled aside for bag search because of...Bananagrams. — Cheri Lucas Rowlands (@cherilucas) June 16, 2015
@cherilucas Oh dear! Sorry to hear this... Here’s a squirrel to make you smile! — Bananagrams UK (@Bananagrams_uk) June 16, 2015
@Bananagrams_uk What a lovely tweet to receive after landing! thanks for the squirrel. Longtime fan of the game :) — Cheri Lucas Rowlands (@cherilucas) June 16, 2015
@cherilucas You’re welcome! Thanks for playing; hope the customs people leave you alone - tell them to buy their own! — Bananagrams UK (@Bananagrams_uk) June 16, 2015
@cherilucas BTW, did you know CHERI LUCAS ROWLANDS anagrams as A CLASSIC HURDLER WON? Won’t help YOU win but it’s there! — Bananagrams UK (@Bananagrams_uk) June 16, 2015

And of course they had to drag me in somehow:

@pharaonick Hi there! If we had the BANANAGRAMS tiles to spell NICK ROWLANDS, we’d arrange them to say A CLOWN’S DRINK! — Bananagrams UK (@Bananagrams_uk) June 18, 2015

Says it all, really.