Our trip from Ecuador to Mexico with a layover in Bogota presented a potentially disastrous situation which I’ve not yet shared with many. I could have found myself sitting in a South American prison cell as a completely innocent man.
Over the past few years, Diane and I have done a bit of International traveling between countries as well as returning to the states for periodic visits. I’m not a fan of International traveling. The security measures and the long lines typical while waiting to clear customs and immigration after hours of travel add more stress to an already painful process.
You may have seen those vendors in International airports offering to wrap your luggage in large volumes of plastic wrap, spinning each item around on a pedestal while wrapping copious amounts of plastic wrap around each piece. I’ve never done it but now that I understand the “why”, I will always do it in the future. I mistakenly presumed it was to add an extra measure of security so that one’s luggage is less likely to be pilfered and items removed. That is not the primary benefit of the plastic wrap!
Diane and I had paid a few extra dollars to sit in the front of the plane. We were traveling with Carmine with us in the cabin and the extra room and early boarding would be a treat for all of us. The first part of our trip from Guayaquil, Ecuador to Bogota, Columbia went just fine. We had about a 1.5 hour layover in Bogota before boarding the last leg to Cancun. We were called to board and as my boarding pass was scanned, I was told that I could not board. I was instructed to walk down a set of nearby stairs and take my hand-carry bag with me. A few others were also being selected for some sort of additional screening. I had heard of this happening to others and wasn’t particularly worried. Diane waited at the boarding gate while I made my way down the stairs.
There were approximately 50 people lined up in the stairway and when I had descended far enough, I could see one armed drug agent standing next to a large stainless steel table slowly and thoroughly inspecting the contents of each piece of luggage that had been pulled aside. After about 10 minutes, another uniformed and armed agent joined him. An airline agent approached us and told us all to claim our luggage pieces from the pieces stacked up on the floor nearby and to be prepared to have it inspected when called. It was easy to spot the piece that belonged to us. It was a large plastic container…like a giant Tupperware box with a fastening lid. Fastening but NOT LOCKED OR SECURED IN ANY WAY. Diane had done a masterful job of packing it with personal documents, mementos,and photos that needed to come to Mexico with us. It was heavy and over-sized and cost some extra bucks to bring.
As we waited, the gate agent from the airlines explained that drugs were readily moved, Internationally, by people who worked in airlines’ baggage departments. They would find a likely looking piece of baggage and stuff the drugs inside, telling their contacts on the other end what to look for. Zippered soft luggage can be easily breached, even when the zippers are locked together, by separating the zipper with a common ball point pen, stuffing the drugs inside and sliding the locked zippers across the opening to reseal. Regular passengers could easily become unsuspecting drug mules and suffer severe consequences.
I was suddenly terrified! What if someone had stuffed drugs into this big plastic box? Clearly, I would be detained and or arrested. Diane was waiting at the gate and what was worse was that I had her debit card in my wallet. She would have no immediate access to funds if I was whisked away. I began to freak out but tried very hard not to show it. There were many thousands of pieces of luggage passing through Bogota each day. The odds favored me. Intellect told me to relax. Emotions weren’t cooperating.
I shuffled slowly through the line with an eye on the time. 20 minutes to departure and Diane was still at the gate waiting, not knowing what was happening. My turn!
With some assistance, I hefted the large plastic box onto the steel table and watched the drug agent disassemble the carefully packed contents, smelling and probing and unwrapping carefully wrapped items. In ten minutes or so, it was over and I was released. I hustled back upstairs with 9 minutes left before departure and met a worried Diane waiting for me. We boarded and I collapsed into the seat.
“What was that all about?” she asked.
“Just routine.” I said trying to maintain my composure. “I’ll tell you about it later.”
Like everything else in life, there are no guarantees that wrapping your luggage will prevent tampering however, it seems to add one more layer of protection that unwrapped luggage does not offer. From this point forward…we’re wrapping!