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That Special Souvenir from Paris: The French Give Up Packing Explosives with Passengers

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Until recently, a trip home from overseas might have brought you a toy surprise: a small test pack of plastic explosives (without detonator, fortunately), tucked unobtrusively into your luggage by a friendly airport security agent in France. The security team was supposed to be able to find the explosives before your kids did. But Wendy Wolfson reports that our French allies have given up this practice since one of their packages went missing.
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I love French food but never bring any back from Paris with me for fear of being busted by Daisy the Beagle. She works Customs at Boston's Logan Airport, sniffing suitcases for illicit fruits and vegetables. Daisy is a media star; she has her own coloring book, which the Department of Agriculture distributes for free. But she is as ruthlessly trained as a local beauty queen gunning for the Miss America crown. I once saw Daisy sniff out a bag of illegal carrot sticks from a large woman who protested she was just trying to watch her weight. The customs officer summarily confiscated them.

Alors, turns out a dog nosing out my treat stash should have been the least of my worries.

Inspector Clouseau, We Need You!

The French have just announced that they have stopped testing their bomb-sniffing dogs by hiding explosives in travelers' luggage. Apparently, the last plant of a five-ounce hunk of plastic explosives went missing. It could have made it onto one of up to 100 flights out of Paris that day. But whoever got the suitcase with the lucky prize never turned it in. The explosives won't explode, assured the French authorities, because they were not attached to a detonator.

It wasn't the dog's fault, apparently. The bag escaped due to the inattention of the security guys.

As with puff pastry, the French have a certain panache with explosives. A few years ago, a friend and I were halted from boarding our flight at Charles de Gaulle by a policeman. There was a suspicious suitcase, he said. We waited in a clump of talkative lawyers for the sapper to approach. Potential bombs concentrate the mind wonderfully; even the lawyers shut up. A robot blew the suitcase up with a dull boom.

It was a meat bomb.

The expanse of the terminal floor was littered with frozen chicken wings and hamburgers, to the delight of any airport dogs in the vicinity. "It was probably somebody smuggling frozen meat to Africa, but did not want to pay customs," the policeman said. "Bon voyage, Mademoiselle."

The fate of the errant plastique is still open to speculation:

  • Returning traveler just dumped clothes and explosives straight from suitcase into the laundry bin. The fermenting sweat socks on the bottom of the basket, however, are steadily generating heat. Achieving criticality is only a matter of time.
  • Luggage was transferred to any U.S. airline on a connecting flight and got lost forever.
  • Traveler unpacked, and thought, "How curious. I don't remember buying that for the kids."
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