PHILADELPHIA – A college student returning to school after the winter break fell victim to a prank at Philadelphia's airport by a Transportation Security Administration worker who pretended to plant a plastic bag of white powder in her carryon luggage.
The worker is no longer employed by the TSA after the incident this month, a spokeswoman said.
Rebecca Solomon, 22, a University of Michigan student, wrote in a column for her campus newspaper that she was having her bags screened on Jan. 5 before her flight to Detroit when the employee stopped her, reached into her laptop computer bag and pulled out the plastic bag, demanding to know where she had gotten the powder.
In the Jan. 10 column for The Michigan Daily, she recounted how she struggled to come up with an explanation, wondering if it was bomb-detonating material slipped in by a terrorist or drugs put there by a smuggler.
"He let me stutter through an explanation for the longest minute of my life," Solomon wrote. "Tears streamed down my face as I pleaded with him to understand that I'd never seen this baggie before."
A short time later, she said, the worker smiled and said it was his.
The worker "waved the baggie at me and told me he was kidding, that I should've seen the look on my face," she said.
Solomon said she asked to speak to a supervisor and filled out a complaint, and during that process was told that the man was training TSA workers to detect contraband. Two days later, she said, she was told he had been disciplined.
"I had been terrified and disrespected by an airport employee," she said. "He'd joked about the least funny thing in air travel."
There was no answer Saturday at a telephone listing for Solomon at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. An e-mail message seeking comment from her was sent Saturday by The Associated Press, and a telephone message was left at her parents' home in suburban Philadelphia.
TSA spokeswoman Ann Davis told The Philadelphia Inquirer she did not dispute the student's account and said the employee was no longer with the agency, though she declined to say whether he had been fired or quit. She also declined to identify the worker or his job title, citing privacy laws.
"TSA viewed this behavior to be completely inappropriate and unprofessional," Davis said in a statement. "The employee was immediately disciplined by TSA management at the Philadelphia airport."
TSA representatives did not return calls Saturday seeking comment.