Six Letters Re: A Contingency Bag for Frequent Air Travelers

Hey, Jim:
I think we need some more collective thought on this. I’ve got more time in the air than most people–4,000+ hours as an Army helicopter pilot (where we wore a cleverly-stocked survival vest; alas, a lot of the contents would not pass TSA scrutiny), 2 million+ miles on Delta, and about that many more on defunct airlines (especially Eastern and TWA). Getting stuck somewhere could happen to me on a trip. Here’s some of my thinking (and I still need some help):

It seems to me that anything important should be in the carry-on bag, not checked. Most frequent-flyers will avoid checking a bag, unless going on vacation with spouse/family. So, that says we need ideas and separate strategies for carry-on and checked bags.

I’ve thought a bit about what I might be able to do in a hijack situation. I am much more realistic about this now than when I was young, buff, and a bit more foolish. I have read about various strategies for sneaking illegal devices, substances, and gadgets through security, but the downside seems too severe for me, especially when one’s livelihood depends on being able to fly (getting caught a time or two will earn a slot on the “no-fly” list). Here’s at least a partial solution:

In the carry-on bag, include three rolls of coins–one each of Walking Liberty [silver] halves, pre-’65 [silver] quarters, and Mercury dimes. This is $25 face value of silver. At today’s silver price and value (per, that’s about $350-worth, if I did the math right. That should be enough for a domestic SHTF situation/stranding. If you think you need more, I would carry the gold coins in my wallet/purse. Also in the carry-on bag–along with your athletic shoes (if they’re not on your feet)–will go a rolled up pair of tube socks. I think the combination of the Walkers and a tube sock could come in pretty handy, if needed (swing hard).

Beyond that, I have no idea. Space blanket? Disposable poncho? Water purification straw? Why don’t we put this out for suggestions and ideas? Or, have you plowed this ground before and I missed it? – AAA (Another Army Aviator)

As someone who spent several years asking people if they packed their own bag, and did it contain any of the following items (while pointing at the dangerous goods poster).  I would like to mention that at my locale the matches, magnesium and entire fire group would have been removed from the bag, as would any complete MREs. (The MRE eater pack is a no-no, and knowing which ones have heaters was not something any of us were likely to know.)

I would recommend anyone, as you said, to check with The airlines policy, Government agency (FAA, TC, etc) and airport security. If any one of them says no, don’t bring it. Fortunately this information is all usually on the web these days. – Dave W.

I would caution TR from North Carolina against packing flammable/combustible materials in checked baggage, no matter how it’s packaged (especially matches). Not only is it against fed regs, it is dangerous to everyone on board. Believe me, as a commercial pilot I know those rules are there for safety reasons. You don’t want to end up like ValueJet in 1996. Consult for a good list of what is permissible in both carry-on and checked luggage. If TR wants a fire starter, he could carry a lighter in his carry-on bag no problem. Safe travels!

That was a thought provoking article. I purposely left my last job due to the heavy travel requirements. However I too sought risk mitigation while traveling … I carried a minimal amount of items with me so I never checked baggage, however since my trips were to the same locations time and again (including outside CONUS) … I found locations where I could keep appropriate items necessary should I need to try to “manage” in case of emergency … this sometimes involved like minded individuals …sometimes it meant leaving a bag locked in the hotel porters closet (big tip and explanations that I didn’t like continually hauling my hair curlers and curling irons on the airlines … hotels I frequented didn’t bat an eye at the frequent guest who wanted to leave a bag.)
Obviously doesn’t work if you don’t return often, and I always assumed that the bag might walk off … I was always prepared to replenish/ replace.
Just some more food for thought.

Keep up the good work. – Debra, Somewhere in the Midwest


Dear Editor,
To T. R. in North Carolina and anyone else who flies frequently did you know that the airlines have provided you with weapons and a host of defensive equipment?

I worked on big jets as a line mechanic for many years Boeing 737s to 747s, DC10s, MD11s and some others.

Let’s start before you board the plane for when you get off, how does an oak walking cane with the end rounded and covered with a rubber tip sound. Take some martial arts training that will teach you how to use the cane as a weapon. Medical equipment isn’t forbidden on air planes and don’t count against your carry-on baggage. Oh the rounded tip well cover it with a rubber grip and no one will know it’s rounded and it will have more impact power than a flat tip and in snowy climates you can get pointed tips that flip up and down as needed for traction on ice and snow.

Now you are in the boarding area start your profiling of your fellow passengers and be aware of where the problems you have identified wind up especially if they are scattered to strategic parts of the cabin. Choke points are the bulkhead between first Class and Coach and if there are lavatories or Galleys in mid cabin as on large wide bodies and at the rear of the aircraft. I like to fly First Class and have an aisle seat. This way I can view the passengers as they board and size them up while sipping a Sprite.

When you board the aircraft do at least two things, take a look into the first class galley and view the food service carts and note how they are secured. They usually are held in place by to methods, one a large usually red lever turned down to hold them in place and a break mechanism in the center of the cart on the floor and some have handles to grab that must be rotated to move the cart these are usually the drink service carts  these are the best as they have sodas, ice and other items in them for minor very minor ballistic protection but it will be the best you can get but this also makes them heavy to be used as a battering ram against someone in the aisle and you can throw the cans or shake them up and then open them in the face of the bad people. This can cause confusion, minor eye blinding and a reaction to clean oneself so a distraction. The second thing is to ask the flight attendant for a seat belt extension. If you are thin just say you don’t want to feel trapped and like the extra room the extension give you, me I don’t have this problem. Why do I need a seat belt extension well I do need one but if you have one it makes things easier just extend the buckle to the max and now you have a “flail”. That buckle will hurt. Let’s say the flight attendant won’t give you an extension not to worry Boeing gave you one.

During the hubbub of boarding if you can before you sit down grab hold of your seat cushion and pull up, it’s held in place by Velcro strips. It is designed as an auxiliary flotation device. There are two elastic straps on the back to hold onto if you are in the water, correct, but slip your arm in it and now you have a small shield that can be used for blades up to about 3 inches and to block punches. And lo and behold underneath the seat cushion is where the seatbelts are fastened to the seat frame. By FAA requirements these must be cotter pinned but most of the time they are not. Just a snap holds them to the little clevis attached to the seat frame. They are quick and easy to be removed and now you have a flail on the end of about a 16 inch strap.

Now let’s look into the pouch on the seatback in front of you, there is a rather thick in-flight magazine in there, in fact every seatback has or should have one. Now what can you do with a magazine? Well not much but if you hold it by its spine (back) and throw it in a spinning motion the pages will fly open hopefully distracting and confusing your opponent and you hit them with the seatbelt buckle and then give a push with your seat cushion which is attached to your arm and do a leg sweep or trip your opponent somehow now they are on the cabin floor pretty much at your mercy and the mercy of the other passengers.

Another thing to look for is where are the oxygen bottles kept? They are steel bottles and are formidable weapons as are fire extinguishers. Discharge a chemical fire extinguisher at a person and it is very confusing and blinding. Also look for the first aid kit it is removable and can be thrown at a bad person.

Guns on a plane, Well unless you are a sky marshal so don’t try it but if the bad person has one remember the soda service cart if you can get to it and the rapid decompression of an airplane by a gun shot well this isn’t Hollywood you won’t squeeze through a bullet hole in the side of the plane or a window.

Door opening in flight well forget it. I was a mechanic and we did pressure checks I couldn’t open a door of a pressurized aircraft if my life depended on it and I was a big strong person then.

Other things to look for when you board is overhead dropdown panels. On most 757 Aircraft life rafts are located in the overhead in the aisle of first class two latches hold it up and a safety catch string keeps it from coming all the way down it’s easy the unhook and drop it all the way now you have another barrier.

Oh and don’t forget your cane.

While none of these are deadly it could even your chances in a sky jacking and after all in a sky jacking you have nothing to loose but everything to gain and if there are other passengers of similar mind set well no airplane should be flown into a skyscraper again. – OldAlaskan


I’d carry a few extra wool socks, and rolls of quarters or a large padlock. buying knives gets expensive- but putting the rolled quarters in the socks makes a useful slap implement. it’s probably not lawful in most un-gun-friendly states but it’s likely to be something that if you carry the change rolled won’t get taken from you through security.  nothing is more useless then a man with out a knife (as I was taught as a kid)- but since humans generally can adapt with intelligence we can overcome most roadblocks. – Fitzy

JWR Replies: In addition to their use as an ersatz sap in a sturdy sock, a large padlock also makes a dandy “brass knuckle.” Just hold the padlock in your fist with your middle finger through the steel loop of the lock. Especially if is not expected, the blows that you land while holding a padlock can be quite devastating. There is an advantage in not using one in a sock sap, which generally “telegraphs” your intent. Just be sure that you use a lock that is large enough, or you can strain or break a finger. Test fit a few locks at your local hardware store.

Also see my previous comments in SurvivalBlog on Kubotan-type striking weapons. Some of these–mostly felt tip pens–go through airport security with ease. One good currently-available product for this is the Sharpie Magnum Permanent Marker.