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The Newark “Ham Sandwhich” Incident.

A couple of days ago I made reference to the Newark airport ham sandwich incident. Since I’m not sure if I shared the complete story here, I’ll go ahead and tell it. I apologize if you’ve heard it before.

This story starts out in March of 2001. We were making a trip from Europe to the US to visit family and to take my daughter to Disneyworld. Our trip started out from Frankfurt airport. We were taking the Continental flight from Frankfurt to Newark and then connecting onward to Orlando. Back then, I wasn’t as much of a seasoned traveler, but I still had some smarts. I knew:

1. Airline Food quality is hit and miss
2. My 11 year-old daughter can be a picky eater
3. I didn’t want a starving child on a 9-hour flight

So, after checking in for our flight to Newark, we headed to the grocery store at the airport. I decided to purchase some food and snacks that I knew my daughter would eat if the meal wasn’t something she would like. We bought a ham sandwich, sealed in a plastic container, along with some other small snacks, and some water. I stuffed them into my carry-on and we headed to the gate to board our flight to the US.

As it turned out, the meals were fairly decent and the flight was pretty good. This was the first flight I had taken with the personal TVs in coach and my daughter and I had a great time. Jessica ended up playing video games for most of the flight and the time passed by easily. With everyone going so well, I completely forgot about the sandwich in my carry-on.

After landing in Newark, we headed through immigration and over to the baggage claim area. Jessica sat down on a bench with our carryon bags, while my wife and I waited for our luggage at the busy carousel. It was much easier for her to just sit down, out of the way of all the people searching and retrieving their bags.

During this, one of the customs agents was bringing a working dog through, examining the luggage. It was a cute little beagle and my daughter had the biggest smile when the dog sniffed one of the carry-on bags and decided to sit down next to her, like she was the beagle’s new best friend. What this really meant was the dog had alerted on something in one of our bags.

I headed over and talked with the agent, where he informed me that the dog had alerted on some sort of meat or agricultural product in our bag and inquired if we were carrying any food with meat or other fruits or vegetables. At first I said no, but then my daughter said, “What about the Ham Sandwich?” I had completely forgotten about it and had neglected to leave it on the plane. The agent then said, “Collect all your bags and come with me”. I was pretty sure at the time that was something you never want to hear from a US Customs Officer.

With bags in tow, we follow the agent and beagle to a room off to the side of the arrivals hall. As we are walking there, my wife is whispering to me, asking if we are in some sort of trouble. I wasn’t sure, so I shrugged my shoulder. We enter the enclosed room and my daughter starts to show the look of worry on her face. Immediately one of the agents noticed the look and introduced the dog “Moose” to my daughter. My daughter then got a coloring and informational book and a sticker from “Beagle Brigade”. My daughter started asking all sorts of questions of the dog handler, which he was more than happy to answer. While this was going on, I pulled out the offending ham sandwich and the rest of our luggage was examined and x-rayed. It was a pretty simple and painless process.

The best part of the whole incident was that we ended up getting cleared through customs a lot faster than the rest of our flight. As there were several international flights arriving in Newark at the same time, the lines to clear through customs was pretty long. With the quick secondary inspection, we were able to bypass the longs lines and make our connecting flight. It all worked out pretty good in the end.

As a footnote, it’s kind of funny how small things will have a big impact on a child. For my daughter, that book and the few short moments with the Beagle Brigade opened up a whole new world to her. She read the book numerous times and became more and more interested in working dogs, animals, and wildlife in general. Today, she is majoring in Wildlife Biology at the University of Alaska. When I look back, I have to think some of that interest started with a forgotten ham sandwich on a flight to Newark.

You can read more about the Beagle Brigade at:
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