One pink, beat-up bag got an awful lot of scrutiny yesterday.
Airport officials say the suitcase is what they call "the last bag" -- the piece of luggage used to signal that all the bags from a given flight have been unloaded onto carousels like this one.
The "last bag" doesn't have to be pink, but this particular one was, and it wasn't the color but the scent that drew the attention of an important observer: a bomb sniffing dog.
"It just happened that a dog was passing by this area, there was something that caused the dog to respond, and we just had to check it out," said Pat Hogan, spokesman for the Metropolitan Airports Commission.
Hogan said the dog's response to the pink bag prompted officials to call in the Bloomington bomb squad. The luggage was X-rayed and determined not to be a threat.
This is a standard response. Officials with the Transportation Security Administration, or TSA, say that when a dog calls attention to an item, they bring in a bomb squad for assistance, out of "an abundance of caution."
Hogan said the dog's handler didn't realize at the time that the bag was airport property.
Hogan also noted that the airport's bomb-sniffing dogs have been working overtime since Christmas, when a terrorist attempted to detonate an explosive on a Northwest Airlines flight bound for Detroit.
The dogs are trained by the TSA to react to a couple dozen different substances used to make bombs. Hogan said it's unclear what triggered the dog's reaction in this case.
"Usually when something like this happens, we never find out exactly what it was that the dog smelled, but there was something he was trained to detect and he did," he said.
Douglas Laird, the former security director for Northwest Airlines who now runs an aviation security consulting firm, said he has a theory about why the dog sounded the alert for the pink bag.
"That bag, probably owned by the airport police, has been used as a test item for the dogs, and the bag is contaminated with explosives," Laird said. "There's no explosives in the bag, but the residue remains."
The airport did continue to operate during the bomb scare, but authorities shut down some parts of the facility. Half the baggage claim and ticketing areas in the Lindbergh terminal were evacuated. The lower roadway into the terminal area was closed off, barring access to taxis, and a portion of the upper roadway was choked off as well.
Officials say the bag was too small to contain an explosive capable of blowing up a large area, which is why they didn't idle the entire airport.
By late afternoon, travelers looking for a cab ride on the airport's lower level were able to get one easily. But Tom Nieszner, a supervisor in the taxi area, says earlier in the afternoon, a line of about 200 people snaked down the hallway, as no taxis were allowed in. Nieszner says the people waiting didn't complain much.
"They were the best I've ever seen them. I've been here a long time, they were very cooperative, very understanding, they knew something was up, and everyone was very good," Nieszner said.
And several passengers stuck on the tarmac due to the bomb scare also took the incident in stride.
Chelsie Hamsa was flying in from New York. Her plane waited 20 minutes to deplane at the terminal. Hamsa says the delay didn't bother her. And when the flight attendant told passengers the nature of the delay, she wasn't especially worried.
"I wasn't. I fly a lot. And everyone kind of was calm at that point," Hamsa said.
Hamsa said there was also a bomb scare in Times Square during her visit there. So another scare just felt like a routine part of the trip.