For over 10 years I have been carrying a whistle at my keychain. It is useful to be able to blow a whistle in case of emergencies to get more help. Until now the only problems I had with the whistle was when entering the German Parliament; there sometimes I had to hand it over to security but got it back afterwards. But on my way to the Free Software Conference DORS/CLUC in Zagreb my whistle caused some discussions with airport security.

My whistle briefly before I had to throw it away

At the security the officer saw the whistle and told me that I am not allowed to take it with me. Although I told him that I had been travelling with that whistle for around 10 years now, he insisted that I have to throw it in the box of forbidden materials. The other option was that I could tell the people at the check-in that I forgot important medicine in my luggage and when I get my luggage back I could put the whistle in there. I told the officer that I am not good in lying and if there is no other option, as aside from the material value the whistle has some emotional value to me. He said unfortunately not, but that he is not allowed to let me pass with the whistle. So after making the picture above I threw it into the security box.

Afterwards I was searching online through different flight regulations, but I was not able to find anything about whistles. That's when I went back to the officer to ask him if he could point me to that regulation, because I did not see anything about it before nor could I find anything about it now. He was searching in his mobile phone, and afterwards in his paper folder, but did not find anything. I politely asked if I could at least get something written that I had to throw away my whistle, so he called his supervisor.

It took almost 15 minutes and before the supervisor came, there were already two police officers with sub-machine guns arriving, who went on to stand next to me and the security box. When the supervisor came, he apologised for his co-worker and said his personnel had the order not to allow whistles, but that this directive meanwhile had changed.

The supervisor already called the security person who has a key for this box, so that they could open it for me. After some time the "key guy" came, and under the protection of the police officers he opened the box. Lots of interesting stuff in there... and after some time one of the police officers found my whistle and gave it back to me. During this the other security staff was discussing the whole matter and I heard that they want to make sure to communicate this change at their next training.

The security officer from the beginning then also apologised with a handshake, which was just in time for me to board my flight – with my whistle.

My lesson learnt out of that: if something is not clear, ask them to explain it to you before you throw your belongings in the security box; and if something like that happens to you stay calm and polite but firm and ask for explanations.

If you have any information about if and why whistles were banned for some time at airports, please let me know by e-mail.