Fact Check

Airport Water Bottle Contraband Warning

Rumor: Smugglers are tricking innocent people at airports into transporting contraband in modified water bottles.

Published Feb 16, 2015

Claim:   Smugglers are tricking innocent people at airports into transporting contraband in modified water bottles.


Example:   [Collected via YouTube, February 2015]

Be careful when requested by strangers for help to carry anything, especially airports near Customs... could be drugs

Can we be careful enough not to be duped while being kind or helpful?

It is sad how selfish people are now..so please be very careful when you want to be kind..and please forward this to your children as well.

Now you'll see why you should not hold anything for a fellow traveler or stranger, not even an old auntie or uncle or pregnant lady. Please share attached video with your love ones.

AT AIRPORT, NEVER HELP ANYBODY BY HOLDING EVEN FOR A SHORT TIME, HIS OR HER WATER BOTTLE OR Anything else. This warning has come from an officer working at the airport. If you happen to buy a water bottle at the airport, please check the bottle. BEWARE of fake water bottles. Be careful! At the airport or close to any customs service, never accept or help somebody to hold his/her bottle of water or other objects, even for an elderly person or a pregnant woman, You could be arrested for cocaine or illegal drugs possession.


Origins:   On 16 February 2015, celebrity and popular Facebook user George Takei published a status update that included a link warning fans not to hold water bottles for strangers at airports, as drug traffickers were using the water bottle ruse to dupe innocent travelers into smuggling contraband items. The claim shared by Takei was not new to the internet: the video in the example above was published to YouTube in 2010, and the claim was reiterated at least once on Facebook in 2013.

It's certainly true that a number of containers for common household items (e.g., shaving cream, bottled water, canned goods) can easily be obtained in modified forms that allow for the furtive storage or transport of materials the owner might wish to keep hidden from view, and that such containers can (and have been) used in the smuggling of

contraband. It's also true that innocent travelers have been duped into aiding smugglers by accepting requests from strangers to (unknowingly) carry contraband-containing items through airports or onto airplanes — sometimes thereby exposing themselves to arrest for participation in criminal enterprises. Cases of this phenomenon have involved individuals claiming they were unfairly arrested after they had been coerced into smuggling drugs, had merely been seated atop a hidden stash, or had unwittingly carried contraband unknowingly placed into their luggage.

While the source of the footage seen in the above-referenced video is unknown, its contents are not dissimilar to a 2007 incident involving an Aquafina bottle which NFL quarterback Michael Vick was accused of using to smuggle marijuana onto a flight:

Miami police are investigating NFL star Michael Vick after airport screeners seized a water bottle from him at a security checkpoint and later discovered that the bottle included a 'concealed compartment' that appeared to contain a small amount of marijuana. According to a Miami-Dade Police Department report, the Atlanta Falcons quarterback was 'reluctant to turn over his water bottle during the screening process' at Miami International Airport (the athlete was booked on an AirTran flight to Atlanta). Vick subsequently relinquished the 20-ounce Aquafina bottle, which was placed in a recycling bin by a Transportation Security Administration screener. Suspicious as to why Vick hesitated in handing over the bottle, TSA screener Gertrude Joseph retrieved the bottle, notified her supervisor, and brought the item to the TSA operations center. There, officials discovered that the bottle's label 'contained a seam which separated the top and the bottom of the bottle. Both ends were sealed by clear partitions and what appeared to be a silicone sealant.' The concealed compartment, the report notes, contained 'a small amount of dark particulate and a pungent aroma closely associated with Marijuana.

However, as the Vick incident illustrates, "diversion safes" such as the Aquafina bottle pictured in the video are not particularly effective for smuggling contraband onto flights, as Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) guidelines currently prohibit travelers from carrying containers of liquid of the size depicted in the video through security checkpoints. (Water and other beverages brought on flights must be purchased by passengers from previously-screened vendors after clearing security.) While such devices may be commonly employed by teenagers concealing small quantities of illicit substances from parents or school officials, their limitations for air travel are likely well known by any party seeking to transport banned substances on airplanes.

Contrary to the text accompanying some posted iterations of this video, travelers really need not worry that they should check water they purchase at stores lest the bottle turn out to be loaded up with illegal drugs (it's not practical for would-be smugglers to hand out their contraband to random customers whose identities and destinations are unknown to them), and the chances of being arrested just for momentarily holding such a bottle are rather slim. It's unlikely that the owner of such an item would have reason to ask a random traveler to briefly hold it, or that the compliant recipient would be busted at just that very moment (unless the perpetrators' primary purpose were to incriminate the traveler rather than to smuggle contraband).

Common travel safety and security guidelines already cover vigilance about packing one's own luggage and refusing to hold or carry any object or substance (particularly supplied by a stranger) while in transit, although hidden drugs aren't the only matter with which airport security workers are concerned: explosives and other dangerous weapons are often suspected in cases of unattended or tampered with baggage.

In short, it's best to avoid ever accepting items from strangers at airports so you don't find yourself at risk for attempting to carry some type of prohibited item through a security checkpoint, past customs, or onto an airplane. But while it's wise to decline taking possession of anything offered by someone you don't know while traveling, you are unlikely to endure an unjust arrest simply for briefly holding someone else's water bottle.

Last updated:   16 February 2015

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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