Ever since the Sept. 11 hijackings, the government has cracked down on airport security. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) have been working to eliminate the threat of terrorism in our airports. While I respect their intentions, recently I have had my doubts about how effectively those organizations have been functioning.
While traveling recently, I noticed a room in several airports that concerned me. It was a room full of people smoking pipes, cigars and cigarettes. At first, I was happy that the room was there to stop people from blowing smoke in my face. Then I realized that these smoking rooms were beyond our newly revised and upgraded airport security. People need matches or lighters to smoke, and clearly they must be allowed past security if people are smoking past security. Why do people need to smoke beyond security? Did we learn anything from the shoe-bomber? I understand that people are addicted, but it is not the governments job to endanger the lives of thousands of people just to allow a few people to feed their addiction. The government does make a great deal of money on the sale of tobacco products, so it makes me suspicious.
These concerns led me to look further into airport security regulations, especially those relating towhat you can and cannot bring onto a plane. Some of the prohibited items should clearly be banned. These include automatic weapons, axes, box cutters (used in the 9/11 hijackings), bull whips, dynamite, knives and many types of guns. There are also many other items on the list that are not as obvious but still make sense as dangerous items.
Two prohibited items that bothered me were toy transformer robots (this toy forms a toy gun) and toy weapons. The idea seems to make sense. If it looks like a gun, it is not allowed. Unfortunately, like many restricted items, this idea can be taken too far.
In 2002, the TSA staff displayed a prime example of such absurdity. A British woman, Judy Powell, had bought a GI Joe as a gift while in Las Vegas. Assuming that there would no problems, she packed the toy in her carry-on luggage. When she went through security, the TSA officials searched the bag and found the toy. Rather than allowing her to pass through without a problem, the TSA officials treated the clearly harmless toy as a deadly weapon. The GI Joe rifle was confiscated, and Powell was forced to put the toy in her checked bag to be placed in the aircrafts hold. Instead of apologizing for the ridiculous incident, a representative from the airport said, We have instructions to confiscate anything that looks like a weapon or a replica, and, If GI Joe was carrying a replica then it had to be taken from him.
If a two-inch toy gun is a threat, how can we know where to draw the line?
Many of the TSA regulations seem very hypocritical: ski poles, not allowed; fishing poles made of the same material, allowed; tiny metal scissors with a pointy end, not allowed; foot-long metal knitting needles, allowed.
Road flares and flare guns are not allowed in either carry-on or checked luggage. Most types of guns and ammunition are allowed in checked baggage. Maybe I am reading too much into that, but perhaps the NRA used its influence to protect the rights of gun owners. Gun lighters, which have been interpreted as lighters that have a flame of at least two to three inches long, and strike-anywhere matches are not allowed. Most types of lighters and other types of matches are allowed. While the banned item may be most dangerous, the others are perfectly capable of lighting a fuse or even converting a can of aerosol hairspray (allowed) into a deadly weapon.
I am not suggesting that anything that could hypothetically be turned into a weapon should be banned from airports. That proposal would require far too many resources and would divert the focus from the real problems. TSA officials do have the right to not allow items if they raise suspicion, even if those items are not on the banned list. I want this to be clear: I am glad that we have greatly increased the level of security in our airports. All I am asking for is a logical and consistent policy as to what is and isnt allowed at airports and on airplanes. That continuity would make me feel more secure.