The business traveler who hops on a plane multiple times a week probably doesn’t even blink anymore at airport security. It is a part of his or her daily routine. Many of us, however, only get on a plane once every year or two for that much anticipated summer vacation. Going through security at the airport can be a very confusing. Different countries have different security procedures, and often it appears that there are different procedures in different cities in the United States.
The TSA (Transportation Security Administration) oversees airport security in the United States. It was created in response to the horrible tragedies of September 11, 2001, and is part of the Department of Homeland Security. The idea was that a single federal agency would be better able to manage airport security, and protect our air travel, than private companies. The TSA did not completely eliminate private screening, and airports can opt out of federal screening by getting TSA approval and following TSA procedures.
Is government run security better?
It is hard to assess whether we are better off with or without government run airport security. Certainly, we haven’t had a tragedy to date in the United States like 9/11. However, undercover operations to test security effectiveness routinely show guns and even bombs making it through the security screening. Is it all just a big show and we are just as vulnerable as we were before the attacks?
One of my favorite airport screening stories occurred right after 9/11. A good friend of mine (and an elderly nun) was traveling, and they pulled her aside because they found tweezers in her bag. They told her that metal tweezers were not permissible to bring on to the airplane. She asked what she should do, and they said, “Either throw them away or check them.” Women can become very attached to her tweezers, so my friend had to go buy a box, tape the tweezers inside, and send them along as checked baggage.
Now, metal tweezers are allowed on an airplane. If they were too dangerous to bring before, why are they okay to bring now? Another one of my favorite old security “no’s” was a screwdriver. I saw a man get pulled aside and he had to discard his tiny tiny screwdriver (we are talking 1 inch long) that was part of an eyeglasses repair kit.
A few of the current security guidelines (according to the TSA website) prohibit:
• Knives (except for plastic or round bladed butter knives)
• Scissors (metal with pointed tips and blades shorter than 4 inches are allowed, but blades longer than 4 inches are prohibited)
• Tools (greater than seven inches in length). I guess now it is okay to repair your eyeglasses on the plane with a tiny screwdriver.
• Self Defense Sprays (only in checked baggage allowed, and less than 4 ounces)
I hope that the government is doing a good job, but for me, it is hard to have confidence when one day tweezers are deemed a threat and the next day they are not. A six inch tool is okay, but an eight inch tool is dangerous. A very dull knife, one that hasn’t been sharpened with a chefs choice 130 sharpener, no matter what size is probably less dangerous than a pen. I understand we have to draw the line somewhere, but I’m not sure the government knows the right place to draw it.