Sneaking Items Aboard Aircraft

A Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice faces a fine—although no criminal charges at the moment—for trying to sneak a knife aboard an aircraft.

Saylor, 58, and his wife entered a security checkpoint Feb. 4 on a trip to Philadelphia when screeners found a small Swiss Army-style knife attached to his key chain.

A police report said he was told the item could not be carried onto a plane and that he needed to place the knife into checked luggage or make other arrangements.

When Saylor returned a short time later to be screened a second time, an X-ray machine detected a knife inside his carry-on luggage, police said.

There are two points worth making here. One: ridiculous rules have a way of turning people into criminals. And two: this is an example of a security failure, not a security success.

Security systems fail in one of two ways. They can fail to stop the bad guy, and they can mistakenly stop the good guy. The TSA likes to measure its success by looking at the forbidden items they have prevented from being carried onto aircraft, but that’s wrong. Every time the TSA takes a pocketknife from an innocent person, that’s a security failure. It’s a false alarm. The system has prevented access where no prevention was required. This, coupled with the widespread belief that the bad guys will find a way around the system, demonstrates what a colossal waste of money it is.

Posted on February 28, 2005 at 8:00 AM48 Comments


Eric I. February 28, 2005 8:42 AM

Bruce writes:

“This, coupled with the widespread belief that the bad guys will find a way around the system, demonstrates what a colossal waste of money it is.”

I’m not sure a “widespread belief” is a component to an actual demonstration of a fact.

Furthermore, in the spectrum of weapons, I think we would all draw the line somewhere. For some it may be pocket knives. For others it may be at handguns or molotov cocktails. And while we should debate where that line should be drawn, to say that pocket knives make the program a “collosal waste of money” is, I believe, again overreaching.

Israel Torres February 28, 2005 8:53 AM

… a prime opportunity for product developers to come up with a TSA-SAFE branding for pocket knives, box cutters, grenades… perhaps they turn into jello upon request. (patent pending)

Israel Torres

Patrik February 28, 2005 9:00 AM

I agree with you.

I flew with a first aid kit in my travelling bag (why would you put first aid kit away?). The first aid kit had – of course – a scissor.

I got through three security checkpoints (differen countries), but on the fourth I was stopped and the scissor was taken away from me.

I dont argue against this, since I do not really want to fly with some maniac who has a scissor and his intentions is to use it.

I had totally forgotten about the scissor, of course as most other people who they take knifes, scissors and other sharp items from.

What I want to say with this is that they only didnt fail when checking my bag at three security points, but also they took away a first aid scissor (not even sharp) from a good guy.

Simon Johnson February 28, 2005 9:12 AM

The reason this guy became a “criminal” was precisely because he couldn’t comply with the security guys request.

I don’t know about the USA but in Europe by the time you’ve got to the security checkpoint you’ve already checked your bags in.

How can you put your pen-knife in the hold if your bagage has already been checked in?That forces people to subvert the system knowingly.

This shows yet another failure in their system. When the security check does fail, it doesn’t fail gracefully enough. It compounds the failure by not allowing the average user to put himself in an acceptable state easily.


Erik Johnson February 28, 2005 10:01 AM

One could even argue that the security failure is exacerbated because there are no armed good guys on board to defend against the bad guys.

But I still can’t bring myself to wish maximizing the number of armed people on my airplane.

Bill February 28, 2005 10:23 AM

Last summer, my 13 year-old daughter managed to get a pair of folding embroidery scissors throught the checkpoints (on both trips!).

It’s also interesting to not that not only are knitting needles allowed (as was already mentioned), but also corkscrews!!! (according the TSA website).

Michael February 28, 2005 10:31 AM

The whole search thing is a joke anyways. I boarded in Dallas in December 2003 and I didn’t realize until I got off the plane in Toronto that I had a small pocket knife in my shirts breastpocket. I walked through the metal detector, had to take my shoes off (meanwhile the women could just walk through) and yet, they never found the knife.

I also had to make certain that my luggage was “unlocked”, for whatever reason, I guess it makes them feel better if they can just slip something into it. Sort of makes it useless to have the question: “Did you ever leave the luggage unattended after you packed it?”.

FM February 28, 2005 10:50 AM

Here the security system succeeds. It has prevented the potential weapon from being taken aboard the aircraft. That is the goal. True, it is not a weapon in the hands of a good person, however it is not a simple thing to distinguish good and evil in the limited arena of a
checkpoint and to do so would give most of you folks alot more to whine about.

Darrel February 28, 2005 11:26 AM

I think that the point to take away from all this discussion is that there is a certain point where security becomes rediculous. Taking a pen knife from a Supreme Court judge does nothing to improve security, it just makes people feel better. Which seems to be the goal of most of our security meausres, making the average person feel better.

John Moore February 28, 2005 11:37 AM

The point of the essay is that there are better ways to secure an aircraft than take pocket knives away from citizens. In this case, a judge got caught after trying to comply with the spirit, but not the letter of the law. The Isrealis have secured their aircraft for over 20 years since the Entebbe hijacking. Their cockpit doors are secure and the aircrews are armed. Their processes and procedures are probably known, yet ignored. Years before 9/11 a Southwest Airlines plane crashed because a disgruntled employee smuggled a gun aboard and he shot the aircrew killing them, himself and all others aboard. The FAA didn’t do anything then despite the precedent except maybe to screen airline employees before they boarded (they had been exempt). Secure access to the cockpit should have been implemented after that accident but it was not. Unfortunately, it takes a severe tragedy to get measures put in place and then they may be overkill or extreme. The NTSB needs regulatory power and the FAA needs to quit coddling the airlines. The next targets won’t be airlines. They’ll be a port and the bomb will be a liquid natural gas tanker. Or it will be a mall or some such. Until the common man is let into the debate, he or she will continue to be a victim, be it inane screening, identity theft (Bank of America just lost backup tapes with 1 million government credit accounts on an airliner), or job loss due to corporate or market fraud and manipulation. Regulations are put in place generally to protect people (see the previous steam boiler article). Yet, we are less secure today than in the recent past. We can’t trust banks to protect our money or our information. We can’t trust the government to look out for our interests. Things will most likely get worse before they get better. God help us all.


Zwack February 28, 2005 11:51 AM

Michael, you probably want to invest in some new padlocks.

There are some interesting ones that are TSA approved (they can open them with a key if they want to) that also have a tell-tale that changes from green to red if the lock was opened without using the correct combination. In other words when you get your bags back you can tell instantly if they’ve been searched or not.

They’re about as good otherwise as any other luggage padlock, but at least you can lock your bags this way.


Bryan February 28, 2005 1:19 PM


There is nothing less secure than a lock with a common backdoor (‘skeleton key’).

You’ll say, “but only the TSA has keys,” ignoring the fact that copying said keys are a trivial matter. Once they key finds its way into a ramp loader’s hands, your luggage might as well have been unlocked.

Oh, but the lock “also [has] a tell-tale” does nothing except tell you that at least one of the 4-8 people who handled your luggage might have been one of the ones who opened it and took out your valuables — just like before the requirement of having no lock on your luggage.

You don’t leave any valuables in your luggage, like the judge and his prized pocket knife, right?

Cypherpunk February 28, 2005 1:40 PM

You guys are looking at this wrong. If we start letting Supreme Court justices onto the plane with weapons, that just means the terrorists will use those members of their group who are Supreme Court justices to take over planes with impunity!

Don’t you remember that paper, Carnival Booth, that got so much positive comment, about how terrorists could just try sending people with different demographics onto planes to see which ones didn’t get searched? Bruce called it “really good work” in If gray haired midwestern grandmothers got special treatment, the terrorists would be able to take advantage of that with ease! Remember? The same principle applies here.

We all know that terrorists are dedicated to the principle of equal rights and non-discrimination and have members of all genders, races, ethnicity, religions, and sexual preferences. Any attempt to focus screening on demographic groups that are supposedly more likely to commit terrorism will backfire, as those undergraduates proved in their paper. We should applaud the TSA for working just as hard to keep terrorist Supreme Court justices from taking their weapons onto the planes as middle eastern, young, islamic males. The TSA is merely applying the recommendations of the security community who endorsed that Carnival Booth idea.

Quadro February 28, 2005 1:45 PM

They don’t even bother asking anymore about leaving your luggage unattended. They must have figured out that nobody takes those questions seriously. Now they just have a bunch of signs that warn people to watch their bags, which is a whole lot easier to ignore. Progress!

Zwack February 28, 2005 1:50 PM


I found a review of the locks in question and the reviewer managed to pick the lock with a handy piece of metal. The tell-tale still showed it had been opened.

So, no, they’re not secure. He also managed to open it without knowing the combination once (out of five attempts).

However, they are more secure than nothing. I would argue that a determined baggage thief will steal from you no matter how secure your locks are. What is to stop them from cutting the side of the case? However, if you have a lock on your bag then you raise the barrier slightly higher. Yes it’s not secure, but this isn’t a question of out swimming a shark, just out swimming the other swimmers.

The TSA are supposed to put a note in your bag whenever they search it. A thief won’t. If the tell tale shows the lock was opened then you know to check it immediately, before you even leave the airport.

This is not perfect security, it’s just a slight edge over the other passengers on your flight.


Brad Mills February 28, 2005 2:06 PM

Once more, I have to go with something Bruce mentioned in ~somewhere~ that it is a trivial matter to board with 5-minute quick setting epoxy, and craft a seriously dangerous item from one’s plastic table ware … there’s likely an excellent chance if a (bad guy) group were to act like network packets, re-assembling into an .exe on the plane, with redundant features built in to cover in case of some packets being ‘lost’ or snagged by TSA screeners. So getting things on a plane are not that tough, it seems. So now go to the next step – airborne, now there’s a situation, what do we do? Hope there’s an air marshall aboard? As citizens, begin to act like an anti-virus, and stop the .exe?

If the actual issue were limited to air travel, that could be micro scoped and likely, great solutions come about. But what of subways, buses, football games, and the like? Mass gatherings = increased risk. So we all stay home, under the blankets … (opinion) eventually regular ol’ folks will have to become less ‘sheepish’ and more security aware. But that implies responsibility, training, and individual actions. I don’t see any other realistic method, but accomplishing even minor 101 training is a giant undertaking.

Difficult at best, but likely we as a society will have to evolve in that direction. Now elements of trust come into play, and we’re easily back to subletting that out to someone else. (sigh) How few people in today’s world are aware of 1% of the threats, erhm, “foreign or domestic?” Moreso, how does the populous become strong, not brittle, resilient yet efficient?

Perhaps one could fly on Paranoid Airways, where you sign a liability disclaimer, and everyone is allowed the weapons of their choice. Or the more pricey Luxury Skylines, where one’s personal security detail carries the weapons.

As for the general public, the solution is not easily available, given freedoms, rights, liabilities, and system/concept failures. Not one in favor of a police state, but having been a (military) policeman in a former life, the training is just ‘there’ in a situation … yet I don’t see how to readily train senior citizens and 8 year old kids.

Perhaps with as much emphasis as there is on education these days, training (not just teaching) will become a staple in the community; individual responsibilities might rise, and maybe a few/myriad more high-profile cases would bring about tremendous social/political changes.

It’s an exciting time to be alive – having read the discourse on ‘steam engines and software’ brings about new parallels worthy of consideration. Litigation, Regulation, and just maybe, Common Sense will cure some of the ills of today’s society. I’m thinking a few more Paris Hilton hacks, a few more T.Kennedy no-fly listings, a few more Bank of America tape losses … eventually the lid has to fly off, and the populous demand some action. And then, it will be time to seek answers on a grand scale … but the security can’t be on ‘them’, meaning Corp or Govt, but ‘us’, meaning me as an individual.

I hope this Swiss Army-knife packing judge raises hell – and uses his political influences to put gasoline on the fire. Wasting $$ on security theater has gone on long enough. Sorry for the tirade, just my .02 –

Davi Ottenheimer February 28, 2005 2:29 PM

I think you hit the nail on the head. It seems to me that this article is different than all the regular “the TSA stole my nail-clipper” experiences due to the simple fact that we see a U.S. Judge is involved. A judge should usually be the sort of person appointed to dispense official opinion on the worth of something, supervise conduct, or decide the issues. Let us hope, as you say, that this Judge will do one or all of these things.

As an aside, I can not help but compare this situation to John Gilmore’s attempt to actually find the law that requires us to show official ID at an airport ( I mean, call me overly optimistic but since the TSA posts their rules there appears to be a chance that someone or everyone could actually help improve them. However, to Gilmore’s point, if the laws are completely hidden then perhaps we are approaching a critical point where even a Judge might not be able to address the issues to preserve freedoms and dispense justice (as we would expect/hope).

Steve Loughran February 28, 2005 3:32 PM

Seems to me that a justice trying to hide a knife in hand luggage shows that they arent devious enough. you need to try a lot harder to get by x-ray with a pointy thing.

However it is moot. Nobody with a knife can take over a plane and crash into another building. We know that, because the passengers of the last jumbo jet showed that the policy had changed. No longer will anyone sit idly by while a couple of people with a knife take over a plane, because if that happens to a plane you are own, you are probably doomed anyway; all you can do is stop anyone else dying.

Where the TSA may be doing a good job is the less visible one, stopping explosives get on planes. The luggage x-ray and explosive detection systems set up across the country, and across europe are a major investment, and they should make it a lot harder to get explosives onto a plane. Should have. There is still risk, and it probably comes down to subverted airport staff. How can we assess that risk? We wont know until another Lockerbie, until another jumbo jet explodes in mid air, leaving a hole in the ground were there used to be a street in a small town.

What you could do is salt testing, the way you do for statistically estimating the #of defects in code: deliberately try to sneak explosives onto planes and measure the success rate. But does that defend against subverted staff? And is it adequate when the price of a single failure is so high?

Jonathan Leffler February 28, 2005 4:32 PM

At San Jose, CA (SJC) airport, there’s now a smallish metal drop box outside the security check area which has a supply of plastic bags and labels. You fill in the details like your address (including a credit card number), put your contraband item – pen knife or whatever – in the bag along with the labels, put the bag in the drop box, go through the security checkpoint undetained and cross your fingers. Mine got home about 10 days later. It was expensive, but cheaper than replacing the knife. So, someone, somewhere, is making some money out of the security precautions the TSA insist upon.

Andy B February 28, 2005 4:34 PM

In the UK, on every flight I’ve been on for, oh, at least the last year they’ve asked me if I have any sharp object in my hand luggage when checking in my hold luggage. Seems fair, I can’t think of a reason I need a knife while in flight, and they’re not saying they won’t transport it.

On the other hand, the check-in staff always look surprised when I actually think about that question. I mean, they did ask…

Thomas Sprinkmeier February 28, 2005 5:37 PM

Thinking isn’t the norm these days, no wonder people are surprised when you do it.
Someone tried to get me to change electricity suppliers. He quoted the on- and off-peak rates. When I asked at what times the off-peak rates apply, he didn’t know; none of his 500 customers had ever asked him that.
I suggest you practice a non-thinking facial expression for use in public. You do NOT want to stand out of a crowd these days!

re: the padlock debate: a false sense f security is worse than none at all.
Imagine being asked if your baggage has been tampered with. After a quick reassuring glance at the little green dots you proclaim “No”. Next thing you know all sorts of goodies are found in your bag.
It’d be better to say “I don’t know, anyone could have messed with my bag” than commit yourself based on misleading information.
As for “raising the bar” by having a padlock, all you’re doing is alerting potential thieves that you have things you consider valuable in your bag.
I twist a paper-clip around the zips. It stops them accidentally comin apart, allows for easy inspection, lets me know if the bag’s been opened and doesn’t attract thieves!

bob February 28, 2005 5:42 PM

All pointed items should be collected and either put into a sealed box and taken on the plane and returned at the destination to passengers. Or arriving passengers should have first pick of the pointed items collected from departing passengers; at least one day you might get back what you had to leave on departing or you should be able to reclaim your pointy item when you return. I’d like to know what happens to mountain of pointy items collected at airports today?

Bub February 28, 2005 5:45 PM

If the terrorists knew certain authoritive figures got special treament in airport security…

What if the terrorists had kidnapped a spouse/son/daughter of a Surpreme Court Justice and were threatening their life unless the Supreme Courst Justice carried something through security?

How hard is it for a terrorist to fake a police officers badge to get special attention through airport security?

I think it sends out a good message to the terrorists – it does’nt matter who the hell you are (or are pretending to be) we are going to treat you the same as every other pleb.

Simon Hamilton-Wilkes February 28, 2005 5:48 PM

And all this is just going to get more fun now that lighters are banned too. Lots of angry smokers, and lots more items to confiscate.

Davi Ottenheimer February 28, 2005 6:27 PM

Very funny. A Judge should be the last person we suspect of seeking ways to subvert the system…obviously it happens, but that’s not why we have Judges.

To your point about sneaking explosives to test the system, you might be shocked to hear about the recent incident in France:
“French police say they will ban their technique for training dogs after a bag with plastic explosives was lost at a Paris airport during an exercise.”

For what it is worth, many years ago I accidentally packed an 8″ traditional sushi knife in my carry-on bag. It was a present, complete with fancy wrapping, and I innocently packed it with all my other “valuables” in a bag that I would be less likely to lose en route. When my bag ran through the x-ray, the people running the machine looked like they had just seen a ghost. Three of them together asked to open my bag and remove the knife. I obviously complied, mostly feeling silly and embarrassed. They took the knife away and gave me instructions on where to pick up my knife at my destination (airport security, which at that time consisted of three lounging national guardsmen in fatigues. The wrapping paper was destroyed, but otherwise my knife came through fine and I was happy that they quickly found it, were professional about handling the situation, and did not fine me or throw me in jail for being a foolish consumer with friends who like to cook sushi.

Davi Ottenheimer February 28, 2005 6:32 PM


It should be the opposite situation of the one you describe; as Bruce points out, if the system mistakenly stops good guys…

A Judge should not receive (or dare I say desire) special treatment. Rather, I believe Bruce’s point was that a Judge is probably in a good position to help clarify that “One: ridiculous rules have a way of turning people into criminals. And two: this is an example of a security failure, not a security success.”

Devin Binger February 28, 2005 8:57 PM

I think TSA is not completely wrong. It is a success of one (small) part of the security apparatus. The screening process is clearly pretty good at detecting at least certain classes of the things it’s supposed to detect.

There are two remaining questions to answer to determine if the security apparatus as a whole has succeeded (I submit that it has not). First, how good is it at detecting any arbitrary kind of contraband. Second, how good is the decision-making on what should be contraband.

It seems like from the ease with which journalists with no prior CIA mujahideen training sneak things past security that in fact the screening process, while it is very good at detecting “things someone forgot to put in checked bags” is poor at finding “things that someone is trying to hide.”

It also seems to me that in fact a pocketknife or boxcutter is no more credible a threat to a hostage than the broken, jagged handle of a plastic spoon, held to the throat, let alone dozens or hundreds of objects not on watchlists, potentially constructed onboard, or made of hard-to-detect materials.

Rhys Gibson February 28, 2005 9:27 PM

Yet more examples of ignoring Gibson’s First and Third Laws.

I long for the days when I used to be able to wander onto a plane with my Swiss army knife in the pocket.

We can bleat on about how bad it all is, but what can we do about it??? How do we lower entire nation’s paranoia levels? What is a reasonable compromise so that people feel safe but uninhibited?

Is there an 80/20 rule we can apply?

So many questions, but so few answers. Sigh.

Davi Ottenheimer March 1, 2005 12:08 AM


How fitting you did not leave a name. It seems like every other comment on Schneier’s blog uses El-Al as a shiny example of effective security practices. Makes you wonder how many people here are employees…

Alas, if you go back and read through the posts, you will note that real security screens people, not things.

Passenger profiling is what always made El-Al a distinctly different check-in experience from other airlines. If staff positively ID you as a friendly, you can go from curb to cabin in less than ten minutes. Do something stupid, fishy or inflammatory and you might not fly El-Al that day, if at all.

Davi Ottenheimer March 1, 2005 12:24 AM

Just a quick addendum to the point that screening is about people, from today’s news:,12780,1427707,00.html
“Intelligence officials and police chiefs are also so concerned at how such a respectable young man was motivated to contemplate such a ruthless attack that they have asked the cabinet secretary, Andrew Turnbull, to examine how terrorists attract middle-class British Muslims.”

“We must ask how a young British man was transformed from an intelligent, articulate person who was well respected, into a person who has pleaded guilty to one of the most serious crimes you can think of,” said Mr Clarke [Metropolitan police deputy assistant commissioner and head of the Met’s anti-terrorist branch].

And here’s another look at profiling in the news, just for comparison:
“Mr. Rader, a married father of two, a Cub Scout leader and an active member of a Lutheran church, was anything but a recluse.

His job as a city code enforcement supervisor required daily contact with the public, and he even appeared on television in 2001 in his tan city uniform for a story on vicious dogs running loose in Park City.

Before becoming a municipal employee, Mr. Rader worked for a home-security company, where he held several positions that allowed him access to customers’ homes, including a role as installation manager. He worked for ADT Security Systems from 1974 to 1989 — the same time as a majority of the BTK killings.”

H. Carvey March 1, 2005 6:14 AM

The base assumption here is that the PA Supreme Court Justice was a “good guy”.

Bruce, you weren’t there…how did you know? Were you able to divine this through some clairvoyant ability?

Everytime we turn around, we see ‘good guys’ doing bad things. Some even use their position of “trust” and power to absolve themselves of suspicion and prosecution b/c they are the ‘good guy’.

A knife is a knife, my friend. This guy was asked to seek other arrangements for the knife, and he failed to follow simple instuctions. Good or bad, am I going to trust that this guy definitely isn’t going to go nuts at some point on the plane?

Clive Robinson March 1, 2005 8:07 AM

With regard to Simon Johnson’s post I don’t know about all European Airports but I do know about LHR. If at the security point you do discover (as I did) you have a prohibited object you are allowed to go back.

In my case I was off to the US and the weather changed suddenly in the UK and without thinking about it I put on a different coat. Having been in the armed forces I have got into the habit of always carrying a multi-tool Swiss Army knife in my coat pocket, oh and a bottle opener in my wallet 😉

So there I was at security with my knife and was offered the drop box to which I objected as the knife has significant sentimental value. I was told I could go back and check my hand luggage so I went back to the land side.

Rather than check my bag (it had my computer in it) I purchased a padded envolope and some stamps put my home address on it and enough stamps and tried to post it. Thats where the fun really started, basically all the post boxes at LHR have a metal plate inside that stops anything thicker than a single sheet letter or a post card being put in. I tried all sorts of ways to get it posted (airline desk security desk etc) and nobody wanted to know, eventually a cleaner over hearing a somewhat heated debate with LHR airport help staff sugested I walk over to a Hotel who thankfully accepted it and laughed at my tale of woe.

When in the US I was with a group of engineers in the evening having a few bottels of beer I told the story, one of them asked about my bottle opener that also has a can opener etc on it and asked how I got it into the US with it.

So maybe the Judge should have just put his pen knife in his wallet along with his metal coins and put it through the X-Ray machine.

Neadless to say I decided not to take the bottle opener back in my wallet on the way back (and now leave it at home)but I do know that I have traveled on many trips post 9/11 prior to this without it being picked up.

The incident set me thinking about every day objects as hand held weapons, and I have concluded that we will soon only be allowed on airplanes in our under garments and ladies please think about leaving your uplift under grarments at home just in case.

Tom March 1, 2005 1:25 PM

As small comment about getting explosive materials on a plane.

It can be done easily. I know because I’ve done it (unintentional of course).

In order to minimize the volume of my camping gear, I tend to put as much stuff as possible in the metal cooking pot. I generally also use small gaz canisters. The canister fits perfectly in the cooking pot.

After a camping trip (using car as transportation), I didn’t unpack my stuff and so on the next trip, my backpack went on the plane with a full gaz canister.

It was never detected by the authorities.

lincoln March 1, 2005 3:02 PM

@H. Carvey

“The base assumption here is that the PA Supreme Court Justice was a “good guy”.”

Not really. But the fact that he is actually one, perhaps may give him the clout, or call enough attention to the absurdity of the policy, that it may change. The 9/11 scheme depended upon passenger’s assumption that hijackers seek some goal in this life, rather than intend to use the plane itself as a destructive weapon. As someone else mentioned, that assumption evaporated even during the flight of the fourth plane. There can not be another 9/11 scheme, but we’re all doomed to comply to a simpleminded policy clearly aimed at preventing what won’t happen anyway.

So why not let the judge, the jury, or anyone else have a jackknife on the plane? A guy with a knife going nuts on a plane is likely to be less dangerous than a nutty knife guy on a train, or a bus, or on the street, as the plane guy will be rapidly disarmed by the passengers.

Thomas Sprinkmeier March 1, 2005 6:29 PM


Exactly! The pre-9-11 “do what the hijacker says and we might survive” attitude is gone. Unless you get abord with a machinegun (and plenty of ammo!) the passengers WILL stop you.

Rick March 1, 2005 9:03 PM

My most annoying experience with airline security was actually pre-9/11. I had a standard el-cheapo laser pointer keychain (a’la I was forced to abandon it because it “looked like a bullet.” I removed the round tip of the pointer & said “problem solved.” No such luck. Into the trash the whole thing went since it USED to look like a bullet! Who knows what would happen post-9/11 & also now that people distract pilots with the laser pointer.

The lesson I learned then is that airport security isn’t so much about security as it is about making those responsible for security feel like they are in control.

Alexandros March 2, 2005 10:09 AM

A similar thing happened to me during the Athens 2004 Olympics. Knowing that there would be security checkpoints, I removed the (normal sized) pocket knife I usually carry, as well as coins etc. However, I forgot to remove the small pocket knife from my keychain and was stopped at the stadium entrance. The police demanded I remove it but I had nowhere to put it as I had come by bus. When I told them to keep it until the game was over, they declined and demanded I throw it in the garbage. After a heated conversation and threats by the police officer that he would take me to the police department for swearing at him, I finally persuaded his superior to lock it in drawer until I return.

I consider this to be a very good example of how security really fails but seems to the masses to be working (like in the airplane case).

First of all, the police removed the small pocket knife but let me carry my camera. Couldn’t I break someone’s head with the camera, if I wanted to? Yes… Doesn’t the camera natively contain some sharp machinery? Yes…

Secondly, I really felt that the security was guided by the doctrine that everyone is a criminal even before attempting to commit a criminal act. As a person without malevolent intent I found that very frustrating.

Thirdly, the police (as enforcers of security) showed complete disregard for my private property (my pocket knife) which they are supposedly protecting.

All of the above undermined my trust in the security system and its representatives and lessened my willingless to comply with it. I
believe I am not the only one with such feelings.

So the security system not only fails to provide real security but tends to turn innocent people against it.

PS How do you declare paragraphs in comments?

Sky-Ho March 2, 2005 6:12 PM

John Moore,

Just a few comments.

I agree that present TSA security is basically pablum for those at TSA and represent little, if no, threat to an evil-doer.

It was a Pacific Southwest Airline, a BAE-146, that crashed due to actions of another airline, former-employee, fired (for the fifth time).

“Official” documents cite a security person “thought” they saw him bypass security, hence the “rule” that all crewmembers transit security, in spite of the fact that the perp was never a crewmember. As a 6’5″ 285 pound black person, I sincerely doubt someone just “thought” they saw him. I believe he passed to the ramp from an alternate entrance, still in use as such, and boarded the aircraft from the rear stairs so as not to risk being seen by the manager traveling on that aircraft, who fired him several days prior.

It was covered up that there was a discrepancy between the number of tickets and the “head count”, initially on the paperwork but now nowhere to be found, that was overruled by someone.

I believe that requiring crewmembers transit security was responsible for an increase in “air rage”, the cause du jour of the budding Bush administration, until 9-11 trumped it.

Major changes in the “Common Strategy” (cooperate with hijackers, yep, that is what it was) and beefed up cockpit doors and random air marshalls are the only things keeping someone from using airliners as terrorist weapons these days.

The crap at the airports really does nothing to help.

A crew member.

Quadro March 4, 2005 12:05 AM

At one point, a woman told me that she was stopped from bringing 3 lighters on the plane. Security told her she could only take 1.

Apparently, there’s some sort of weapon that can be built with 3 lighters but not with 1. And even more shocking, it can’t be built from 3 lighters carried by 3 different passengers!!

I don’t know whether this is still true, as I don’t smoke. The woman who told me this story has quit, so she couldn’t give me an update.

Reality Check March 5, 2005 5:25 PM

The whole point here is that a “Supreme” court judge was so utterly stupid that he did not think to NOT bring his pocketknife to the airport. He of ALL people should be held completely accountable for his actions. If he thinks that the law is constitutional when it is applied to OTHERS, than he should damn well face the consequences of BREAKING the law himself. No, I am NOT a fan of the current state of airport “security”, so if at all possible I drive rather than fly. I may do a little bit of digging and find out this particular judge’s record on firearms rights. This whole incident REEKS of the same type of mentality of people that vote/support endless measures of “gun control”, yet think that THEY should be allowed to arm THEMSELVES and/or hire a private security staff, all of whom are armed. TANSTAAFL!!!!!

Craig Buchek March 16, 2005 10:05 AM

@Simon Johnson,

You put it better than I think I could have:

“This shows yet another failure in their system. When the security check does fail, it doesn’t fail gracefully enough. It compounds the failure by not allowing the average user to put himself in an acceptable state easily.”

That’s pretty much what I was thinking. The alternative of having to figure out what to do with the “weapon” is not a realistic one. Standing in line at the ticketing counter for another 30 minutes, and then to enter the security checkpoint for 30 minutes? Trying to sneak the “weapon” through a second time (when you know that it really isn’t a weapon) is a more acceptable state.

tj September 29, 2006 1:54 PM

sometimes by mistake I bring a small knife or “prohibited” tool , and I dont want to lose it, so I just put it in my Altoids case. I have never had an issue with security.

I am sure the guy who wrote about bringing his camera, could have a similar “carrying case” for his knife if he had an old non functional camera, and gutted it and then put the knife in it. If the camera is metal it masks the fact that another metal item is inside it.

We are all amateur non-threat people who dont even sit around dreaming these things up and can get through with these items. Imagine what the real bad guys can come up with.

I am tending to lean towards the efforts of the TSA are feeble at best.

I do like the idea of the equipment that can measure someones temperature to tell if they are nervous about something and then they can screen these people more closely.

pjw December 13, 2006 9:48 PM

Coming in pretty late on this, but most of you are missing the point. It’s really very simple; people boarding airplanes are not allowed to carry knives on board. Doesn’t matter if you’re a judge or a little old lady, the rule says no knives. Period. The judge can whine all he wants, but he was attempting to break the law. A judge should know better, but this one apparently believed that he was above the law.

My son works as a screener for the TSA, he’s found more than scissors and small knives. He’s found guns in carry on bags on two different occasions. (one of them was concealed in a little girls bag)

Is the TSA perfect? Far from it. Are they doing their jobs the best they can while putting up with whiny, bitchy idiots who can’t follow the rules??

I guess the answer to that is another question. How many American airliners have been hijacked or blown up since the inception of the TSA?


It’s real easy to have a hassle free boarding experience. FOLLOW THE DAMNED RULES. Bring what you are allowed to bring, and DON’T bring what you’re NOT allowed to bring. How hard is it to check your pockets for things that might be confisated BEFORE going to the airport?? “I forgot it was in my pocket”???? Get a grip and don’t bitch if YOU forgot to check your pockets.

hs March 17, 2008 5:17 PM

They do not allow a 1.5 inch penknife but you are allowed a 4″ metal pointed scissors ??????
It’s hard to understand.

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