Knives on a plane… updated

After I posted by “knives on a plane” entry — which was temporarily removed because I’d received some threats over it and I wanted to investigate the legal issues first — there was some debate as to what the reaction from officials would be, and what level of response (perhaps nothing, perhaps evacuating the airport, perhaps arresting me, perhaps taking the knife, or whatever), and I have that answer for you from the horse’s mouth. I was at the airport again yesterday to drop off Nefarious who’s going to visit her mother for the long weekend, and we sat down and had a slice of pizza because we got there early. Sitting next to us were three women who worked as security agents speaking quite boisterously in Arabic. A moment later I realized that one of them, the one wearing a hijab, was the same woman who’d been working the gate that I’d walked through with the item in question.

Everyone seemed in good spirits, so I figured it couldn’t hurt to approach them about the previous week’s incident. I told them the story of what had happened, and I asked them what a person should do if they’re on the airplane and realize that they have a knife or other item of concern in their pocket. They were incredulous for a moment in a giggling “Oh my, really? How did that happen?” sort of way as they thought about it. I was expecting to be told that the right course would be to discretely approach airline or security staff and tell them, but they told me not to do that. They said it wasn’t anything to worry about, and that I should just keep it in my pocket and not alarm the stewardesses or anyone else on the plane by telling them. I also asked them what they would have done if they caught someone with a knife at the security checkpoint (technically they are supposed to call the police over concealed weapons, although with a plastic letter opener in somewhat plain view, it’s really at their discretion I think), and they said again that it was not a big deal to them and that if that happened I’d just be asked to put it in my luggage.

At the end of it, one of the women gave my daughter a small present (an Avon promotional calendar full of pictures of flowers) and wished us well as they left to go back to work. I’ve got to say that I was really happy to have had this conversation with them. We see all these insane overreaction stories about airline security that I think we assume that they’re all a bunch of paranoid literal-word-of-the-rules numbskull thugs, but instead, I found people who were friendly and approached their jobs with an air of common sense and realism. I hope this means that the so-called “security theatre” is fading away and well on it’s way on becoming yesterday’s “what were we thinking” nonsense.

* * *

Oh, and I love this, I was laughing like crazy: Muslim clerics (including mainstream Americans) have issued a fatwa saying that it’s against their religion to be searched at the airport (by the new body scanners)… Bwahahahahahaaa… Yeah, that one’s going to be well received politically! Ha. As if “you can’t search me because of my religion” is really going to go over well with people who have paranoid nightmares about Islamofascists. Oh, hahaha, I’m still laughing. Too silly.

Also at the airport, right in front of Nefarious and I, were about sixty Israeli-Canadian kids all happily chattering in Hebrew, on some sort of a group trip. The tour organizer assured me that even though their group was huge, that it wouldn’t take long because they’d be getting checked in all at once. Unfortunately it didn’t turn out that way, and every single one of them took an inordinate amount of time to get through. I don’t know if it had anything to do with their semitic background causing them to be subconsciously ethnicly profiled or if they just messed up their papers (that’s my assumption). I did speak to an American Muslim a couple days ago who told me about the way he’s treated at borders and it really sounds like a miserable experience that I wouldn’t wish upon anyone. And don’t worry, this wasn’t an “Angry German versus The Jews” story — after it was obvious there was going to be a crazy wait, they let Nefarious and I go in front of them so we could sit down and read and play cards until the agent came and got her.

* * *

Here is the text of the original entry, now that I feel OK reposting it:

I almost always carry a knife, not as a “macho” thing, but as a tool for opening paint cans, sharpening pencils, splitting pills in half, whittling, opening mail, and so on. It’s something that I use and need, and don’t think twice about because it’s so normal to me. On my last flight I inadvertently brought along such a tool on the trip there and the trip back, passing through security of course in the process twice. They scanned me, my boots, my Kindle, and so on, but didn’t notice the knife (which was clipped to my pants and not hidden in any way). The only thing that they spent extra time investigating? My daughter’s boots, which have a battery and electronics because they have lights in them. I’m posting this to point out that security of this type is largely a waste of time and “all show”, and that we need to think about addressing the risks of terrorism different ways (such as profiling, procedural improvements on the plane itself such as secure doors, or, more importantly, addressing the root causes such as needless cultural conflicts, class inequality, religion and ignorance — those last two may well be the same thing).

No offense was intended to any of the staff involved. The security folks — one of them Muslim by the way, and self-identifying as such by wearing a head scarf — were friendly adhered to proper procedure and given the system, I don’t think anyone made any mistakes. My point is that the system itself is flawed. Note also that this “knife” is a Blackie Collins Zytel (fiberglass reinforced nylon) assisted model with a Beryllium Copper spring, which gives it a very low EM signature. It is significantly less robust than a metal blade to the point of being useless for most knife applications and would be better called a letter opener than a knife, a toy really (which is why I didn’t really stress when I realized I had it with me as I doubt it can really be considered a knife), although more ideal for things like stripping live wire. However, similar knives in stronger but also scanner-invisible materials such as ceramics exist (some nice ones are made by Boker for example).


I do believe that terrorism is a real problem, albeit one that is overstated and fear-mongered, so it bothers me a lot when the steps taken to address the problem are ineffective and counterproductive, and not only that, they end up punishing people who are innocent (by harassing and slowing down paying customers). It’s similar to the problems I face with my pain pill prescription shortage — because there are people who really do abuse those medications, steps are taken to make getting the prescriptions much harder. As a result, people who really are in pain have trouble getting relief, and people who get their drugs outside legal channels are not particularly affected. If anything, they increase the black market cost, which actually increases the amount of money in the hands of drug dealers! Gun control laws often have the same impact of punishing law-abiding owners while completely bypassing criminals. Argh! I could go on and on…


  1. Mona wrote:

    oh, don’t be laughing too loud about the muslim/body scanner issue. here in Germany this is seriously debated as an argument against the scanners. because you know, us infidels have no problem with being seen naked by anybody, it’s just the religious that have a sense of shame.

    Saturday, February 13, 2010 at 2:09 am | Permalink
  2. Mona wrote:

    “infidels” – quotation marks added *g*

    Saturday, February 13, 2010 at 2:10 am | Permalink

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  1. Shannon Larratt is Zentastic › Poor Solutions on Monday, April 12, 2010 at 7:13 pm

    […] demanded I be harassed — they wanted to talk to me about the slightly controversial “Knives on a Plane” entry. After a minute it seemed to me like more than anything they were pissed off that the […]

Wow Shannon, that's really annoying! What is it, 1997 on Geocities? Retroweb is NOT cool!

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