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Wednesday, 14 August, 2002, 12:29 GMT 13:29 UK
Is airport security tight enough?
The airport operator BAA has claimed that over 15,000 sharp objects are still being confiscated daily from people's hand luggage at the UK's main airports.
One out of every 17 passengers' hand luggage was said to contain items ranging from nail scissors to kitchen knives.
In the wake of 11 September such items were banned and are meant to be kept in suitcases.
But many passengers are said to be flouting the regulations and, as a result, delaying flights.
Most passengers know about the restrictions, but those caught say they forgot.
Do you feel that airport security has improved sufficiently since 11 September last year? Have you experienced confiscations or increased delays due to extra checks? Can air travel ever be made truly safe?
Bob Harvey, Lincs, UK
Just 10 days after Sept 11, I visited Boston, and was slightly shocked at the lax security at Logan airport, where they took my word for it that I didn't have anything hidden in my pockets! In contrast, both times I have flown out of the UK this year, security staff have checked through my hand luggage - something that has never happened to me before.
No tweezers!? What committee of dreamers came up with that? No tweezers, but a black-belt in Karate is OK. No nail scissors, but steel toe-capped boots are fine. No nail files, but bottles of duty-free are safe. Come on! A highly trained and determined terrorist will not be stopped by removing 3-inch eyebrow tweezers from my girlfriend's make-up bag. They could kill you with a sharp pencil or their index finger. (the terrorist that is; not my girlfriend.)
In a single word: NO.Recently I flew to the US for a month to work, went through all the security at Heathrow, again at Washington, and on my return trip through Rochester NY and Toronto. It wasn't until flying back from another trip that the scanner at Aberdeen airport picked up the fact I had a (long forgotten and replaced) nail file in my hand luggage and it was confiscated (quite rightly so - it's replacement had been safely checked in). So have airports increased their security? I think not.
I do think security has improved. Just the other day I flew on an airplane and a nail file was confiscated from me. However I believe that airport security can never be tight enough. If someone wants to do something - they will find a way.
At the time that the US began bombing Afghanistan, I was spending a few days in Vienna. You'd have thought that security would have been particularly high at that time. However, I checked in with a replica musket (boxed) that I had purchased. I expected problems, but the airline accepted it when I told them it was a replica, without even opening the box.
Charles Smith, England
I recently flew from Perth to Heathrow en route to Madrid. At each airport my hand luggage was set aside for inspection, nothing was found. At Gatwick airport, on my way to Alicante, my hand luggage was gain singled out for thorough inspection, eventually an old pair of nail scissors were found deep in the crevice of one compartment. That lady inspector gave me a sense of security in Gatwick; how I managed to get through Perth, Singapore, Heathrow and Madrid makes me shudder.
I travel quite frequently and my biggest complaint about travelling, is so many people insist on taking most of their baggage on board with them. Yes sharp objects are a problem but if the baggage is loaded in the baggage area of an aircraft, then it is not accessible while flying. I have been hit from baggage when some idiot needs something from the overhead baggage holders. They slow the loading of passengers, finding somewhere to install the bags I would suggest that hand luggage should minimized to simply what the name says, and even then, very basic. Also make sure all baggage is secure. I have lost items that are resalable.
A few weeks ago I flew from Logan Airport in Boston to Heathrow. I was on my way to a photography workshop and my carry-on backpack was stuffed with exotic studio photography gear including specialised electronics and all kinds of wires and cabling. It was X-rayed but no-one inspected it or asked me any questions. I was amazed.
Just flown from the UK to Houston. There was good security at Manchester. Hold bags were X-rayed in my presence and my laptop was swabbed with a rag that was subject to explosives analysis. On change planes at Gatwick, I was checked going through transfers, and again subject to a full X-ray bag and metal detector check at the gate entrance. I was quite impressed!
Staff at Stansted recently confiscated a fork designed for my one-year-old to use; at a push it could leave a small bruise. I, of course, walked onto the plane with a bunch of keys, a pen, umbrella and other potential weapons. The current restrictions don't make me feel safer, though they did make my daughter's lunch a bit messier.
I have recently returned from Florida. When flying from Gatwick, I found the security very tight, with x-rays as normal when passing through to the first departure lounge. Moving on to the gate a further possible check for people called aside, and the same again just prior to boarding the aircraft. When boarding the aircraft in Miami, there was only one round of security checks and these were fairly informal. In my experience, even after Sept. 11, American airports have still not come up to the same standard in security as their European counterparts.
I fly a lot and the security is a joke. Under-skilled and under-trained describes most of the security I have seen in the UK and USA - quantity rather than quality - with targets for random checks - So they pick on the easy ones, like little old ladies, so as to meet targets rather than really caring about security. I have even been searched and x-rayed on leaving an airport in the USA, having just arrived from Europe - did this prove that I had not smuggled any weapons off the plane! A well-known carrier to the USA recently gave me a drink on board in a nice tall glass flute - easier to break than one of those small bottles - very thoughtful. How about joined up security!
I don't think people are deliberately flouting the law, it's just that people do not think that the items they normally carry for perfectly legitimate reasons are weapons. Telling people at the gate is far too late, the travel agents / companies should be stressing the point that these "items" are banned and cannot be taken as hand luggage, that way people can ensure they are packed in the main case to go in the hold.
From my experience, airport security is simply lacking the resources to provide a more robust system of checking hand baggage. I boarded a Concorde flight to JFK in March this year and totally forgot that my Swiss Amy Knife was in a small pocket in my hand luggage. The x-ray machine didn't pick this up and I entered the plane with what is a deadly weapon in the wrong hands. Airport security can be best described as wholly inadequate.
I am bemused by the current security policy which bans nail scissors from hand luggage but allows passengers to carry large glass bottles of duty-free alcohol. Surely the broken bottle is potentially more lethal than the nail scissors. I guess airports can't afford to stop selling duty-free. Is this another triumph of economics over safety?
Why not only allow hand luggage to be taken on board if it is in a clear plastic bag - like what you use at a reference library? For those that don't want to check in luggage how about having lockable overhead storage bays that cannot be unlocked when the plane is in flight?
Security on US and UK flights is definitely much better than before 9/11.
I used to be scared of flying, but paradoxically since 9/11 I have never felt safer flying.
I will infact be on a flight in the US on 9/11 this year.
When I came back from the US in February this year I got checked five times in Newark airport. I was waiting for the security guards to buy me dinner after a while... I guess I look like a devious person, since I have red hair... When I left Gatwick, I got passed right on through. Nothing other than the typical x-ray and metal detectors.
My partner flew through Sydney last week on the way to Washington DC. She was made to take off her shoes for testing. Unfortunately the test was so vigorous that the sole and heel of the shoe were broken off. She received no apology and no offer of compensation. Security has gone mad without doubt.
I personally feel much more secure on the airlines. Call it paranoia if you will, but I am more than happy to wander through metal detectors, after all, what else is there to do for a three hour check-in slot? In my opinion, the ones complaining are those who continue to flaunt the rules. I should point out, however, that after passing through security checks, it is possible to go straight into a pharmacy and repurchase a confiscated scissors. The responsibility lies with both the staff and passengers, and I feel that the staff are holding up their end of the bargain admirably.
My wife works at one of the London airports and I feel that there is a real security risk that is totally overlooked. Whilst members of the public have "harmful" items removed and destroyed, airport staff who are above a certain security level, are able to walk through metal detectors, set them off with items in their possession and the security staff do not check them. If they are to have proper security it needs to encompass all persons who go airside - not just the travelling public, but the staff too.
Scott Walker, Birmingham
If passengers get stroppy about taking a sharp object out of their bags or if people get annoyed about being told to switch their mobile phones off then they should face a flight ban or fine. Safety should now be the key issue and people who endanger other passengers' lives should be prosecuted!!
After watching some of the people who were stopped bringing in sharp objects being interviewed on TV, I found it amazing that these people can be so absent minded and ignorant. It's not only the ones that get stopped at security, it's also the ones that take ten minutes to move their toe-clippers from their hand luggage to their checked luggage at the desk! Then they have the audacity to blame the airport staff!
In my experience in the last year nothing much has changed. In October 2001, I flew to Boston, USA in the wake of 09/11 and really hoped to see some significant changes. I remember standing at the check-in desk and then at passport control in London praying that someone would be checking my bag and everyone else's bag! But of course, they didn't. Having taken other flights since then, to USA, South America and Europe I can't say I've seen improvements.
Phillip Holley, UK
Whilst on a recent flight, I was eating with the now compulsory, and virtually useless, plastic knife and fork. I was able to pour myself a (plastic) glass of wine from a glass bottle. Anyone who has seen the aftermath of a boozy Saturday night in any town in England would agree that a small blunt knife and fork is less dangerous than a broken bottle in the wrong hands. We all agree with the principle, but let's get some commonsense into it.
My mother, on a recent flight from Sydney, Australia to the UK had a pair of tweezers confiscated at the airport for security reasons.
During the flight, she was given a metal knife and fork with her meal.
I'm a reasonably frequent traveller by plane. But by one of these odd quirks of fate I hadn't actually flown anywhere since September 11 until I went on vacation a couple of weeks ago. Knowing the rules I put all the sharp objects in my hold baggage but genuinely forgot about the miniature penknife on my key ring. Before 11/09 you were allowed such items, now you're not. When they asked me at security about it I volunteered that they should bin it, which they were happy to do.
However I think your story is emotive. People don't just flout rules - often they make genuine mistakes or forget. I did.
And if I did despite knowing the rules, how much more likely is someone to make a genuine mistake if they only fly once or twice a year?
You should try the security coming back from Amsterdam at Luton; this was 20 times tighter than anything else I have experienced since 11th September. They are obviously more interested in finding small amounts of illicit substances than terrorists/ hijackers!
Pete B, UK
Re: Pete B's comment: I cannot believe that after everything that happened in the USA last year that people still try and board aircraft with things that could easily be turned into weapons. Come on, wake up and realise that safety is in the interests of everybody on board and if the passengers don't appear to care (15,000 a day it seems,) they should think of the safety of the crew instead. They are probably the ones going to get the knife/tweezers held to their throat first.
Airport security has just gone absolutely stupid. I heard on the news the other night that a couple travelling from somewhere into this country got stopped by security. They had an Action Man doll in their luggage for their grandson's birthday. Security then confiscated the item as it had a gun (which was four inches long). They then proceeded to ask if there were any 'grenades' for the Action Man. It is no wonder that people get annoyed at security when they get as petty as this. I do believe in GOOD security at airports, but this is beyond a joke and is stupid.
I believe that the responsibility lies with passengers as well as security staff. People are told repeatedly that sharp objects are not allowed on aircraft, yet they persist and cause delays and extra work for the staff. I flew on Air India to NYC before 9/11 and security was extremely tight with this airline. I'm talking 2-3 extra checks per passenger prior to boarding at the actual gate (after the main 'all metal objects in a bowl' check.) I was pleased to see this and wish that some of the 'western' carriers would carry out the same checks. Unfortunately, their time is taken up with people who try and put up an argument for taking Swiss army knifes on board....
I think security is strict enough now. Don't forget, on September 11th, the hijackers faced virtually no security whatsoever.
08 Aug 02 | UK
21 Sep 01 | UK
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