Rules about what's OK to bring on flights have confused some travelers.
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Knitting needles are fine, but ice picks are banned.
Corkscrews are allowed, but pointed metal scissors are deemed dangerous.
Matches are OK. But as of last week, it's lights out for lighters.
Since 9/11, many travelers have been mystified by some of the changing rules at airport security checkpoints. Security officials at Charlotte/Douglas International Airport say they seize roughly 3,000 items a month -- a figure that isn't declining.
Expect those numbers to rise after April 14, when the Transportation Security Administration started enforcing a new ban on lighters. TSA officials say they have no estimates on the number of lighters they'll collect, but they've warned their contractor who disposes of seized items to brace for an increase.
"We fully anticipate that and are ready to handle it," says Christopher White, a TSA spokesman in Atlanta.
The ban on lighters is the latest change in airport security measures, which have already been revamped and refined several times since 9/11.
Immediately after the terrorist attacks, security screeners added dozens of items to the list of what passengers were forbidden to bring aboard a plane. The most commonly seized items were nail clippers and nail files, but other products were added too, such as baseball bats, knitting needles, cigar cutters and golf clubs.
Relaxing some rules
At the end of 2002, though, the TSA relaxed some of the rules. Nail clippers and nail files are now OK, as are knitting needles and cigar cutters. Those changes came about as improvements in air security took hold, such as the addition of air marshals and fortified cockpit doors.
The list of banned items still is longer than it was before 9/11, though. For instance, pocket knives used to be acceptable if the blades were less than 4 inches -- such as the kind you'd find on a Swiss Army knife. Now, all sharp knives are prohibited.
Now comes the ban on lighters, which are also forbidden in checked bags.
The TSA says it is starting to enforce the ban now because of a new law passed last year. Banning lighters removes a possible ignition source on a plane. Previously, the ban applied only to "torch" lighters -- those that created intense heat and big flames. TSA officials say they're still looking at whether to ban matches.
John Gartland, the TSA's federal security director in Charlotte, stresses the new measure is not an attack on smokers or the tobacco industry.
"We know this is a security threat," he says.
But some smokers say the new ban makes no sense. They're quick to point out that Richard Reid, the man convicted of trying to light a shoe bomb aboard a trans-Atlantic flight to Miami in December 2001, used a match, not a lighter.
"If somebody's going to do something, they're going to do it, regardless of whether they have a lighter," says John Goodpasture, 48, who was smoking while waiting for a shuttle bus at the airport recently.
Goodpasture, who delivers Freightliner trucks from the company's plant in Cleveland, N.C., uses an inexpensive lighter, which he finds more convenient than matches. If screeners took it, he says it would be no big deal.
"I'd hit the store and buy me another lighter," he says.
Retired developer Wayne Stewart, 74, says he, too, prefers lighters.
"Matches are too inconvenient," he says, adding that if you're sweating in the sun, they can sometimes get too drenched to light. In contrast, a lighter is "light, handy, and you can get to it," says Stewart.
Companies that make lighters have protested, too. Zippo Manufacturing Co. says it could lose between 20 percent and 30 percent of its sales because of the ban. The company said it understands the ban on lighters on board a plane but says there is no proof they pose a risk in checked luggage.