Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Security insanity

The comment on the previous post prompts me to take time out to relate the following anecdote from our trip down under.

We were in Australia and New Zealand for a month, visiting a dozen different places. It was quite the whirlwind tour, and in order to avoid the hassle of waiting for our baggage all the time we decided to pack everything we needed in carry-on luggage. (It can be done!) This presented a logistical problem because my wife wanted to carry a pair of scissors to trim her nails. (For some reason that I don't completely understand she doesn't like to use nail trimmers.) I checked the TSA web site and discovered to my pleasant surprise that scissors are now allowed in carry-on luggage as long as they have blunt tips. So we bought a pair of "safety scissors" as they were called and off we went. It took a little negotiating with the TSA agents at LAX (who apparently had not studied up on the latest list of banned items) but we eventually arrived in Sydney with our scissors intact. When we flew to Melbourne the Aussies didn't even bother to look in our bags. Going from Melbourne to Cairns we discovered, however, that scissors of any kind were in fact prohibited on Australian flights, never mind that we had already managed to smuggle them aboard one flight without even trying (or realizing that's what we were doing). Reluctantly we donated our scissors to the no-doubt burgeoning collection at the Melbourne airport.

Fast forward to Brisbane. "You've got a pair of scissors in your bags," the security agent told us. "No, we don't," we replied, "our scissors were confiscated three flights ago." After a lot of searching and several return trips through the X-ray the security agent finally found an old forgotten hotel sewing kit with a pair of scissors inside. We had no idea they were there. They were all of two inches long, with plastic handles and aluminum blades. (The blades were less than one inch long.) But they took them nonetheless, and gave us a stern lecture about how unwise it was to lie to Australian airport security.

The crowning irony to all this (apart from the fact that these deadly scissors had gone through god only knows how many airport X-rays without raising any concern) is that right next to the sewing kit my wife had a comb that consisted of six rather long (3 inches or so) and fairly sharp steel prongs embedded in a plastic handle. I don't know how much damage you could do with that comb, since I somehow managed to resist the temptation to conduct a relevant experiment on the Australian security guards, but I'm pretty confident that it would be substantially more than you could do with those toy scissors they spent all that effort to locate and confiscate. So I am sad to report that when it comes to security insanity reigns as supreme down under as it does up here in the U.S. of A.

No comments: