Not so long ago the list of things that you could legitimately carry on board with you was long: a case (up to 110 cm total dimensions) plus an assortment of “personal items” which included such things as a handbag, coat, umbrella, walking stick, camera, a reasonable amount of reading material, essential medication, binoculars, briefcase or laptop and a musical instrument. Bring a child and you can add a child seat and can take the pram up to the aircraft door.
Although those were the former “official” items that you could take, in practice bags substantially larger could usually be taken and, of course, you could always add even more courtesy of the duty-free shops that you reached after check-in which naturally was never even weighed. Oh, and let’s not forget the various exceptions that were often made too.
Fly from most countries today though and you’ll find that things are considerably more strict. The bag is still the same size (after a brief shrinking to 55cm) but not all umbrellas are allowed and you’re actually going to need to use that walking stick for it to be allowed. Even medication is now often limited to a 100ml bottle size and should also fit inside your trusty resealable plastic bag too.
Yet, despite all the fuss that they tend to make over what are very small things (notably that plastic bag I find), security levels are, if anything, getting lower because the security staff are going increasingly from a checklist rather than knowing why things are being done which can’t be good. For example, on my last trip I found that they fixated on my lack of small plastic bag to hold 2 30ml containers. That fixation meant that they ignored 1) the six inch steel pin 2) the steel spring 3) the contents of the 30ml containers and 4) the cake. The cake? Well, a cake nicely iced with the look and consistency of plastic explosive in a sealed plastic container should have meant that they insisted on the container being opened so that the cake could be checked for traces of explosive.
So what really should be allowed on? No problem with the carry-on bag sitting at the long-established 110cm standard size. If it’s filled with electronics then they may well need to be checked separately but given my recent experience I don’t believe that the people looking at the screens have the knowledge or experience to detect a real item from a bomb. They should insist that the items are switched on: that’s a simpler and more reliable way of checking that they’re the real thing. After all, batteries aren’t that clear on a scanner so why should anyone assume that scanning one means anything?
Fair enough on largely banning the sharp items and on using the plastic bag as a means of checking the volume of the containers in it and letting the staff read the labels but the staff should know that it’s used for those reasons and if they don’t then they need better training. They should be checking the liquids too because many people are now using resealable bottles to get down to the 100ml and therefore reading the labels doesn’t provide any reliable information about the current contents yet you often see security staff closely examining the labels to decide if the liquid is allowed on-board. The original reason for the clear plastic bag was so that they could check the contents yet that’s no longer a valid reason given the much higher usage of resealable plastic bottles these days as a consequence of the 100ml limit. In many ways, it would be much better to allow larger normal bottles.
Perhaps most importantly, they need to get away from the rigid list based approach and train the staff properly as to what they’re looking for and why they’re looking for it. My cake wasn’t on the list and yet it’s something that really should have been checked: that it wasn’t tells me that we’re just fooling ourselves that longer lists for the security people means better security.Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.