Airport security screening is where the public encounters the machinery of anti-terrorism, and while I may be misunderstanding something security experts know about, it impresses me as embodying an infuriating sort of incompetence: pointless rules, lots of sirring with no real courtesy, and idiotic intransigence, all having minimal visible security advantage. The inference one might draw about the larger system is not encouraging.
Among the most ill-conceived policies has been the aggressive rooting out of pocket knives, scissors, and other pointy things, including amputation of the nailfiles that fold out of a fingernail clipper. The 9/11 hijackings were, as far as we know, carried out with mat knives, and Swiss Army Knives would have done as well, but now we have locking cockpit doors and pilots under instructions not to go back to deal with tumult, so these small weapons are not really hijacking tools any more.
It’s important that the one plane that didn’t get to its target on 9/11 was diverted by its passengers, who overpowered the hijackers. It’s also important that system tests of airport screening have repeatedly passed guns and really scary stuff, so we should assume airplanes are still at some risk of hijacking. This being true, why did we think it a good idea to carefully disarm the passengers of the small knives that might give them, in a group, a good go at a hijacker or even a few, especially as this program inflicted small costs and deprivations on hundreds of thousands of passengers who forget to put their pocket knives in their checked bags, or who can’t travel with a useful small accessory at all because they aren’t checking a bag?
How hard would it have been at least to have a bag, under TSA control, labeled for each departing flight at the security point in which passengers could drop their small contraband with no guarantees or liability, that would be carried to the departure gate and travel to the destination in the cockpit or under flight attendant control? Then passengers could pick up their little knives and scissors and lighters on a table at baggage claim. Some would be stolen or lost, but most would get to their owners.
The TSA is apparently having some stirrings of common sense at least about these sharp doodads, and not a moment too soon.