Travel Comment

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Airport security: Keeping things in perspective

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Thank goodness the Government seems to be staying cool, calm and collected on the subject of security at regional airports. The last thing we need at the moment is another burst of well-intentioned rules - with all the resultant cost and inconvenience - because of some isolated incident.

Aviation security has become a hot topic again because of the case - still before the courts - in which a woman is accused of pulling a knife on a flight from Christchurch to Blenheim and demanding to be taken to Australia.

From what we've heard it must have been very disturbing for the flight crew and passengers but in the end little harm was done, there is no suggestion it was a terrorist incident and, most important of all, 15 months on it hasn't happened again.

Now the resultant review of aviation security on such regional flights by small aircraft, where passengers and baggage are not screened, has found that while the terrorist risk is very low the possibility of some drunk or mentally disturbed person creating another incident is rather higher.

In such circumstances there's always a temptation for politicians to want to be seen to be doing something, anything, regardless of whether it is sensible or cost-effective.

And if you wonder why, the answer comes from a Herald Online poll in the wake of the review's release which found that 81 per cent of respondents thought aviation security should be tightened.

Really? On the basis of one incident? We've actually had a lot more people try to hijack buses than aircraft in this country. Just a few months ago, for instance, a drunk guy tried to hijack a bus at Toast Martinborough. Should we x-ray bus passengers and their luggage as a result? Of course not.

The same applies to these regional aircraft flights. Maybe it would be a good idea to strengthen the cockpit doors on such flights so someone who runs amok can't actually take over the plane. But anything more than that is pretty hard to justify.

I have to confess that at times when I've been walking around smelly old Heathrow airport with my shoes in my hand, or having to queue down the steps at Los Angeles airport for my turn at being screened, or a last-minute gift of coconut oil has been impounded at Sydney airport, or my wife's nail file is confiscated at Auckland airport, I've had my doubts about whether some of these security measures are really necessary.

But I've no doubt at all that requiring places like Kaitaia and Westport, Masterton and Oamaru to be equipped with x-ray machines, metal detectors, sniffer dogs and security staff just in case some disturbed passenger whips a fork from his luggage and demands to be taken to North Korea would be a gross over-reaction.

- Jim Eagles

Pictured above: The money that would be required to upgrade domestic travel security is not in proportion to its need. Photo / Glenn Jeffrey

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