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Jim Eagles: Security set to loosen its belt

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A time lapse photograph at Auckland Domestic Airport shows how slow the large crowd of morning air travels queues for before being screened by security. Photo / Greg Bowker.
A time lapse photograph at Auckland Domestic Airport shows how slow the large crowd of morning air travels queues for before being screened by security. Photo / Greg Bowker.

I think we'd all agree that the two biggest factors taking the romance out of flying are airport security and tight seating on the planes.

Unfortunately small seats and lack of leg-room are closely connected to cheap airfares so unless you want to pay more for your tickets there's not much to be said (though you could check on websites like smarttravelasia.com and seatguru.com to find the airlines with the best seats).

But there are some faint signs on the horizon that authorities in the United States - which is pretty much where the aviation security rules originate - are starting to rethink things.

Indeed, a former head of the Transportation Security Administration, Kip Hawley, is now conceding that the public is fed up and advocating that a lot of the petty restrictions should be lifted.

In various interviews and articles aimed at promoting his new book, Permanent Emergency: Inside the TSA and the Fight for the Future of American Security (Palgrave Macmillan) Hawley suggests, for instance, doing away with the ban on the likes of Swiss Army knives and nail scissors.

"You can't take over a plane with a knife," he said in an interview on CBS television, because the cockpit doors are now secure.

"You've got to find the bombs, because a bomb will take down a plane, and if you're so busy fishing around looking for Swiss Army knives, it diverts your focus."

Hawley suggests allowing passengers to take liquids on flights with the proviso that those carrying bottles might have to join a queue to have them scanned (an idea the European Union is apparently going to implement next year).

And he also says the TSA should take a smarter approach to searches and pat-downs by targeting passengers whose behaviour indicates they could be a risk rather than body-searching 75-year-old grandmothers (the TSA is already taking an easier line with passengers under 12 and is about to trial the same approach with those over 75).

That's all good sense - even if it is a little belated - because most passengers have long realised that all the palaver over bottles of liquid and nail scissors is mere security theatre designed to give the impression of action rather than actually making us safer in the air.

I'm not holding my breath. But if a former TSA head can no longer see the point of what he once presided over, perhaps we are making progress.

Jim Eagles is a former editor of Herald Travel.

- NZ Herald

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