Travel Comment
Ponderings on all aspects of travel - both at home and abroad.

Jim Eagles: The case for less security

Change is in the air after years of frustration for passengers.

Passengers are sick of security rules that don't add to safety. Photo / Getty Images
Passengers are sick of security rules that don't add to safety. Photo / Getty Images

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 legroom are closely connected to cheap airfares, so unless you want to pay more for your tickets there's not much to be said (though it always pays to check on websites such as and 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. Indeed, a former head of the Transportation Security Administration, Kip Hawley, has conceded that the public is fed-up and advocating that a lot of the petty restrictions should be lifted.

In various interviews and articles, Hawley, the author of Permanent Emergency: Inside the TSA and the Fight for the Future of American Security (Palgrave Macmillan), has suggested, 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 for Swiss Army knives, it diverts your focus."

Hawley suggests changes to rules about taking liquids on flights that would see passengers carrying liquids join a separate queue to be scanned.

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 see the pointlessness of what he once presided over perhaps we are making progress.

Jim Eagles is a former Herald Travel editor.

- NZ Herald

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