Richard Stallman's personal site.

http://stallman.org

For current political commentary, see the daily political notes.

RMS' Bio | The GNU Project


The Knife(stupid airport security tricks)

On a flight in 2003 I was surprised to receive a metal knife along with my meal. It had a rounded tip, and would not have been much use as a weapon, but US airlines are nonetheless not allowed to hand them out. Those plastic knives must make Americans feel very safe.

I decided to take the knife with me and use it to play a little game with airport security. A year or two before, I had had the amusing experience of having airport security repeatedly confiscate such harmless knives, only so that I could receive another one on the plane from the cabin crew. This time, I thought, I would take a picture of the knife with the airplane meal as a background, and figured I'd take a picture of it again when it was confiscated.

Security for my subsequent flight did not notice the knife, or perhaps did not care about it. However, on the following flight (I think it was departing from Paris), they did notice. The security agent said he would confiscate it. I asked him, "May I take a picture of you confiscating this from me?"

He was surprised, and said, "We don't allow photography here." I responded, "We could walk over there for the photo. I would just like a photo of the knife in your hands. I took a photo when they gave it to me, on an airplane, and this photo of losing it would make a nice counterpart to my photo of receiving it."

He talked for a while with his boss, and then dashed all my hopes. "You can keep it--it's not dangerous", he said. I laughed to myself. Rational behavior from airport security people! Would anyone ever believe it? Well, perhaps it can happen outside the USA.

With my plans destroyed, I forgot all about the knife, and went onto a few more flights in various countries. Eventually security at a US airport noticed it and confiscated it. I was amused to be reminded that I still had it after all those weeks.

Stupid air security measures abound in the US. Flights in and out of National Airport in Washington DC require passengers to be seated for half an hour after take-off or before landing there. In that time, a plane can go 200 miles. There are plenty of other airports within that distance. So this security measure is either inadequate or unnecessary--just for show.

And why, in the US, do they confiscate these items? In India, they take knives away from passengers for the flight, but they hand them back at the other end. If India can do it, the US ought to be capable.

But I think the US government deliberately chooses to be callous, figuring that Americans believe in "no pain, no gain". Inflict pain on Americans, and they will assume it must be doing some good. The very callousness of the system makes Americans accept it.

Return to Richard Stallman's home page.