Feds Drop Ban on Lighters on Planes
WASHINGTON (July 20) — Federal aviation authorities have decided to stop enforcing a two-year-old rule against taking cigarette lighters on airplanes, concluding that it was a waste of time to search for them before passengers boarded.
The ban was imposed at the insistence of Congress after a passenger, Richard Reid, tried to ignite a bomb in his shoe in 2001 on a flight from Paris to Miami.
Lawmakers said that if Mr. Reid had used a lighter, instead of matches, he might have been able to ignite the bomb, but Kip Hawley, assistant secretary for the Transportation Security Administration, said in an interview on Thursday that the ban had done little to improve aviation security because small batteries could be used to set off a bomb.
Matches have never been prohibited on flights.
"Taking lighters away is security theater," Mr. Hawley said. "It trivializes the security process."
The policy change, which is to go into effect on Aug. 4, applies to disposable butane lighters, like Bics, and refillable lighters, like Zippos. Torch lighters, which have thin, hotter flames, will continue to be banned.
Security officers have been collecting some 22,000 lighters a day nationwide, slowing down lines at check points. Even so, many smokers had found ways to sneak lighters through checkpoints, often by placing more than one in a carry-on bag. Disposing of the seized lighters has cost about $4 million a year.
By lifting the ban, Mr. Hawley said, security officers could spend more time looking for bombs or bomb parts. “The No. 1 threat for us is someone trying to bring bomb components through the security check point,” he said. “We don’t want anything that distracts concentration from searching for that.”
Reed Saxon, AP Clouds loom over Los Angeles International Airport. Stormy weather has led to flight cancellations and long delays for airline passengers this summer. In some cases, travelers have been stranded for days.
A provision in the 2007 Homeland Security Department spending bill allowed the security agency to stop enforcing the ban if it determined that “lighters are not a significant threat to civil aviation security.”
Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, who in 2004 helped lead the effort to ban lighters, has not objected to the change, a spokeswoman said.
A ban on liquids in containers greater than three ounces, which was imposed last summer after the disruption of a plot based in London to blow up planes headed to the United States, will remain in effect, but the security agency will modify its rules related to breast milk. Passengers will be allowed to carry breast milk in quantities greater than three ounces as long as it is declared for inspection at the security checkpoint. Currently, breast milk is allowed only if a passenger is traveling with an infant.
In late 2005, security officials lifted a ban on small scissors, screwdrivers and other small tools, making a similar argument that searching for them was a waste of time.
In the coming months, the agency will install new equipment intended to improve its ability to intercept explosives. The new equipment will include advanced X-ray machines that rapidly examine carry-on bags from many angles, making it easier to identify bomb components, and hand-held devices that can determine whether a liquid might be explosive.
Fifteen liquid scanners are already in use, and two dozen of the advanced X-ray machines will have been tested at checkpoints by this fall.