Andre's Blog
Perfection is when there is nothing left to take away
Airline Security Theater

I recently visited Newfoundland for a few days and traveled to Elliston, which is famous for their puffin viewing site and root cellars. One of the information signs next to a group of root cellars described how people of Elliston harvested partridge berry in the past and, inspired by this story, I bought a couple of jars of partridge berry jam at Nanny's Root Cellar Kitchen, as small a present for my friends back in Ontario.

When I was leaving Newfoundland, I didn't want to put glass jars in the checked-in baggage and took them with me to the cabin instead, without a smallest thought that a couple of jars of jam could present any trouble at the airport. How wrong I was.

Each jar was 150ml in size and the security guy at the airport immediately flagged them as a problem and told me ether to go back and pull my baggage from the check-in storage and put jam in the luggage or throw it away. Each jar was 50ml over the posted limit and I asked for a supervisor, hoping that they would make an exception for a Newfoundland-special treat, but the supervisor knew only one phrase that these 50ml are against the regulations:

http://www.catsa.gc.ca/liquids-food-personal-items#liquids%20and%20food

My checked-in baggage was on it way to the airplane, so I had no choice, but to allow them to throw both jars into the garbage bin. It was such an incredible waste of good product that I couldn't help but wonder how possibly this regulation can help our security.

So, let's try to divide and conquer all consequences of having jars of 150ml jam and other liquids on the plane. Let's first take them as what they actually are - jam, bottled water, etc, not as something disguised as such. The thought here being that a larger container may more likely to crack in turbulence or if the cabin is depressurized. This theory quickly goes to the same garbage bin where my jam ended up simply because you can buy all kinds of jam in jars of 150ml and bottled water in the security zone, so having these items in the cabin is not considered a problem.

This leaves only one possible reason for this security regulation and that would be that someone could disguise flammable or explosive substances as jam or bottled water. So, somebody, at some point, must have given this some thought and decided that 100ml of some dangerous substance is acceptable on an airplane and 150ml is where it presents some danger to the airplane and passengers.

Well, following this thought, couldn't multiple culprits bring a 100ml jar each and then just combine all of them on the plane or couldn't one person just carry a 150ml container with a fake label that it contains only 100ml of substance? On the second thought, I don't know why a real culprit would even bother with disguising anything as jam or bottled water if they could they just put their stuff in a plastic tube and hide it on their body, just as they could hide a carbon fiber knife in their clothing.

None of this makes any sense to me and it appears that beyond the usual and useful, I might add, check for guns and such, the whole security screening is designed not to make flights more secure, but rather to create an illusion of safety, so the public is under the impression that their governments are doing everything they can to ensure the safety of air travel.

I called the Canadian Air Transport Security office number the security guy gave me at the airport, just to hear their take on the jam being sold inside the security zone and the agent on the phone said that they have no authority over these regulations, which are set by the Canadian Air Transport office, and the only thing the security agent can offer is to suggest to put flagged items in the checked-in baggage. This alone proves to me that they know that the contents of these jars is not dangerous.

Heck, think about the silliness of throwing jars they considered as suspicious into the garbage bin in the screening area - wouldn't this make this garbage bin filling up with suspicious items the greatest threat in the entire airport?

Do I want to travel safer? Absolutely. But if I have go through the hassle of security screening every time I board an airplane, I want the security people to be able to tell the difference between a 100ml of partridge berry jam and a 100ml of explosives by some other means than just reading the weight printed on the side of the container and if they cannot, technically or money-wise, please, stop this security theater and concentrate your efforts on real security threats. Leave permitted food types alone, whatever containers they come in.

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