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Airline passengers challenge restrictions

| Wednesday, March 12, 2003

There seldom is sugar cane to cut on an airplane, but there probably are many other legitimate purposes for holding onto your machete during a flight.

The killjoys at the federal Transportation Security Administration won't let you.

No matter how plaintive your plea, the TSA won't let you board with a trailer hitch, either -- even if you promise to wedge it underneath your seat. Don't even think about the plane taking off while you are holding your horseshoes, a kitchen sink pipe or a circular saw.

"A circular saw," Allegheny County Airport Authority spokeswoman JoAnn Jenny mused Tuesday. "Why would anyone want to carry a circular saw onto an airplane?"

Someone had a reason. All the aforementioned things were among the 4.8 million items of personal property the TSA confiscated during the first 13 months it has overseen security at the nation's airports.

Among the more conventional items seized were 2.4 million sharp objects, 1.4 million knives, 15,666 clubs, 1,101 guns, 125,000 incendiary devices and nearly 40,000 box cutters.

Then there are unconventional items such as the metal wall hangings of Apollo -- the Greek god, not the former NASA space program. Nothing quite that odd has been snatched from a passenger's grasp at Pittsburgh International Airport, but some unusual contraband occasionally surfaces.

TSA Pittsburgh spokeswoman Christine Keaggy described one confiscated item that might be marketed under the brand name "Maimin' Pussycat" were it legal to sell. You don't want to pet this kitty, which is sort of a brass knuckle molded in the shape of a cat's head.

"You slip your fingers through the eye holes (to grip it) and then the ears form these triangular sharp points that jut out from your fist," she said. The unique design no doubt makes this the concealed weapon of choice among discriminating women.

Judging by the sheer volume of confiscated items, it's apparent a large number of Americans spent much of the past 18 months vacationing in lovely Coma Beach. Welcome back, people. You look tan, rested and in need of some serious study on post-9/11 airplane security measures.

First, memorize the obvious federal carry-on restrictions: no firearms, meat cleavers, ice picks, gun powder, hammers, dynamite, tear gas, mace or pepper spray.

Then save yourself some grief and familiarize yourself with the less obvious carry-on bans. The poor people with the horseshoes probably wish they had. Don't think about attempting to board a plane carrying such potential weapons such as:

  • Golf clubs. No great loss here. An airplane is not a good place to practice your putting. There's no turbulence on the green, but there often is at 35,000 feet.

  • Turpentine and paint thinner. The touch-up paint job you were hoping to complete during that red-eye to New Haven will just have to wait, but that's OK. Security wasn't going to let you board with that large chest of drawers anyway.

  • Cattle prods. Sorry. When the plane lands, you're just going to have to be patient and let the other passengers disembark at their own pace.

    Speaking of patience, the TSA is preaching plenty of it as Americans gradually grow accustomed to the restrictive rules of modern air travel. "It's an ongoing education process," Keaggy said.

    So wise up to this new age in aviation.

    As difficult as it might be to leave them behind, the machetes and circular saws should stay home.

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