Back in 2008, I bought one of 686's belt buckles, which has a clever set of snowboard-binding-adjusting tools built into it, including a small flathead and Philips head screwdriver tips on the buckle's tongues, as well as a socket wrench-head built into the tip-keeper.
At the time, I wasn't sure whether it would survive airport security, but it has -- with flying colors. I've taken that belt buckle on hundreds of flights, almost all originating in the UK, where I live, through dozens of countries. At one point early on in 2008 or 2009, I even called the consumer advice lines for the TSA and the UK Department for Transport and confirmed that these were allowed. I was even allowed to keep the belt in Hong Kong airport, where they took away my eyeglass screwdriver. A week ago, I flew with the belt from Heathrow Terminal 4 on a Delta flight to NYC.
But I've just had it confiscated by security staff at Gatwick North Terminal. The guard who confiscated it had this explanation for why the belt buckle was being confiscated here when all the other UK airports I'd flown out of it with had let me keep it: "I stick to what they've told me. I'm not going to speak to you anymore. Not if you're going to publish it. I'm not speaking to you."
At that point, a supervisor, Pete Sutherland, the security leader for Gatwick North, gave me a copy of Dangerous and restricted items: what you cannot take on board a flight, which lists, under "work tools," "screwdrivers."
So there you have it, in black and white. Arguably, of course, a miniature screwdriver that's attached to a belt-buckle isn't a "work tool" (no builder in a white van shows up at your house to do repairs with his belt buckle). The security staff who took my buckle away to the lost property office (the other options being to throw it out, or buy another suitcase for it and check it in with British Airways) had a variety of explanations for why Gatwick enforces this rule when no one else has, and why the rule makes sense in the first place, but they all boiled down to "I don't make the rules, I follow them."
One thing all the staff agreed on, though: Allen keys are allowed.
Right then, that's UK aviation security sorted.
In three years, I've used my belt buckle's screwdrivers dozens of times -- always in some moment of traveller's extremis, when something really important was really broken. They've been figurative lifesavers, and I think if I had them long enough, they'd have been literal ones. Meanwhile, if I really, really wanted to take apart a plane, I'd use a spoon or some other bit of metal.
The lady at the store where I bought the replacement belt was sympathetic: "They took my tweezers but they sell them next door in the Boots."
Published 4:51 am Tue, Oct 25, 2011
aviation, Gadgets, jobsworth, security theater, uk