Almost 10 years ago, the TSA was rumored to be allowing knives back on airplanes. The blades had to be less than 6cm (2.36 inches) but they dropped that after a large public outcry. So, the rules stand – no knives aboard planes in the US or planes coming to the US. Well, it turns out that it is still possible to buy knives at one airport – just before boarding your US-bound flight with no extra security checks.
Buying a Knife Before Flying to the US? This Airport Will Let You
The airport I am referring to is Zurich, Switzerland (and I THINK Geneva as well) and the knives I am talking about are, of course, Swiss Army knives.
I have written about this before and on a trip through Zurich a couple of years ago, I did not see the knives present. But, it turns out that they are still for sale at shops and the shop is, in fact, right across from my gate for my flight on United Airlines to Newark. There were no metal detectors at this point (it is past security) and while there is a random security area, those passengers are selected long before boarding begins so someone can still walk into the shop and purchase a knife.
The largest knife I found on display was the Swiss Army Explorer knife. This is categorized as a mid-sized Swiss knife so the blade is at 6cm/2.36 inches. I asked the salesperson if it was ok if I purchased that and showed her my ticket and she said it was no problem at all. I was very close to purchasing it just to demonstrate that it was possible to legally purchase a knife, post-security, and take it on a US-bound plane. But, it is not legal to take a knife on such a plane, even if Switzerland legally sells it to you.
But, It IS Legal in Switzerland – or, Is It?
Here is the rub – Switzerland (and the EU as a whole) does allow certain knives to be brought past security. Here is their definition of prohibited items for in the cabin (bolding mine)-
- objects with a sharp point or sharp edge (objects with a sharp point or sharp edge capable of being used to cause serious injury), including:
- – items designed for chopping, such as axes, hatchets and cleavers
- – ice axes and ice picks,
- – razor blades,
- – box cutters,
- – knives with blades of more than 6 cm
So, the length of a Swiss Army knife clearly is within the rules but the description of an object “with a short point or sharp edge” does not. Furthermore, here is what the EU has to say as well –
- Any sharp objects that might be used as weapons are not allowed in the aircraft cabin. These could be everyday objects such as corkscrews knives and scissors of a certain size, which should be packed in your hold luggage.
So, it would seem that a Swiss Army knife would not be allowed past security in the EU as well, even though knives with blades smaller than 6cm would technically be allowed. And, I have seen people at EU airport checkpoints that have lost their tiny Swiss Army knives at security.
Obviously, the security police in the Switzerland airports have decided that it is ok to allow these knives to be sold in the gate area where flights are bound for the US. Within a 2 minute walk from this shop were flights by United, American, Delta, and SWISS to the US – and any passenger could purchase such a knife and board the plane.
What Does the TSA Say?
I asked the TSA for a comment about this and here was their reply:
We ask that travelers plan ahead and pack properly to facilitate an easier screening process for their travel experience at the airport.
Travelers should know what they can pack in carry-ons and checked baggage before arriving at the airport but also what they can bring through TSA checkpoints.
Knives, except for plastic or round bladed butter knives, are strictly prohibited and any sharp objects in checked bags should be sheathed or securely wrapped to prevent injury to baggage handlers and inspectors.
We have resources for travelers to ask TSA questions if they need help through AskTSA on Facebook Messenger or Twitter from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. EST weekdays and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. EST weekends and holidays. We also have a What Can I Bring? webpage to help assist travelers.
Items that cannot be brought through TSA security checkpoints may be checked into their checked baggage or mailed to their destination.
I replied that I was asking specifically about what happens when a passenger has a legally purchased knife brought aboard an aircraft bound for the US but did not receive a reply to that.
While any country is free to do things as they want, there are certain things that said countries must do to continue to have non-stop flights to the US from there. One of those things is maintaining security protocols that match what the US requires for flights in the US. This clearly does not but it is also clear that the US authorities know and are not surprised about this so it just exists.
Bottom line to this one? Stick with the Swiss chocolate when flying through Zurich on your way back to the US and skip the Swiss Army knives! You can always pick up one of those on Amazon when you get home. 🙂