Travel News

Security Confusion: These Knives Are Allowed on US Airplanes From This Airport But Not Some Powders?

knives at airport
Written by Charlie

It is no wonder many passengers find themselves confused with the security process for airplanes! From this airport, you can buy a knife and board a US airplane – but you may not be able to take certain powders with you! It is things like this that create the confusion at airports.

I get that security agencies around the world are trying to ensure that another terrorist situation does not take place aboard an aircraft. But, some times how they choose to enforce certain policies and the confusion that comes from it just makes me shake my head – and it confuses a lot of travelers along the way!

Security Confusion: These Knives Are Allowed on US Airplanes From This Airport – But Not Some Powders

For instance, at a Swiss airport, you may have powder discarded from your carryon but you could bring on a knife that you purchase after security!

I first wrote about this earlier this year when flying from Zurich to NYC. I was stunned to see that they were selling Swiss Army knives after security just feet from the gates where US airlines were boarding for the US! I almost bought one but did not want to get into trouble with it when I arrived in the US for US security. But, the lady would have sold it to me – in spite of the fact that I was holding a boarding pass for the US! 

TSA Policies on Powders – and Knives

The reason I am addressing this again is that the TSA has in place the new-ish policy now for powders on flights bound for the US. Airports with flights to the US have to abide by this policy for those flights. Here is what the TSA policy is:

If you are flying from any of the last-point-of-departure airports into the U.S., you may experience a more extensive screening process and should prepare for additional screening of your property and personal electronic devices. We recommend arriving early to the airport to allow enough time for the screening process. Please know, there are no changes to items allowed in carry-on and checked baggage.

For your convenience, we encourage you to place powder-like substances over 12 oz. / 350 mL in your checked bags. Powders in carry-on baggage may require secondary screening, and powders that cannot be resolved by security officials will be prohibited from the cabin of the aircraft effective June 30, 2018.

So, you could find yourself throwing away a powder that they cannot determine the nature of.

Policy on Knives in Swiss Airports

Yet, in airports in Switzerland, it is ok to sell knives to passengers boarding those planes! Mind you, these knives in Zurich are for sale after the final security checkpoint. There were officers standing near the doors that can do random checks of documents and could pull you aside, but you are not going through the “more extensive screening process” at this point.

Here is what the rule is in Switzerland regarding knives on aircraft (bolding mine):

Containers with more than 100 ml of liquids, as well as knives and scissors with blades over 6 cm in length, are only permitted in checked baggage.”

This means that blades under 6cm in length are fine to take on planes. This is actually not some unusual policy either as many countries around the world allow this. The point is that these knives are still not allowed on planes bound for the US and the airport with those flights departing for the US are to enforce this, if they want to have those flights departing from there.

knives at airports

To be honest, it appeared that the knives being sold in Zurich’s airport had blades that were actually longer than 6 cm. This was the Explorer knife, a knife with a blade of between 3 – 3.5 inches (a full inch longer than normally allowed).

What’s the Point?

I am not going to argue whether the US should allow blades under 6 cm (like many other countries in the world do) – especially when they give metal knives in business class that can cut meat – but instead want to point out the security confusion these policies and their enforcement create.

You may find yourself having to take all your snacks out of your carryon bag (even though this is apparently still not a policy the TSA advertises) but you could board a plane for the US with a knife that has a blade of around 3 inches. The granola bar may be unsafe but not the knife?

Combine this with the fail rate that the TSA has in their tests and this all just goes to show that the TSA really needs to do better – on many fronts. This includes how they deal with these confusing and conflicting policies and how they handle catching the actual dangers that they were formed to prevent.

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About the author


Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.