The US spends billions of dollars on the TSA to prevent security threats from making their way to the airplanes. If a knife is found in your carry-on or on your person at the security check-point, expect it to be confiscated. But, over in Switzerland, they will actually sell you knives that you can take onboard your US-bound plane!
Switzerland Allows Knives on US-Bound Airplanes
I first noticed this a few years ago and found it somewhat surprising, especially as I have seen security at Zurich confiscate small Swiss Army knives from passengers going through. The surprising part is that you can go ahead and buy another one at shops past security and just steps from your US-bound plane!
On a recent flight from Zurich to the US, I observed a traveler on my flight purchasing a Swiss Army knife and the cashier scanning her boarding pass for the purchase. While doing so, the cashier asked if this was their final destination because “they will not let you connect to a flight in the US with this in your bag.”
So, they certainly know that the US does not allow these types of knives in cabin baggage but they are allowed by Switzerland to sell them to passengers heading to the US anyway.
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. Even though they tell you it is ok to buy it and take it on the plane, 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, Isn’t 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.
However, when checking in on the app for my Swiss flight, I was presented with this to confirm before continuing for check-in:
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. 🙂