Air line security and knitting needles – is there a connection?

October 14, 2013

By Gordana Liddell 

BURLINGTON, ON.  Travel has been different since the tragic attack on New York and Washington in September of 2001.  Public safety took on a whole new meaning as airlines in particular increased security which meant a much closer look at the people who boarded air[planes and what they carried on with them.  The rules imposed at times seem confusing and some feel perhaps a little silly.  Well  just what can you take aboard a plane and what should you pack and not pack?

Asha of Burlington asked:

Harmless in the hands of your sweet Grandmother – but how does security know she’s a sweet little old lady?

Recently, my 80-year-old mother’s knitting needles were taken away at airport security.  I think it’s ridiculous.  She’s a senior citizen.  What do they think she is going to do with knitting needles?

Dear Asha,

The first thing to remember is to not take it personally.  The airlines and airport authority are only trying to do all they can to ensure passenger safety.  They have rules they need to follow – without the option of discretion.  It’s safest that way.

Think of it this way if you like:  it’s not assumed that passengers will do nothing.  Even your 80-year-old mom.  This thinking is, what if this person is a psycho?  Or what if the person sitting next to her is a psycho and gets a hold of those knitting needles?  Or what if she drops them and they roll down a few rows into the hands of the psycho sitting in 3B?  Yes…in order to ensure the safety of all those passengers enclosed in that metal tube darting through the sky…everyone is viewed as being a potential psycho.

You just never know what anyone is going to do at any given moment.  And normally, people just go about their lives without going ballistic.  But if they do go off, it’s usually easy for us to gain some distance.  Up in the sky however, this is not possible, and so it is imperative to completely avoid any potential danger.

I realize it seems silly to you, and we are all aware that your mom intended to use the knitting needles to knit.  But when she is on an airplane, think of them as eleven inch metal spikes rather than crafting tools.  It’s not a public space where we are free to do as we please.  There are rules set in place that we must follow and to try and dispute them is pointless.

I once had an enraged passenger come to me because security had turned her away.  They would not let her bring her bullwhip on board as carry-on and she was just outraged.  She told me it was ridiculous and screamed at me, “What do you think I am doing to do on a plane with a bullwhip?  Whip someone?!”  I was almost speechless; struck by the simplicity of what she just said…but what had obviously escaped her.  I did manage to get out an, “I have no idea.”

And that is the truth.  You have no idea what anyone will do, and on an airplane, it’s just best to prohibit any item that might pose any possible danger.

That September 11th changed the world and certainly changed airline security procedures. Box cutter, bombs in a diaper and a bomb in a shoe are the attempt we know about. Knitting needles in the wrong hands would be lethal.

Look at an item in terms of its basic form…not in terms of its use.  There is no difference between trying to board with knitting needles or a bullwhip, handcuffs or fuel or box cutters or any number of potentially dangerous things people try and innocently carry onto planes on a daily basis.  Nobody thinks the person carrying them WOULD use them for ill intent.  But for the safety of others, the WHAT IF must be considered and general rules must be made and enforced.

The next time you or your mom travel and plan to do some knitting on the way, check with the specific airline you are travelling with.  Every country and airline has their own security guidelines, and these are constantly being updated. 

The smaller, rounder tipped needles as well as the circular knitting needles are usually okay.  The smaller and the more blunt they are, the more likely they will pass through security without a problem.  Anything sharp and pointy should be avoided as a general rule.  Common sense goes a long way. 

Once again, don’t take it personally.  They are just looking out for everyone’s safety as best they can. 

Gordana Liddell is our resident travel writer.  She is a graduate of the University of Toronto, a travel industry veteran with nearly two decades of experience as a freelance travel writer, and most recently book editor. She is fortunate enough to live right here in Burlington with her family.


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3 comments to Air line security and knitting needles – is there a connection?

  • Donna Z

    I only encountered a problem once with flying with my knitting needles. CATSA and TSA have been permitting needlepoint, knitting and crochet for several now. Just not your scissors nor circular cutters. They have blades in them.

    I only had an issue once with knitting needles on a return flight home from Cancun in 2006 even though Toronto and the USA permitted them. It was explained to me by Mexican airport security that the US was imposing sticker guidelines on Mexican security. Even my bamboo needles would have been confiscated they explained.

    It is always a wise idea to pack a spare set in your checked baggage and thread a safety line through your knitting to protect it from unraveling. That way if a security guard does refuse your needles you just pull your needles out and put your knitting on the spares when you reach your destination.

    My son and I did encounter a problem with bis lighter for a Montreal Toronto flight 6 years ago. His lighter had a tiny decorative emblem on the side. The young guard said that since it resembled a ninja star it was not permitted. The guard eventually decided to let him bring it though.

    • Gordana Liddell

      Thank you, Donna, for the info as well as the tips. I, myself, don’t knit…so I have never attempted to travel with knitting needles. The Air Canada website still says only plastic round tipped needles are permitted, yet CATSA says knitting needles in general are permitted. And as you pointed out, the destination is a factor for sure. So what are we to do? I think it just best to try and bring the least threatening and least expensive ones on board with us, and to pack our good needles in our checked luggage.

      It’s interesting the things we would never think of. Like your son’s lighter…they permit fire on board, but hesitate because of a ninja star symbol?
      I once had a keychain confiscated (and apparently disposed of) on a trip a few years back. Security told me that because it was metal and blunt, it resembled some sort of martial arts weapon that I had never heard of. But as my trip was more important than my keychain, off it came and off I went. Even if you go through your things very carefully ahead of time, you just never know what may be deemed a potential threat.

      Thanks for your input.

  • Alan Harrington

    With respect to the people who perished in New York and Washington, the date was September 11 2001 not 2003.
    Editors note: Oops – correction has been made – thank you.