Skip to comments.Airline Confiscates Empty Cigar Lighters Packed in Checked Luggage
Posted on 06/08/2003 1:05:01 PM PDT by ml/nj
Something Special in the Air
I am sitting on American Airlines Flight 1844, to Chicago from Santa Ana, Calif., as I write this story, and I am trying to control my rage. A Screwdriver has helped take off the edge.
About 30 minutes ago, American Airlines agents took two empty S.T. Dupont X-tend lighters out of my checked-in bag, and said that they needed to be destroyed. They claimed they were "dangerous goods" that could endanger the lives of my fellow travelers -- apparently the equivalent of weapons of mass destruction in today's airline world.
I was actually at the gate waiting for the flight when my name was called over the loudspeaker. "Sir, they have found two cigarette lighters in your bag and they need to be destroyed," said a woman who was working the check-in desk, rather officiously.
"Those two lighters are worth about $300," I said. "You can't just destroy them."
"I suggest you go and speak to the American Airlines employee who checked you in, but I think that you might miss your flight," she said, not really bothered and obviously saying her comment in hopes that I would relent to losing my lighters.
She looked horrified when I hightailed it towards the check-in desk. It meant going through the security gauntlet again, which included taking off my belt, shoes, eyeglasses and IWC stainless steel watch -- thank God I left my flak jacket at home.
Ms. Karen Lawson, the American Airlines compliance officer at John Wayne Airport (what would the Duke do in this situation?) couldn't have been less helpful. It was as if she was speaking to bin Laden himself as she explained that such dangerous goods as my lighters should be immediately destroyed. But she would give me two hours to find someone to pick them up, if I wished. "I can't give you any more time," she said, "and I am doing you a favor giving you two hours."
I explained that my 95-year-old grandmother, whom I had been visiting in California, was not up to the task of retrieving my lighters from her wretched grasp. "Couldn't you just give me the lighters back?" I asked politely.
"I am unauthorized to do that, and I could be fined if I did so," she said. She looked very annoyed that I was still standing in front of her.
I changed my tactic. "I fly more than 60,000 miles a year with American Airlines and I only have two hours to find someone to get my lighters? Surely, you can help me somehow?"
She said, "That's all I can do for you."
There was no use continuing. I spun around and ran for the security check to make my way to Gate 8 for the flight to Chicago. But I was really upset. It wasn't the money lost. It was something more disturbing. I felt that American Airlines had taken something more from me. Those were my lighters, personal things that I valued. One of them had traveled around the world with me. They were like old friends.
I understood and welcomed the security measures in the airport, but it all seemed so arbitrary. I had checked in lighters (empty of butane) on American Airline flights from the Dominican Republic to Miami as well as Miami to Las Vegas with no problem, a fact I explained to Ms. Lawson. But she would have nothing to do with it. Perhaps she wanted the lighters herself?
In any case, I hope she -- or whoever else ended up with them -- enjoys my lighters. And I hope she enjoyed the opportunity of being some sort of mini-dictator. What she should have done is offered to mail the lighters to my office in New York. Or, she could have simply said that she was extremely sorry for the loss. But she didn't care, and attitude like that is why few will shed tears when another few thousand American Airlines employees are fired, or their company closes. But I wish her, and American, no bad will.
Maybe she didn't care because I was a smoker. I certainly didn't have any prejudice for her officious, unthinking demeanor.
We all know what it is like to be a cigar smoker in America, so we are used to being treated poorly. Don't check your lighter in your luggage. Don't smoke in public places. Don't buy Cuban cigars. Don't inflict secondhand smoke on others.
I just wish some people could say it all with a smile.
Au contraire, mon ami. But 'tis such. Hang out with some of these failed cop wannabes and listen to them brag about their "scores".
Fair enough. Then the man should have been given back his property and allowed to make alternative transportation arrangements for his property and/or himself.
Again, American Airlines' posted rules make no distinction between an empty or full cigar lighter of the type that was confiscated. And again, the author of the piece bore the primary responsibility to make sure that his personal property could be transported under the rules laid down by American. This he arguably failed to do.
What danger does it pose?
Your lighter? Probably none. But are you willing to assign the same level of confidence to everybody else's lighter as well?
Why could she not give it back to him?
Their policy their rules. Don't like it? Then don't fly American (or likely any other airline from what I've seen, as they all seem to have similar policies).
It does sound to me like it was appropriated, probably because it was silver or gold.
Then color me amazed that my gold and silver cufflinks and studs, my gold pendant, my Seiko maritime watch, and my ring made it through TSA hell on my recent trip, because all did so without a hitch.
I call this government supported airline induced theft.
I call it failure to exercise due diligence on the part of the author of the piece.
Unfortunately, treating customers like that is standard procedure, the Airline Attitude. No wonder everybody has stopped flying unless they absolutely, positively have to go somewhere they can't drive. No wonder that the major carriers are going broke. Good riddance - unless Congress makes us subsidize them.
Let's face it - had he been carrying an empty 59-cent Bic instead of a empty $300 model, this would never have happened. Some little tin tyrant at the gate saw something she felt like helping herself to, and decided to pull a Silly Rule out of her butt to suit the occasion. Airlines have lots of Silly Rules, designed for instant use when an employee notices that a passenger is for some unaccountable reason having a nice day.
Why not give passengers the option of mailing the offending item home?
Of course using a cheap Bic lighter doesn't make you a liberal. It's using the victim's possession of an expensive lighter to make a cheesy class-warfare argument that makes you a liberal. As an example of this, go to Salon.com and look up Arianna Huffington's archived rants on SUV owners.
"I am unauthorized to do that, and I could be fined if I did so,"
The implication of this exchanges is the AA employee is concerned about some government regulation or law.
That being the case, the rights of the passenger were violated in two ways:
"...warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
The AA employee had no warrant, fulfilling the requirements of the 4th amendment.
"... nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation."
It is for the public use that his property was taken.
If the AA employee was not acting as a deputized federal agent, but as a private citizen employed by AA, acting on AA's private property regulation, then she should be charged with theft.
(Said "Silly Rule" being clearly posted beforehand on the company's web site and provided in their dead tree literature, well before the guy ever flew. Of course).
Then I'll ask you the same question I asked earlier in the thread, said question to which I still have failed to receive an answer. If petty theft is indeed American's company policy as seems to be the charge of many here, then why weren't my silver and gold cufflinks/watch/ring/pendant, etc. taken from me during my recent trip? A strong enough metal chain could certainly be used to strangle somebody, a watch could be the cleverly-concealed timer for the Semtex molded into my humble but comfortable SAS loafers, and my ring could contain a chip with records of Osama bin Ladin's last 5 high colonics.
Airlines have lots of Silly Rules, designed for instant use when an employee notices that a passenger is for some unaccountable reason having a nice day.
Hyperbole. On the other hand, my recent flights were smooth (if not giddily enjoyable) experiences. For example, I would pay extra - MUCH extra - to be able to take a flight that allowed smoking. Figure the odds.
Maybe a lot of the author's troubles can be pinned on the attitude he displayed - The Golden Rule and all that.
Why not give passengers the option of mailing the offending item home?
Ask American Airlines. I don't have the answer to that one. Better yet, if they have a policy you don't like, then fly with another airline. There is no Constitutional right to stuff yourself into a thin metal cigar with 200 other people and go zooming halfway across the country at accelerated speeds.
Free to carry potential explosives on aircraft filled with other people? Free to simply make up our own rules as we go, dreamily ignorant of other people's safety? No, I can't say that I ever recall living in that sort of country.