Pink handcuffs often land up in airport bin

Guns, knives and fluffy pink handcuffs are all frequently impounded at airports, with Kiwi flyers failing to adhere to the rigid weapons restrictions imposed since the September 11 terror attacks.

Almost 250,000 banned items have been appropriated from airline passengers' carry-on luggage in the past five years.

More than 5600 guns and gun parts have been impounded by aviation security staff, and almost 150,000 blades - knives, box cutters and long-bladed scissors - have also been seized.

Wellington Airport senior aviation security officer Jeremy Whitford said people would try to take all sorts with them into the cabin.

"I've had gas canisters for camping, [and] obviously your handcuffs, and your throwing stars, your martial arts paraphernalia, and lots of knives.

"We bring a bin back [from airport screening] every day."

Most people were happy to hand over their banned objects, he said, but occasionally they got grumpy. "We do get occasional people who get upset, but most people are generally understanding."

The information was revealed to The Dominion Post under the Official Information Act by the Civil Aviation Authority, which looks after aviation security.

Aviation Security Service general manager Mark Everitt said many passengers had "relaxed" because there had not been any serious terrorist attacks for some time.

He said there were two types of people flouting the rules.

"Ignorance is often a problem with passengers simply not knowing what is required of them, despite many campaigns, signs and checks by airport staff at check-in . . . [And] there are some people who simply want to beat the system and try and get things on to aircraft that they know are banned.

"Pre-flight detection and recovery of dangerous goods and prohibited items should give people confidence in flying from airports in New Zealand.

"We ensure that these items don't get on to aircraft."

Since January 1, 2007, there were also 13 bomb threats made at airports and on planes, seven of which were at Auckland, four in Wellington and two in Christchurch. None of the threats, however, resulted in bombs being found.

The most notable and dangerous of the threats was in February 2008, on a flight from Blenheim to Christchurch, when Somali woman Asha Ali Abdille, 33, attacked two pilots while trying to hijack the plane.

She took knives on board and tried to interfere with the controls, demanding that she be flown to Australia and claiming she had two bombs on board.

Both pilots received cuts and needed surgery, one losing part of a thumb, while wrestling the woman to the floor. Another passenger was also stabbed.

Abdille was convicted of hijacking in 2010 and sentenced to nine years and six months in jail.

Last year there were three bomb threats, all at Auckland Airport.

The bomb threat statistics do not include "bomb scares", like one in Auckland on October 20 when a passenger returning from a snorkelling trip in Vanuatu brought unexploded World War II artillery munitions back through Customs.

The international terminal was locked down for an hour while the bomb disposal team disposed of the device.

Contact Sam Boyer
Consumer Affairs reporter
Twitter: @SamJBoyer

The Dominion Post