The Tensabarrier strips herded us passengers along a path that snaked back and forth in rows, finally dumping us out in front of a security official who would check boarding passes and IDs and direct us toward one of the x-ray counters. In the penultimate row, i passed a sign that listed all the items that were forbidden on airplanes. There were 30 or 40 items on the alphabetized list, including all manner of knives, sharp objects, explosives, dangerous chemicals, and so on. Thinking back to "Fahrenheit 9/11", i scanned the list for lighters. I had just a moment to look before the fast-moving line swept me along past the sign, but sure enough, i didn't see anything near "L" for "lighters" or "C" for "cigarettes".
There is absolutely no good reason to allow lighters on an airplane.
I felt the familiar Troublemaking Activist Impulse coming on and reached into my backpack, where i usually carry an assortment of stationery items for general use. I withdrew my pad of little pink Post-It notes and a green Sharpie marker. As i rounded the end of the row into the final stretch, i wrote on the tiny square, "Why are lighters permitted?"
I fumbled to put away the marker as i arrived at the front of the line. The TSA official looked over my boarding pass and ID, and waved me on. In the moment while she concentrated on checking the next passenger's ID, i took two quick paces to the sign, reached around to slap my Post-It note on the front, and proceeded to the x-ray line.
Immediately i began wondering if i had just done an incredibly stupid thing. Any minute now, i realized, a TSA official would wonder what i had done, check the note, and suspect that i was part of some terrorist plot involving fire and cigarette lighters. They'd come for me, pull me aside, and start asking questions. Images of sitting in a small blank room being interrogated by security personnel started to fill my head. But when i finally mustered the will to look back, all i saw was a little cluster of passengers gathered in front of the sign, staring at it and talking to each other.
I finally made it up to the counter, unloaded my backpack, and took off my shoes as instructed. A TSA woman standing on the other side of the metal detector signaled to wait for a moment, then waved me through. After i walked through the metal detector, it occurred to me that it might be worth confirming that i had read the sign correctly.
"Excuse me," i said to the TSA woman. "Do you know whether cigarette lighters are allowed?"
"Yes, they are!" she replied cheerfully.
I turned back to the counter to retrieve my backpack. I put my computer away, zipped up the backpack, and put on my shoes. As i stepped away, i heard her voice again.
"Sir? Sir!" she called.
Oh, no, i thought. Here they come. I made eye contact with her amidst the two or three other passengers who had come through the metal detector.
"Two," she said, still smiling. I was momentarily confused. She held up two fingers in the air. "You're only allowed two lighters."
I feel so safe now. It's a good thing they don't allow three lighters, or then somebody would really be able to torch the plane.