What security risk does a pinata pose in air travel?

ONE thing that most air travelers have learned is never to argue with airline staff and airport agencies where safety and security is concerned. It can be personally frustrating when a seemingly harmless souvenir that you have bought for your kid is removed by them, as when an Air Canada flight attendant confiscated a piñata from a passenger when he connected a flight at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport.

(A piñata is a paper-mache creation usually in the form of an animal that contains toys and candies which children catch when it is broken as part of a celebration. Its origin is Mexican).

“My eight-year-old daughter was seriously disappointed,” passenger Robert Braunschweig of Nova Scotia, Canada told QMI. “She insisted that I bring her something from Mexico so I bought her a small pinata.” Mr Braunschweig who was returning from Mexico actually picked up the piñata at a gift shop in the secure part of the Toronto airport. He was alleged by informed by the crew that pinatas are “not allowed on the plane because they are soaked in kerosene” although Mr Braunschweig insisted otherwise.

Some people will be quick to point out the absurdity of the crew’s overzealous action. Air Canada spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick said airline personnel consider safety first when carrying out their jobs. He said: “The safety and security of all our passengers is always our top priority.” So you cannot really fault the airline on that score and may even be thankful for their alertness although you may not agree with their discernment.

Really, could a piñata pose a security threat? There have been stories of stuffed toys being ripped open and even of frosted cupcakes that were confiscated by an airport security officer in Las Vegas last Christmas because the gel-like frosting could be used as explosives – and this as interpreted by the agent was covered under the Law that prohibits on board carriage of liquids and gels.

The problem is that there is no definitive categorization of what object constitutes for certain a security risk; whatever list there cannot be conclusive. Apparently, you will not find piñatas in the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority’s list of items that can and cannot be packed in carry-on and checked luggage; flammable liquids are of course prohibited. And so long as airport and airline staff are expected to also assess the risk, there will always be the gray areas that many people will find absurd and unnecessary. The dictum is to err conservatively rather than take the chance with the unsure.

In Mr Braunschweig’s case, a valid question to ask would be: Why allow sale of an item within the sterile area of an airport if it is not allowed carriage on board (presumably that it meets the limitations of space, weight and customs allowances)? So it is that you are not allowed to bring a bottle of water into the terminal, but you may purchase one inside. At airports where the shops serve both arriving and departing passengers, passengers could well be advised that certain items may not be allowed carriage on board.

There is yet another problem as different airports and airlines may have different criteria on what constitutes a security risk. Security agents must have heard ad nauseam the baffled air traveler’s argument that he or she had no problem with carriage when boarding at a previous port or getting on the delivering airline. The traveler should know that there is always a chance of denied carriage.

Or, travel light. But if you must pick up a souvenir or gift for someone, go for the universally safe ones or only those you know are permitted for carriage where you are. Or, have you ever thought of it – buy them at home? Note that Mr Braunschweig did not buy the piñata in Mexico but Canada!

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About David Leo
David Leo has more than 30 years of aviation experience, having served in senior management in one of the world's best airlines and airports. He continues to maintain a keen interest in the business, writes freelance and provides consultancy services in the field.

2 Responses to What security risk does a pinata pose in air travel?

  1. Evelyn Simpson says:

    It sounds like Mr. Braunschweig has a problem dealing with authority. Perhaps this ‘man’ should have planned ahead and purchased the piñata in Mexico and subsequently packaged this gift in his checked luggage. Thereby passing through the security checkpoint without hassle and avoiding the disappointment of his daughter.
    Organization Class 101.

    • Dingzi says:

      Thanks. Where security is concerned, better to avoid the hassle if unsure than to take the risk and slug the issue out pre-boarding.

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