OK, here’s what we should allow on plane …

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By Christopher Elliott

Can we look past this ridiculous debate about cellphones on planes? Can we ignore, for a moment, the breathless opinion polls, the pompous declarations by airlines that they’d never allow wireless chatter in their cabins, and the heated discussions you’ve read in your favorite travel blog?

Mobile phones on commercial flights, already on their way to becoming a reality in the rest of the civilized world, will eventually come to the United States. It matters not that 59% of Americans in a recent Quinnipiac University poll declared they’re against it. Since when is the interior of an aircraft — where good etiquette remains in short supply — a yak-free zone like a library or church?

But keep looking, my friends. What else should airlines allow on a commercial flight that they don’t? Conventional wisdom says we should permit fewer things on a plane, not more.

Perhaps we’re having the wrong debate. Many air travelers suggest there’s more that should be permitted — much more.

Bottled water

“I think they should allow you to bring your own factory-sealed water bottles through a TSA screening area,” says Theresa Kropp, a bookkeeper from Lakewood, Colo. “It’s so ridiculous that we have to buy water from the shops after we go through security.”

Truth is, the TSA kind of stopped enforcing its own liquid and gels rule years ago. I accidentally brought a large cup of yogurt in my carry-on bag on a recent flight, and I routinely hear from readers who manage to sneak water and soft drinks through security. The European Union is reportedly testing a liquid scanner that would allow passengers to carry drinks through its checkpoints, but it’s unlikely the TSA will officially ease its liquid restrictions stateside anytime soon.


While some animals can travel in the main cabin, many cannot, forcing air travelers to leave their beloved cats, dogs, and birds at home. “I should be able to bring my parrot in his carrier,” says Elise Negrin, an administrative assistant from West Palm Beach, Fla. “He’s better behaved than many children.”

Well, here’s some good news, at least for affluent animal owners: Pet travel fees are one of those still-unexploited areas for airline surcharges. For example, US Airways allows a small domestic dog, cat or bird per passenger for $125 each way. But if it can figure out how to extract more, what’s to stop an airline from loosening the size and weight restrictions? Now, if we could do something about those naughty kids.

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“Why don’t we allow pocket knives?” asks Tim Pylant, an engineer from La Grange, Texas “They’re no more dangerous than a ballpoint pen unless it folds back on your hand and cuts you.” Good point. The interior of an aircraft is filled with objects that can be more dangerous than a pocket knife, including pens, knitting needles and cutlery. Why single out small knives? (Here’s why phone calls should be allowed on planes.)

The TSA continues to prohibit knives in carry-on luggage except for plastic or round-bladed butter knives. Never mind that in other parts of the world, pocket knives are absolutely fine, and aviation safety does not consider them a threat. Oddly, the TSA last year announced it would permit knives on board. That is, until flight attendants’ unions, consumer advocates and law enforcement officials raised objections to the proposed rule change, claiming the knives would make air travel less safe. There is no evidence it would, and I’m willing to bet they will allow pocket knives again someday.

Deepen sense of responsibility

We already permit things that probably shouldn’t be allowed, and we don’t allow things that should, all of which brings us to the point of this exercise. I’m as annoyed as the next passenger when the teenager next to me fires up Grand Theft Auto on his iPad and goes on a virtual killing spree. Or when the creepy guy across the aisle from my daughter watches an R-rated movie on his PC. But regulating good manners can’t ban tablets, computers, or badly behaved kids — any more than permitting bottled water, pocket knives, or more pets on an aircraft will make the in-flight experience less safe. (Here’s how to handle the TSA when you travel.)

The answer isn’t to legislate our in-flight manners, but to deepen passengers’ collective sense of responsibility. It’s a simple, “do unto others” sensibility so lacking on today’s aircraft.

Perhaps that’s a good place to start the real discussion.

What other items are prohibited on an aircraft?

The Transportation Security Administration has a long list of other items on the “no fly” list. You can’t bring the following items through security screening in your carry-on:

– Scissors with blades longer than 4 inches

– Golf clubs

– Pool cues

– Hammers

– Drills and drill bits

– Firearm replicas

Source: Transportation Security Administration

Which of the following should be allowed on a plane?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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