A few months after the tragedy of 9/11, a British traveler on a flight from Paris to Miami tried to light a fuse on explosives he'd planted in his shoes. Before Richard Reid could successfully strike the matches, nearby passengers overpowered the would-be terrorist.
That was three and a half years ago. So why it has taken the government until now to enact a ban on similar "sources of ignition" that could pose a threat to planes?
As part of the Transportation Security Administration's vigilant if snail-like efforts to tighten security for airline passengers, cigarette lighters have finally been prohibited on planes.
Curiously, matches- which were Reid's weapon of preference - will still be allowed on board unless they're wooden. One would hope it wouldn't take almost four more years for the TSA to ban books of matches, which are still allowed in airline cabins, before some misguided zealot attempts again to use one as a source of ignition.
But we'll give credit for the belated ban on lighters and note that there is no place on a commercial aircraft for them, and that includes everything from the disposables to the expensive kind.
Makers of the legendary Zippo lighters are pushing to get their prized collection exempted from the ban. But for now the government isn't making any distinction from ordinary butane to pricey novelty lighters.
Lighters have been barred from baggage in the cargo hold of planes for more than 30 years because of the fire hazard they might present. Last Thursday they were added to the list of items prohibited on all commercial flights and in some restricted portions of airport concourses and terminals.
The smokers will whine but let them cope with the inconvenience. This is not an anti-smoking measure. It is an anti-terrorist measure. Backers say it is a common-sense step to protect passengers from a proven threat - and one that is long overdue.
But as the Richard Reid incident continues to remind us, the government didn't go far enough.
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