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I am travelling with a first aid kit in carry on bag like this:

enter image description here

  • NZ to Australia: bag X-rayed, no issues at all
  • Australia to Dubai: security opened the kit, checked the scissors and allowed them
  • Transit in Dubai: security was adamant that scissors are not allowed and took them out. My pointing out that they're only 6cm long did not help.

TSA allows scissors in carry-on as long as they are less than 4 inches from the pivot point.

Was Dubai airport security in their right to confiscate the scissors?

If not, can a complaint be lodged somewhere to get this incident investigated and staff educated about what scissors are allowed?

While I am still waiting for my next plane, would there be any point in returning to the security check point and asking for their manager or something?

(Not so much worried about the scissors but the ability to have confidence in knowing what can be taken in carry-on bag; you read and follow the rules and then get ripped off at the officers' discretion anyway).

  • 3
    @Greendrake If you are serious about lodging a complaint, you can use the airport feedback form dubaiairports.ae/contact I’m not sure it’ll get much traction though – Traveller Oct 2 at 23:00
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    @Traveller I am seriously annoyed so I have lodged a complaint. Let's see – Greendrake Oct 2 at 23:15
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    FWIW, I've had a pair of sewing kit scissors with 1 cm blades weak enough to bend by hand confiscated at an airport. Security theater for the win! – lambshaanxy Oct 3 at 7:16
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    I've heard of one case where a person was prevented from bringing fingernail clippers onto the plane. The kicker? That person was the pilot. – Darrel Hoffman Oct 3 at 16:59
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    Why should the USA’s TSA rules on scissors have any impact on the rules in Dubai? – rhialto Oct 3 at 19:43
32

(Not so much worried about the scissors but the ability to have confidence in knowing what can be taken in carry-on bag; you read and follow the rules and then get ripped off at the officers' discretion anyway).

Unfortunately this is a basic fact of flying these days. While there are rules and regulations, security officers have wide leeway and discretion. There is almost no accountability or recourse, other than in extreme abuse cases.

At the end of the day if the officer finds something they don't like, your only viable option is to say "yes officer", "I'm sorry officer" "won't happen again officer" regardless of whether the officer is right or wrong. You can choose to argue, but chances are it's not going to help AND you will miss your flight.

  • 1
    Sadly, I have to agree with this answer. However, it might be worth finding out if you can file a complaint somewhere (airport? airline?). One complaint might not change anything, but if enough people complain maybe it has an effect. – marcelm Oct 3 at 18:16
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    @marcelm I did file a complaint. See my answer for their response. Hope more people do so indeed. – Greendrake Oct 4 at 0:21
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    File a complaint for a 50 cent pair of scissors? Where can I get a refund on my time wasted reading this question? – Mazura Oct 4 at 3:44
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    @Mazura It is amazing how people can be so short-sighted. This is all NOT about scissors. It is about RULES. – Greendrake Oct 4 at 4:25
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    This answer is marked as accepted only because it’s what the OP wanted to hear. In the most upvoted one it becomes obvious that scissors of that length are not allowed on that location. If only TSA/US laws and regulations would apply to all of the world eh... – Sebastiaan van den Broek Oct 4 at 6:34
78

Individual countries have their own rules, and while some items are unambiguously permitted or forbidden everywhere, quite a few are in a greyish area which varies from country to country (and then there are the items which are in the very grey area where no-one is really sure and it will depend on who you stumble upon).

In the case of Dubai, TSA rules obviously do not apply (those are for US airports only), and you can find their forbidden items list here:

enter image description here

As you can see, according to their rules, scissors are forbidden as soon as blades are "longer than 6 cm". They do not specify where this is measured from, nor whether this is inclusive or not, but as you have stated the blades are 6 cm long, I fear they fall in the forbidden category.

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    The image also shows that "all types of swords and sharp objects" are banned. Therefore if your scissors are sharp, they are banned. – abligh Oct 3 at 6:12
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    @Greendrake That kind of pettifogging only impresses bureaucrats in episodes of Futurama. – choster Oct 3 at 6:51
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    @Greendrake, no, I wouldn't quite think it makes it "pretty clear". In common language, there is often quite an ambiguity, and many people consider "longer" to mean "longer or equal". Also, as stated, it is unclear how/where they measure that length, so they probably err on the side of caution. Finally, note the text at the bottom, which is just a blanket ban on anything they want. – jcaron Oct 3 at 10:08
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    @abligh Probably makes more sense to draw attention to the bottom where it says "And any similar items that could cause an unlawful interference and affect the safety and security of civil aviation" That seems to be basically them saying "if we think it's not safe, we won't allow it on board". – JMac Oct 3 at 11:45
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    @Greendrake, you postulate that your scissors are only 6.00000 cm long. They might be 1 micron longer if you inspect them closely, thus longer than 6 cm. '>' and '>=' are pretty equal as soon as you need a measuring tool. – Hans Janssen Oct 3 at 22:26
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I have just received a response from the airport which pretty much answers the question:

Please note that there are many restrictions on items that can be carried in hand baggage which vary according to the countries of travel. Further to this, a Security officer on duty may confiscate any item, if deemed dangerous, irrespective of any standard rule.

Regrettably, confiscated items are non -recoverable, therefore we advise you to contact police department directly on the following if further clarifications are required on the matter.

[Dubai police contacts]

(emphasis added)

Essentially, if the officer deems an item to be dangerous, he/she will confiscate it no matter what. Police and/or a court proceeding are the only remedies. Looks like a good reason to think twice before booking a flight via Dubai next time.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – JonathanReez Supports Monica Oct 4 at 23:37
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    @Greendrake dude! EVERY jurisdiction is like this! Dubai is far far less arbitrary than the US, if you're from the US!! – Fattie Oct 5 at 16:43
  • @Fattie I don't know about every jurisdiction. I only report where the issue occurred to me. Then, at least Australia does not seem to be like that. As I said, they looked at the scissors and allowed them because they saw they were only 6 cm long. – Greendrake Oct 5 at 17:54
3

I have found it helpful, if I know I have a questionable item, to print out the rules for TSA/the country involved/the airport I'm flying from in advance. Then when my "insert obviously harmless object here" is questioned, I can pull them out and act puzzled and say 'but officer, I wondered myself and I specifically looked it up in advance and it says here...'. That may let you through, or it may let you in for a 3-hour minute search and a missed flight, depending on the mood of the security person.

You are totally at the mercy of the security person though. The ones in San Francisco used to have an average level of education barely reaching the 8th grade. They are operating x-ray machines whose results usually require several years of residency beyond your MD to interpret, in other contexts. You can only expect so much. But this is definitely a profession that attracts control freaks, and where the only jollies you can expect is to inconvenience people who are not obsequious enough.

I once had a security inspector try to confiscate my jar of foie gras, on the basis that I could hit the pilot over the head with it, making up on the spot a rule about objects having to be less than 100g weight (which would have eliminated anyone's suitcase and almost its entire contents, including underwear I think). Come to think of it, you could strangle the pilot with your underwear. Sigh..

  • Please strip down. I need to confiscate your underwear. – Ángel Oct 4 at 22:17
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    FWIW For many years internationally [tm] liquids, gels , .... have to be not over 100 cc. If your foie gras was over that volume then it was illegal - regardless of the container. – Russell McMahon Oct 5 at 11:33
  • @RussellMcMahon If their foie gras was liquid or gel, they should've been happy to get rid of it. – Dmitry Grigoryev Oct 5 at 19:03
  • @DmitryGrigoryev Note my " , ... " -> ie while they say liquids or gels, if you have a contained or Plastique, or window putty, or RDX, or silicone sealant, or nitroglycerine, or ... that is a non solidly rigid formable mass, then you can be "fairly certain" that if you have more than 100cc of it then it's a gonner. Not that you can't quite happily form high energy materials into solids, but they don't seem to follow through on that. Fortunately. | I'm of the opinion that doing bad things to avian transport should still be 'quite easy' and I'm ongoingly surprised at the low actual level. – Russell McMahon Oct 6 at 7:05
  • @DmitryGrigoryev Info only: I was told by a customs officer when I asked that the 100 ml limit was established by experts as sufficiently non-energetic as to be acceptably safe. I'm not a formal expert in such things but, from what I know as an engineer and long long ago pyro hobbyist, their experts are deluded. – Russell McMahon Oct 6 at 7:07
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TSA rules are only for the USA. DXB will have an entirely different screening authority and it will ultimately be at their discretion.

It will always vary slightly port to port, within Australia different ports normally have different private security contractors so it will be up to the company that holds the contract for that port or screening lane.

Typical rules that will apply throughout airports are 6cm and over, sharp blade or pointed end. Any of the listed may prevent travel with Carry on.

If in doubt check the item in with your luggage to prevent it being confiscated or make contact with the port prior and ask.

1

The confiscation was within the rules (as security staff anywhere have immense flexibility, which they can exercise when they perceive a possible need). This is what you'd hope and expect for people required to make potential life and death decisions on the spot.

The confiscation was sensible - you would not expect it with certainty, but should in no way be surprised when it happens.

Consider:

  • What is the working blade length of a "box cutter" when used as a hijack weapon?

  • How well could a group of men each armed with scissors like these use them as hijack weapons?

After you've stopped snorting over the stupidity of that question, consider how most people would have answered a similar "boxcutter" question up until about the end of August 2001.

If you REALLY do not wish to lose such items check-in is a much safer choice.

I carried an unused ink-jet cartridge filling device Auckland-Brunei, Brunei-Hong Kong, Hong Kong - China, China internal flight Guangzho to Guilin. I ATTEMPTED to carry it on the return flight Guilin-Guanzho. The security officer sought to confiscate it, along with a short bladed "Swiss Army Knife" that I had stupidly failed to pack in check-in luggage. I accepted the loss of the Knife (about as offensive as your scissors) as being my fault. I argued that the ink jet cartridge refiller with 3 x maybe 10mm small diameter needles inside a shell was utterly harmless. He stood firm. I called him a fascist moron. He stood firm, and was not moved by my apposite but immensely unwise abuse (the ONLY time I have ever spoken heatedly at security men, let alone called them names). I wonder what they did with the refiller :-)?

If you can lose a device with 3 x 10mm sheathed needles then your vicious stabbing weapon is an obvious candidate!

Think yourself fortunate that they let you retain the dangerous set of 5 metal piercing implements also shown in your photo!

____________________________________________

A fair bit of the above was written, as you may have noted, somewhat 'tongue in cheek'. BUT Only somewhat. Security does what security does. Your job is to outthink them in advance, as complaining afterwards has no positive effect whatsoever.

  • So was the confiscation within the rules because allegedly 6 cm is included in "longer than 6 cm", or because the rules are that they have discretion to confiscate regardless of the length? – Greendrake Oct 4 at 12:01
  • Not one or the other...but both. – David supports Monica Oct 4 at 14:19
  • @Greendrake From NZ :-) : My 1st paragraph states that the 2nd option applies. I'd not have thought that the 1st applies BUT my experience with overwhelming-authority is that what they say goes. I agree that I'd have measured it from pivot to blade point BUT if say 6 men carried them and they WERE intended as hijack weapons then the rivets would be invisibly weakened and you'd have TWO knife like things - and if you had to measure "blade length" I'd say tip to handle plastic. Not the ultimate weapon system but more effective than you'd wish in the (two) hands of a trained assailant. – Russell McMahon Oct 5 at 0:39
  • Nice effort at justifying how 6 cm scissors can be used for hijacking. Sadly, the same could be done with someone's bare hand ability to break necks and bones. This cannot be confiscated, let alone detected. – Greendrake Oct 5 at 1:41
  • @Greendrake As a once fairly frequent international traveller I considered possible ways to allow passengers to acquire weapons of a level suitable for opposing people with eg "box-cutters" (The '911 weapon of choice') or perhaps, 6+cm scissors :-). I decided that tray tables appeared eminently suitable, and highly available. (one per seat in cattle class). Relese tray table catch, hold in position, stand in seat, release TT. jump in tt. I have never determined the efficacy of the detachment action as I value my being allowed to travel. But, it should work. Bring on ya wimpy scissors !!!! – Russell McMahon Oct 5 at 6:13
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The fact that you were allowed to keep your scissors in NZ doesn't really mean anything, I bet plenty of people get to keep their scissors in Dubai too. You were just unlucky to meet the wrong security guy.

And yes, the airport staff can essentially confiscate any item they consider dangerous, unless it's valuable enough to argue about or you really need it on the flight, and it's not forbidden outright. I once had to give away a PP3 battery (for a portable FM radio). Apparently the security lady didn't see any batteries other than AA, so she was alarmed by this unknown object.

Considering that lists of the forbidden items can't be made exhaustive and accurate risk estimation is a difficult task, security agents are given a lot of freedom in their decisions, which don't even have to make sense:

enter image description here

  • I agree that "wrong security guys" are everywhere. What I am not convinced though is that all/most/a lot of airports all over the world would go as far as saying "a Security officer on duty may confiscate any item, if deemed dangerous, irrespective of any standard rule". Somehow I assume that lots of airports can be reasoned with and would review wrong security guys' decisions upon complaint/appeal. Clearly not the case in Dubai at least. – Greendrake Oct 6 at 1:29
  • @Greendrake I don't know how extensively you have travelled internationally but I'm surprised that you hold the views that you do re the allowed capability of security officers. | The odds of of convincing a security officer are non-zero, but close. [Even calling them facist morons doesn't help :-) - you only do that after you know all hope is lost. If then :-) || Reviewing a decision on review MAY help future travellers, or not, but it is of zero assistance when you lose an item you value or need in a security action. – Russell McMahon Oct 6 at 7:13
  • @Dmitry - At the Taj Mahal all "batteries" are forbidden. There is a reasonably thorough bag check and any AA AAA and probably PP3 battery gets confiscated. I bit my tongue solidly and did not point out that the Lithium Ion batteries in almost all tourist's cameras, and the perhaps a dozen or so that I carried. Had far more energy and in a far more terrorist usable form than was in the batteries they were confiscating. || I appreciate WHY they take the actions they do. They have zero chances of success when an intelligently planned raid happens. – Russell McMahon Oct 6 at 7:17

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