Published date: 16 December 2022

Aviation Security Officers remove imitation weapons from airline passenger luggage almost daily, with more than 290 removed so far in 2022. Often imitation weapons won’t be permitted to travel on the aircraft because they look life-like. Imitation firearms and explosives are common.

Karen Urwin, General Manager Operations, says passengers are often surprised when their bag is taken aside at the screening point.

“The passenger might tell us the item is fake, but we never take any chances. As it is almost impossible to tell the difference between imitation firearms and real firearms in x-ray screening, the response will be to treat the gun as a real firearm. The only exceptions are toy guns that are obviously toys.

“Depending on what the suspected item is, we will call in our Explosive Detector team and the NZ Police to clear the contents of the bag before we open it.”

If you’re found with an imitation firearm on you or there’s one in carry-on luggage:

  • the NZ Police will be alerted
  • you may be arrested
  • the imitation firearm will be seized.

“Every AvSec officer is trained and equipped to respond to finding these items but seeing them in the middle of processing passengers can nevertheless be scary for them. It’s a situation that could be avoided if these items were left at home.”

Most of the imitation firearms are novelty items, usually filled with liquids like alcohol or body wash, or they’re actually lighters, or replica souvenirs, many of which look real at first glance.

“Whenever we pick up one of these items at the screening point, it slows down the queue and understandably frustrates other passengers who are waiting to be screened,” says Ms Urwin.

“Some items can look like weapons when screened but are nothing of the sort. If you have a gift that falls into this category, then we encourage you to not gift wrap it and we can clear it quickly by sighting what it is.”

So, if you’re thinking of packing a grenade-shaped coffee grinder to give as a Christmas gift this year, think again. Leave it at home and you, and all the other passengers in the queue, won’t be held up at security screening.