By Pete Williams Justice correspondent
NBC News
updated 2/15/2005 7:55:47 PM ET 2005-02-16T00:55:47

In a move intended to further improve airline security, the Bush administration is preparing to ban matches, as well as lighters, for all air passengers, beginning in April.

But can a ban on matches be enforced?

Under a plan now awaiting final approval, all passengers would be required to surrender their lighters and matches before entering security screening. That means no lighters or matches in carry-on bags, or even in checked luggage. Retail shops along concourses inside secure areas would be banned from selling them, and airport employees couldn't carry them either.

Smokers flying Tuesday wondered how it would work.

"If you smoke you have to carry matches and lighters with you to smoke," said one traveler at Los Angeles International Airport. "What do you do, do you purchase a lighter every time you fly in and out of an airport? If you want to smoke, I think it's carrying it just a little bit too far."

"I just think it's getting ridiculous," echoed another traveler at Seattle-Tacoma International. "Matches? Come on, I think it's stupid."

Can you spot the threats?

The proposed ban is partly based on the fears of another Richard Reid, who tried to light explosives in his shoes aboard a flight to the United States three years ago.

The intelligence reform bill President Bush signed late last year requires a ban on lighters. But the Department of Homeland Security decided to go further, calling for a ban on matches, too. Still, the agency acknowledged that it will be almost impossible to enforce the ban, since matches cannot be picked up by metal detectors or X-ray machines.

Even so, says an internal government memo, "total detectability is not a prerequisite for prohibiting a potential threat to airline security."

A senator who pushed for the ban says it's still a good idea to try.

"You can't smoke on an airplane so you aren't going to get on an airplane and light up," said Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D. "So what's the purpose of having a butane lighter or books of matches, especially when the FBI has said had Richard Reid had the butane lighter he would have blown up the airplane with a shoe bomb?"

Security officials hope the ban will at least reduce the number of matches that get onto airplanes and encourage passengers to call out if they see anybody aboard trying to light them.

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