Flying - - Inbox - Charles Cowan

I laughed un­til I cried at the story Peter Gar­ri­son told about his trip to Ja­pan [“Two Bobs,” Septem­ber]! Hav­ing ex­pe­ri­enced fly­ing into Ja­pan my­self, pre-9/11, I cer­tainly un­der­stood what he en­coun­tered.

In 1987, I was work­ing for an Amer­i­can auto-parts sup­plier, which was gear­ing up to make body parts for the soon-to-be-in­tro­duced Ford Ex­plorer. A de­ci­sion was made to buy our large stamp­ing presses from Ko­matsu, a ma­jor pro­ducer in Ko­matsu, Ja­pan. I was among those sent over to learn about and cer­tify th­ese gi­ant presses.

Be­cause the to­tal bill for the presses came in at more than $36 mil­lion, Ko­matsu took every ef­fort to as­sure we had a happy trip. So we trav­eled to and from Ja­pan on a 747, in the “piano lounge” of a North­west Air­lines flight. At Narita, we were sched­uled to go through cus­toms and then board a “lo­cal flight” on an­other 747 to the city of Ko­matsu.

Af­ter ar­rival at Narita, we were ush­ered into a se­cure room where we met a bu­reau­crat and an armed man point­ing what ap­peared to be a fully au­to­matic weapon at us. The bu­reau­crat pointed to each of my friends and said, “You have a lethal weapon in your right pocket!” In both cases, this “lethal weapon” was a pocket knife, which was con­fis­cated. When we ar­rived at Narita for our re­turn trip home, a man came to re­turn the pocket knives to my two friends, who thought they were lost for­ever.

Ex­actly as Mr. Gar­ri­son pointed out, no one in the United States was the least bit in­ter­ested in whether we were car­ry­ing knives or guns. We went through two more air­ports each way, and no one ever con­sid­ered whether the pocket knives were a threat — or, as far as I can tell, even knew they were car­ry­ing them.

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