PITTSBURGH -- The U.S. Transportation Security Administration has changed a rule banning unfilled lighters in checked luggage on U.S. airliners, according to new regulations posted on its Web site Monday.
The decision was lauded by Zippo Manufacturing Co. officials who said earlier this year that that banning all lighters from luggage could have cut into its sales by as much as 30 percent. The company, which has about 750 employees in the northwest Pennsylvania city of Bradford (pop. 9,500), sold about 14 million of its signature brass-and-chrome lighters last year.
The new rule appears as a footnote on updated regulations posted on TSA's Web site. The five-page document details items that U.S. air travelers can and cannot carry on their person or in their luggage.
"All lighters are prohibited as carry-on items. Lighters without fuel are permitted in checked baggage, but lighters with fuel are prohibited," the footnote says, reversing the rule that banned all lighters from checked luggage.
The change was welcome news to Zippo officials, since the company sells millions of lighters to collectors, who were barred from flying with their collections to swap meets even if their lighters weren't filled with fluid. Under the new rule, they'll be able to do that.
"The government recognized that a new, never-filled Zippo lighter cannot in any way be construed as dangerous," said Greg Booth, the company's president and chief executive officer. "They were also sympathetic to the fact that the exclusion of all lighters on commercial airlines caused a tremendous inconvenience to Zippo consumers."
TSA officials last month banned butane, electric and absorbed fuel "Zippo-type" lighters aboard all aircraft and in areas behind airport security gates. Lighters were already banned in checked baggage, but passengers previously had been allowed to have two lighters in their carry-on luggage.
U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa. who helped Zippo lobby for the change, praised the decision Monday in a short statement.
"Prohibiting empty lighters on flights would have directly impacted a major manufacturer and employer in my home state," Santorum said. "Many people purchase these signature lighters as souvenirs and gifts for friends and family while on vacation or traveling."
Santorum's statement noted that new Zippo lighters are always sold without fluid and the lighter itself is not considered hazardous material under the federal guidelines.
While Santorum and Zippo officials both said the updated rule allows only new, unfilled lighters in checked baggage, the footnote on the TSA's Web site doesn't specify that the lighter has to be "new."
A TSA spokesman in Washington, D.C. contacted after regular business hours Monday said he couldn't clarify the matter because he wasn't aware that the new regulations had been posted. "All I can say is we are studying the issue," he said.