Story and Photos by Michael Janich
As the world slowly begins to return to normal after the COVID pandemic, many of us are getting back into the groove of traveling. Like any other established habit, once you’re away from it for a while, you forget things—like taking off your belt or watch when you go through the airport metal detector. While those conditioned actions will become second nature again after you get a little more travel under your belt, other old security habits—like staying aware and armed everywhere you go—may need some more conscious effort.
If you are the self-defense-minded type, like I am, you understand the value of fighting with a weapon. Unarmed skills are definitely an important part of your defensive capabilities, but the striking power of flesh and bone alone only goes so far.
To hit really hard and cause serious, fight-stopping damage to an attacker, it’s best to strike with an object that doesn’t have nerves and doesn’t feel pain. To have that weapon available in the supposed threat-free utopia that exists on the “other side” of TSA security, it also needs to be innocuous and easily flies under the authorities’ radar.
Before I go any further, you may be wondering who, exactly, I think I might be fighting. Statistically, terrorist incidents that begin in the cabins of aircraft are extremely rare—especially in the security environment of the post-9/11 world. Nevertheless, rare does not mean impossible. Even if we dismiss that threat entirely, however, the possibility of violence on an airplane is actually higher now than it has been in recent history. The reason? COVID fatigue, masks, and lots of unseasoned travelers hopping on planes for the first time in a long time.
According to FAA data, the number of “unruly passenger” incidents on domestic flights has risen sharply in 2021. Through May 25 of this year, the agency recorded 394 potential violations, compared to 146 in all of 2019 and 183 in 2020. Any way you look at it, the “friendly skies” are decidedly less friendly these days.
IIt is okey to not believe in traveling while armed. However, it’s not a good feeling to arrive at your destination and your luggage—containing your purpose-designed weapons—does not. It is then that you realize how reassuring it is to have some kind of defensive tool with you.
For the record, I appreciate and respect the efforts of the TSA in keeping travelers safe and secure, and always take the time to thank them for their service when I go through security. At the same time, I do not believe that “the authorities” in charge of any environment will protect me. Or that, if a violent incident did occur, they would respond quickly enough to intervene. As such, I also do not believe in going anywhere without something I can use as a weapon.
When I teach the use of improvised weapons, I break them down into three basic categories:
To consider your options for self-defense aboard an aircraft, let’s assume a worst-case scenario. For example, a 9/11-type situation involving one or more attackers armed with edged weapons or similar contact-distance weapons.
Suppose you’re lucky have a seat in first- or business class, and an attack occurs during a meal. In that case, you could have access to improvised weapons in the form of steel silverware, ceramic coffee mugs, and food trays. I don’t understand why you can’t carry a knife on board, but they’ll give you one once you get there, but that’s the way it is. Unfortunately, even these items are not great choices and—if you’re like most people and have a seat in coach—they’re not a viable option.
If you purchase hard alcohol while on board, you can use wine or liquor bottles as “fist loads.” This will allow you to strike with more focused impact and greater effect than with your hand alone.
My favorite environmental “weapon” on an aircraft, however, is the seat cushion. Readily available to everyone, it works as a flotation device, but also makes a very serviceable shield. Hold it up to deflect the attacker’s strikes, drive forward to pin his arm against a solid surface, and then kick him viciously in the knees or ankles to disable him as you enlist help from other passengers.
The most readily available prepared weapon is an in-flight magazine. In a matter of seconds, you can grab it from the seat pocket in front of you and roll it into a tight cylinder. Although you can strike with it like a club, it is more effective when you hit with the ends, thrusting with the tip or—for maximum power—hammering with the “butt” end.
While some people recommend airplane seat belts as a ready source of prepared weapons, I strongly disagree. True, they are anchored to the seat with a spring latch mechanism that can be quickly operated. However, most also have a backup cotter pin, and you must remove it before you can detach the belt.
Doing that is not a quick process and typically requires pliers or a similar tool. Even if you could get the belt free, wielding a flexible weapon with fight-stopping effect is an advanced skill set. Doing it in a cabin packed with frenzied passengers is a non-starter.
The only way to absolutely guarantee that you’ll have a weapon available aboard an aircraft is to bring your own. One way to do this—and a great way to kill time while waiting for flights—is to shop for what I call “weapons-grade” souvenirs after you’ve cleared security. If you take the time to look around in most airports, you’ll find all kinds of trinkets that also have great potential as weapons.
In addition to reliable standards like shot glasses and ashtrays, my personal favorites are miniature monuments, cast from sturdy materials. Good examples of these are the Space Needle, Washington Monument, Eiffel Tower, etc. Another great option are the giant novelty pencils big enough to kill vampires.
The most foolproof—and least expensive—approach to being armed 100% of the time is to carry innocuous items that are purpose designed for mundane tasks yet possess all the attributes necessary to function as effective weapons. Tactical pens and flashlights are ideal for this—provided they are generic enough to actually look like ordinary pens and flashlights.
As soon as you overtly weaponize them by adding spikes, “DNA collectors,” or any other blatantly tactical features, they cease to be everyday objects and can draw attention to themselves and you.
I have traveled all over the world with Tuff-Writer pens and generic tactical flashlights and have never had an issue. Tossing them in a carry-on bag with other pens and personal items while you go through security helps reinforce their status as ordinary items. Once you’ve passed through security, clip the pen/light to your pocket ensuring its immediate availability if you need it.
In recent years, I have noticed that tactical pens have been scrutinized much more closely than they used to be. This is especially true during the lower travel volumes of the pandemic. Although there’s no objective definition of “tactical pen,” the odds of TSA confiscating one are a lot higher these days.
For that reason, I have switched to medium-sized Sharpie® markers. Large enough to offer a solid grip and sturdy enough to strike hard, they are a great, inexpensive improvised weapon.
Similarly, I don’t go anywhere without a flashlight. I avoid anything with a “crenulated” (fancy word for scalloped) bezel or spikey, cheese-grater attachments. Instead, I stick with lights that don’t look intimidating or overtly tactical. On the rare occasions when I am asked why I carry a flashlight, I counter (honestly) with, “Have you ever been in a blackout? I have, and it’s scary. Since then, I’ve never gone anywhere without one.”
Finally, if you carry any object or weapon for personal defense, take the time to actually train with it. No weapon is a talisman that wards off evil. Skills and determination are always more important than tools, so make developing them a priority.
Train hard and travel safely. K&G
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Martial Blade Conceptswww.MartialBladeConcepts.com
Nine-year veteran of the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command, Michael Janich also served a 3-year tour at the National Security Agency. Highly decorated, Michael is a two-time graduate of the Defense Language Institute and served around the world in intelligence and investigative capacities for many years. Utilizing his extensive training in various martial arts and military/LE combatives, he established Paladin Press’ Video Production Department in 1994, running all aspects of video production for 10 years – personally recruiting some of Paladin’s most popular authors and being selected to work with the late Col. Rex Applegate as the producer of his landmark instructional videos on handgun point shooting. Published book and magazine author, Michael has been featured on various television programs and designed knives for many different knife companies throughout the industry. Michael is the founder and lead instructor of his signature knife defense program, Martial Blade Concepts.
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