Every country seems to have its little idiosyncrasies when it comes to air travel (shoes, anyone?!), and China is no different. Particularly when you are flying to or within a "sensitive" area like Xinjiang.
Here's what I experienced flying from Urumqi to Yining.
I had packed a small Uighur knife I'd bought as a gift in my bag to be checked. This was clearly a souvenir, in a cheesy leather sheath, and more to the point, it was going in my checked luggage.
Nope. No way. Why, I asked? You can't take knives on the plane, I was told. I understand that, I replied, but I don't understand why this is a problem. I can't possibly pick it up while I'm on the plane. Why is it dangerous?
No explanation. I could however take a folding knife in my checked luggage. Um, okay.
Someone actually explained to me later, and I think he was serious, that the people making these rules have watched too many action movies. Please, everyone, picture me as an action heroine, prying up the floorboards to access the cargo hold and my deadly Uighur knife.
(a Chinese friend experience the same problem, she told me. She managed to talk her way around it by explaining that she'd been sent by the Central Government to improve educational conditions in Xinjiang, so clearly, she should be allowed to take her souvenir back to Beijing. I should have called her, dang it)
Next, clearing the security check. Chinese airlines have the same regulation about laptops as the US does, so I'm used to that one. They also don't allow lighters or matches - I don't smoke, so no problems there. No outside beverages - check. But those little toiletry bottles that meet US requirements? Mmmm...problematic.
First, I was patted down in a way by the security officer (female) that suggested we were far better friends than we actually were. This seemed to be standard operating procedure (remember, there have been "issues" in this part of China with, well, things blowing up). The consternation with which some of my toiletries were greeted was something else entirely. After explaining that, yes, those little bottles were for cleaning my hair and that my deodorant was not a dreaded bottle - thankfully I didn't have to explain what it actually was, I just opened it up and said, "See? It's not a bottle" - I was finally allowed to proceed.
Oh, but not before I had to take off my boots.
My advice if you are traveling by air to Xinjiang - check your toiletries kit. Remember, a stick of deodorant in the wrong hands could be a dangerous weapon.