This month, the TSA announced that starting April 25, it will allow passengers to bring small knives with non-locking blades shorter than 2.36 inches and less than half an inch in width, small novelty bats, ski poles, hockey and lacrosse sticks, billiard cues and up to two golf clubs onto a plane. The move is intended to allow security screeners to “better focus their efforts on finding higher threat items such as explosives,” according to the agency.
But an explosion is what the agency got.
The loudest came from the Flight Attendants Union Coalition, which represents nearly 90,000 airline crew members. Shortly after the announcement, it launched an online petition to persuade the TSA to reverse course.
“It’s obvious that knives pose a threat,” Veda Shook, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, told me. “That’s why pocketknives have been banned on U.S. commercial aircraft for more than a decade, just as they are in government buildings such as the Capitol and courthouses.”
The new policy also came under fire from the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association and from at least one passenger group. Paul Hudson, the executive director of the Aviation Consumer Action Project, which advocates for air travelers, suggested that more knives on board could make it easier to pull off another terrorist attack. “Terrorists now can bring on board knives as sharp as the then-permitted box cutters used by the 9/11 hijackers,” he said.
Frequent air travelers such as Ron Goltsch, an engineer from West Caldwell, N.J., say that they were confounded by the TSA’s actions, which are just the latest in a series of decisions that have left passengers scratching their heads.
“Let me see if I understand this,” he said. “A knife is fine to bring on board. But that four-ounce bottle of shampoo brands you as a possible terrorist? Sure, the TSA rules make sense — in bizarro world.”
True, the TSA’s “3-1-1” rule for carry-ons, which limits the total liquid volume each traveler can bring on a plane to one quart-size bag filled with containers of 3.4 ounces or less, remains in effect. Those restrictions were added after authorities in Europe claimed to have foiled a terrorist plot to blow up a transatlantic flight with liquid explosives in 2006.
“It would be more logical to do away with the size restriction on liquids,” says Dennis Lewis, a frequent traveler based in Orange Park, Fla. He says that knives — even small ones — could be used for nefarious purposes. “I’m still haunted by the reports that flight attendants had their throats cut during the 9/11 hijackings. Sure, a pocketknife is small, but you get four would-be hijackers who manage to get on the same flight with pocketknives, and they work together to overpower the flight attendants.”