The Washington Post

TSA Knife Fight loss not inevitable

Knives discarded at the security checkpoints of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (Gene Blythe/AP)

Loop Fans may recall that TSA formally backed off last week from its plan to allow pocket knives on airplanes. The agency reasoned that small knives have been permitted on board in Europe for years without problem and the ban wasted screeners’ — and passengers’ — time.

The plan wasn’t all that unreasonable, but supporters and opponents of the policy change agree that, in the end, the effort didn’t have a chance, thanks to some serious political missteps by its own supporters.

First, we’re told that the leading knife manufacturers — Victorinox Swiss Army and Leatherman toolmaker, who had invested several hundred thousand dollars in a lobbying effort — including about $300,000 in 2008 and 2009, according to congressional reports — wanted TSA to allow smaller keychain knives, not necessarily the larger 2.36” knives that the Europeans allow and TSA had planned to approve.

Then, after TSA chief John Pistole announced the new policy in March, his predecessor, Kip Hawley, told CNN they should have gone further than just allowing small knives, golf clubs, hockey sticks and such.

“They ought to let everything on that is sharp and pointy,” Hawley said. “Battle axes, machetes ... bring anything you want that is pointy and sharp because while you may be able to commit an act of violence, you will not be able to take over the plane. It is as simple as that,” he said.

Needless to say, the flight attendants didn’t think it was that simple. In fact, they went ballistic.

And it didn’t help that other manufacturers announced new pocket knife designs, which bloggers picked up and touted as “The most deadly TSA-compliant knife you can get.”

Oh, great. This move was a goner even before the House threatened a vote to block it. So TSA pulled the plug.

The biggest losers were golfers and hockey and lacrosse players — in addition to the knife manufacturers. Some Loop Fans speculated that the old policy favored the companies, since TSA-seized knives would require owners to buy new ones.

It turns out, a knowledgeable source said, that the existing policy “depressed sales” because TSA would auction off the confiscated knives at a much-reduced price.

Since many knives come with a “fix- it- free- for- life guarantee,” we’re told the new buyers would then simply send in the knives to get virtually new ones.

And the old policy only briefly inconvenienced Star Wars actor Peter Mayhew, who played the Wookiee, Chewbacca. Denver airport TSA screeners briefly stopped the 7-foot, two-inch actor as he tried to board a plane for a trip home to Texas last week because his cane was made to look like a light saber..

Officials said it was suspiciously heavy, but, upon inspection, they let him board after a few minutes.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.


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