The Washington Post

Airline-safety concerns grow louder in Washington

March is proving to be a busy month for airline-safety advocates, many of whom appeared in Washington last week to oppose changes they say will cause greater risks for passengers, flight crew and the public in general.

The Transportation Security Administration announced a controversial decision this month to allow small knives aboard airplanes beginning on April 25.

Flight attendants, air marshals and even the TSA’s transportation security officers have been quick to oppose the changes. Last week, they issued statements against the relaxed standards and staged a rally on Capitol Hill.

(Spencer Platt/Getty Images) (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Joining those efforts was Ellen Saracini, whose husband, Victor, was a pilot on board of one of the planes that terrorists hijacked and flew into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

Saracini spent the week in Washington urging President Obama and lawmakers to mandate the use of secondary cockpit barriers that airlines can use to help prevent their aircraft from being taken over.

The steel-cable barriers can be put in place when pilots open the cockpit door to stretch or use the lavatory. The devices buy time for closing the cockpit door in the event that a passenger rushes the compartment.

“Gaining control of an airplane leads to a weapon of mass destruction,” Sarancini said. “The cockpit is the last line of defense, and it’s too vulnerable right now.”

Sarancini said she is especially concerned about reports from a pilots union that United Airlines is removing secondary barriers from its new 787 Dreamliner aircraft. Most airlines do not use the gates, but United had installed them in some of its largest aircraft, she said.

In a letter to Obama, Sarancini said she opposes the new TSA rules on prohibited items.

The changes allow passengers to carry pocket knives with blades less than 2.36 inches long and less than half an inch wide. They also would permit previously banned items such as golf clubs, ski poles and souvenir baseball bats.

“Weakening aircraft security measures by allowing knives of any size onto aircraft sends the right message to terrorists and the wrong message for in-flight safety,” Sarancini said in her letter.

The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents transportation security officers, joined flight attendants in opposing the TSA decision during a rally Thursday on Capitol Hill.

“Knives were used by terrorists on September 11, and they have no place on our aircraft or in our airports,” AFGE President J. David Cox Sr. said.

Beyond the demonstrations, some lawmakers are beginning to take action.

Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) introduced legislation last week, co-sponsored by Rep. Michael G. Grimm (R-N.Y.), to stop the new TSA rules from taking effect. The measure would freeze the permitted-items list as it stands.

Also last week, a bipartisan group of lawmakers from the House Homeland Security Committee formally objected to the policy change in a letter to TSA Administrator John S. Pistole.

The March 11 memo, signed by Reps. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) and Grimm, urged Pistole to refrain from implementing the new rules, saying the TSA seemed to have made its decision “without formal engagement with stakeholders,” including flight attendants, air marshals and the Aviation Security Advisory Committee.

On Friday, Thompson followed up the letter by introducing a bill that would require the TSA to consult with the advisory committee on all matters related to aviation security.

“This recent lapse in policy making shows that we need a proper dialog on creating security policy more than ever,” Thompson said in a statement. “We are developing policies that affect millions of passengers and frontline workers, we must make sure that any impact is taken into account.”

For more federal news, visit The Federal Eye, The Fed Page and Post Politics.

To connect with Josh Hicks, follow his Twitter feed, subscribe to his Facebook page or e-mail

E-mail with news tips and other suggestions.

Josh Hicks covers Maryland politics and government. He previously anchored the Post’s Federal Eye blog, focusing on federal accountability and workforce issues.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Show Comments
The Democrats debated Thursday night. Get caught up on the race.
The Post's Chris Cillizza on the Democratic debate...
On Clinton: She poked a series of holes in Sanders's health-care proposal and broadly cast him as someone who talks a big game but simply can't hope to achieve his goals.

On Sanders: If the challenge was to show that he could be a candidate for people other than those who already love him, he didn't make much progress toward that goal. But he did come across as more well-versed on foreign policy than in debates past.
The PBS debate in 3 minutes
We are in vigorous agreement here.
Hillary Clinton, during the PBS Democratic debate, a night in which she and Sanders shared many of the same positions on issues
South Carolina polling averages
Donald Trump leads in the polls as he faces rivals Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz heading into the S.C. GOP primary on Feb. 20.
South Carolina polling averages
The S.C. Democratic primary is Feb. 27. Clinton has a significant lead in the state, whose primary falls one week after the party's Nevada caucuses.
62% 33%
Fact Checker
Trump’s claim that his border wall would cost $8 billion
The billionaire's claim is highly dubious. Based on the costs of the Israeli security barrier (which is mostly fence) and the cost of the relatively simple fence already along the U.S.-Mexico border, an $8 billion price tag is simply not credible.
Pinocchio Pinocchio Pinocchio Pinocchio
Upcoming debates
Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Feb. 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

March 3: GOP debate

on Fox News, in Detroit, Mich.

Campaign 2016
Where the race stands
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Close video player
Now Playing

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.