The Washington Post

TSA delays relaxing knife policy

The Transportation Security Administration on Monday postponed plans to allow passengers to carry small knives and other prohibited items on board aircraft, changing course on the policy proposal less than three days before it was to take effect.

TSA spokesman David Castelveter said Tuesday that the agency delayed the change “in order to accommodate further input from the Aviation Security Advisory Committee (ASAC), which includes representatives from the aviation community, passenger advocates, law enforcement experts and other stakeholders.”

The agency has not set a timeline for ending the delay, Castelveter said.

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, announced the TSA decision Monday night, encouraging the agency to consult with stakeholders and transportation security officers before making further decisions on prohibited items “so we can have a sensible security policy with stakeholder buy-in.”

“I am pleased that TSA listened to the flying public and the concerns,” Thompson said.

Labor groups that represent security and airline workers had accused the TSA of disregarding the safety of travelers and airline workers with its earlier decision to relax carry-on restrictions.

The rule change would have allowed passengers to carry onto airplanes pocket knives with blades less than 2.36 inches long and less than half an inch wide.

Critics complained that the TSA had made the decision without consulting stakeholders or the Aviation Security Advisory Committee, which has helped develop security policies for the administration in the past.

The TSA said the proposed policy conformed with international standards and would allow agency personnel to focus on finding other items such as explosives, which can turn airplanes into weapons of mass destruction.

A group of 133 congressional lawmakers signed a letter in March urging TSA Administrator John S. Pistole to withdraw his plans for the new knife policy.

Castelveter justified the proposed change in March by saying pocket knives would not enable passengers to break through cockpit doors and take down airplanes. He noted that cockpits have been heavily fortified since four planes were hijacked in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists attacks.

Critics have noted that heavily fortified cockpits can stop would-be attackers from reaching pilots, but they don’t prevent travelers from using weapons against each other.

Castelveter said in March that the TSA’s primary mission is to “stop a terrorist from bringing down an airplane” and that traveler safety is only a “tangential or residual benefit of the things we do.”

Thompson criticized the TSA’s stance in April, saying in a statement: “This agency, paid for by the American public, must understand that its mission is to protect people — passengers and crew.”

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

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