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A proposal by the Transport Security Administration (TSA) to condone “small knives” and select sporting equipment such as novelty baseball bats and ski poles in carry-on baggage has garnered copious backlash from federal air marshals, flight attendants, pilot unions and even members of the U.S. Congress.
According to the TSA’s March 2013 ‘Changes to Prohibited Items List’ – which, after 9/11, was revised to include the prohibition of nail clippers, match books and box cutters – knives now permitted onboard must fit the following criteria: the blade is no more than 2.36 inches in length and ½-inch in width; and the knife does not have a non-retractable or fixed blade with a molded grip for targeted wielding. Should the new regulations be approved, passengers will additionally be free to tote lacrosse sticks, pool cues, golf clubs (a maximum of two), hockey sticks, and ski poles, which have a metal point at the end of the shaft and – falling into the TSA’s “prohibited” criteria – a molded handle.
Unmoved by public outcry, TSA administrator John Pistole told a hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee earlier this month, “I think the decision is solid and it stands and we plan to move forward.” The TSA’s stance maintains that checking for and confiscating these small knives – of which 2,000 are found and confiscated in US airports daily – is “time-consuming” and “distracts” the officers during baggage screenings from “focusing on the components of an improvised explosive device.”
Pistole cited the two to three minute lag time incurred when a knife is picked up by the metal detector and the passenger having to riffle through the piece of luggage to produce the knife for confiscation. “A small pocket knife,” he posits, “is simply not going to result in the catastrophic failure of an aircraft, and an improvised explosive device will.” A TSA spokesman asserted that the presence of federal air marshals, armed pilots traveling as passengers, who are not guaranteed to be present on every flight, and airline crew trained in self-defense confers an extra layer of security.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, disagrees. “You need to stop this now. These cause bleeding,” she said. “These cause injury. These can cause a terrible tragedy. And I don’t want to take it to the next length. It can possibly cause someone to lose their life.”
In an afternoon news conference in New York on March 10, Senator Charles Schumer expressed his bewilderment at the new ruling, stating that the TSA’s objective to expedite the baggage screening process is nullified by the time consumed in measuring and assessing each and every knife and baseball bat in passenger’s luggage. “These items are dangerous, and have not become less so in the years since they were banned from planes. Now is not the time for reduced vigilance, or to place additional burden on TSA agents who should be looking for dangerous items,” he said.
During the conference, Schumer held up a bottle of shampoo and then a razor blade as a comical juxtaposition to show his perplexity that while knives are ‘in’, the 2006 TSA ban on non-flammable liquids, gels and aerosol paints in quantities exceeding 100ml stays. “I don’t understand. I can’t carry my shampoo but they will let people carry knives. It doesn’t make much sense to me,” traveler Colleen Krauss told WNCN, an NBC affiliate.
Transport Workers Union Local 556, which represents over 10,000 flight attendants at Southwest Airlines, raised concerns over “air rage,” which refers to any violent or disruptive behavior perpetrated by a passenger or crew member. “While we agree that a passenger wielding a small knife or swinging a golf club or hockey stick poses less of a threat to the pilot locked in the cockpit, these are real threats to passengers and flight attendants in the passenger cabin,” the union said in a statement.
The TSA’s proposal comes on the heels of a passenger risk-profiling concept put forward by the International Air Transport Association, the premise of which is to analyze passenger’s potential “risk” based on previous itineraries, birth date, passport number and criminal record and subject them to screenings accordingly. The U.S. government has been urging the populace to apply for Global Entry, a program that allows those who pass background checks to be identified as “trusted” and gain access to PreCheck lanes for expedited security screening at certain airports.