Knives, bats and clubs on planes — oh no!


TSA knives allowed
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) took action in paring its forbidden item list a bit — a tiny bit. Passengers will soon be allowed to carry on small knives and some sporting equipment that after years of careful research and untold hours of committee deliberations have been determined to be non-threatening in terms of airline security.

These new rules are simply embarrassing and raise questions about whether those on this review committee are dealing with reality. At most, they are baby steps in the right direction. To some, they are a breach of personal security.

This action, without any explanation of its philosophy, rationale or significant benefits, is generating more protests than plaudits.

The Consumer Travel Alliance (CTA) has been pressing for changes to the TSA forbidden item list for years. CTA efforts are predicated on changes that have taken place since 9/11.

In testimony before Congress, CTA has stated that:

• Cockpit doors are fortified
• Every passenger goes through a check against the terrorist watch list.
• Pointless searches for items that cannot be used to take over the cockpit of a plane or be used as an explosive should be discontinued.
• Eliminating searches for these items that do not threaten an aircraft will save millions of dollars annually.

Unfortunately, this effort by TSA to streamline security screening and focus on real threats will run into a public relations buzz saw. Those favoring such changes will be disappointed by such halfway actions and those favoring the current system will wail about personal safety.

Flight attendants are already up in arms.

When TSA spokesperson Castelveter said, “There’s still an emotional attachment to that matter,” he hit the nail right on the head. He was only referring to razor blades and box cutters, but certainly knives stir similar passions.

If TSA had initially announced changes in forbidden items by allowing sporting equipment and tools like screwdrivers and wrenches, there would not have been much visceral reaction. But, knives and box cutters are emotional push buttons.

Since the actual screening process is not changing at all, passengers now will feel less safe after dealing with the same security line hassles. Plus, flight attendants and air marshals will be upset.

Some see TSA’s actions as designed to make their own work easier, while putting passengers and crew at more risk. The opportunity to couple these forbidden item changes with benefits to the public and other dramatic security improvements has been lost.

Now, TSA is faced with the worst of both worlds.

The effects of this new rule may end up slowing security lines rather than speeding them along, costing more money rather than less, and adding a new level of confusion. Starting on April 25, some baseball bats will be forbidden. TSA security personnel will have to stop and measure.

And, just how TSA agents will begin measuring the size of items to the tenth-of-an-inch (in a country that has officially refused to adopt the metric standards) and install scales to weigh plastic bats and allow them aboard should they weigh less than 24 ounces, hasn’t been disclosed.

Here is the TSA announcement as it appeared on the TSA Blog.

TSA established a committee to review the prohibited items list based on an overall risk-based security approach. After the review, TSA Administrator John S. Pistole made the decision to start allowing the following items in carry-on bags beginning April 25:

• Small Pocket Knives – Small knives with non-locking blades smaller than 2.36 inches and less than 1/2 inch in width will be permitted
• Small Novelty Bats and Toy Bats
• Ski Poles
• Hockey Sticks
• Lacrosse Sticks
• Billiard Cues
• Golf Clubs (Limit Two)

Friends sent me Facebook rants about the fact that people can now bring knives and baseball bats on the plane, but they can’t bring in a cup of coffee.

However, I have some other questions.

Why is a larger-than-7-inch wrench more dangerous than a pool cue?
Why is marijuana (including both medical and non-medical) on the no-fly list?
Why is a larger-than-7-inch screwdriver forbidden when a ski pole is not?
Why is a larger-than-7-inch pair of pliers forbidden?
Why is a novelty bat, exactly the same weight and length as a billy club, permitted while the billy club is not? Aesthetics?
Why is a fencing foil considered dangerous when a hockey stick is not?

Anyone who has seriously discussed material changes to the TSA forbidden items list with pilots, flight attendants and the public knows the emotional reactions that suggestions of allowing knives on planes generate. TSA should not have been blind-sided.

What could have been a positive modification to our airport security system complete with savings of money and time and no decrease in real security is on its way to becoming a public relations disaster. I’m expecting TSA to backtrack.

Whatever path TSA chooses, they need to present it as a way forward, not a step backwards. These kinds of changes need to be vetted carefully with the most important stakeholders in this process — airline crews, the flying public and TSA.

  • James

    One problem with the TSA rules and any and all changes is that there has not been a consistent policy since day one. Another is that the screeners have been, and still are being, poorly trained. Thus seemingly arbitrary rules are enforced arbitrarily. Not only is this recent proposed change a public relations disaster it will slow the screening process even more.

    Regardless of the CTA stance I believe that the so-called banned items should go into checked luggage, period. I don’t take that stance because of any security concerns but more from the stand point of common sense. Too much useless junk comes into the cabin anyway! Nobody is going to be playing hockey in the aisles or having to peel their own potatoes for dinner.

    I think flight attendants do have legitimate safety concerns. There seem to be more incidents of “air rage” or drunken passengers and even a small blade could cause painful wounds.

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