Starting April 25, U.S. airline passengers will be allowed to bring small knives onto aircraft with them, for the first time since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Transportation Security Administration chief John Pistole announced the change in policy Tuesday, explaining that the newly allowed items — golf clubs, hockey and lacrosse sticks, small novelty and toy baseball bats, and pool cues, as well as pocket knives with blades smaller than 2.36 inches — don't pose a real threat but do make passengers wait longer. (See what kind of knives are allowed, and not allowed, below.)
"The idea that we have to look for, to find and then somehow resolve whatever that prohibited item is — that takes time and effort," said Pistole, formerly the No. 2 official at the FBI. "That may detract us from that item that could lead to a catastrophic failure on an aircraft," notably small, non-metallic explosives. Box cutters, a weapon used on 9/11, are still verboten.
Like everything else having to do with the TSA, the reaction was mixed. The U.S. airline industry, represented by Airlines for America, welcomed the shift. Flight attendant unions, on the other hand, were ticked off. The Flight Attendants Union Coalition called allowing knives on board "a poor and shortsighted decision by the TSA" that will "further endanger the lives of all flight attendants and the passengers we work so hard to keep safe and secure." Stacy Martin, representing Southwest Airlines attendants through the Transportation Workers Union, agreed. "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," she said. "This policy was designed to make the lives of TSA staff easier, but not make flights safer." (The passengers in this TV news report, below, are equally unimpressed.)
Sorry, flight attendants: "I say hallelujah to this" change, says Kevin Drum at Mother Jones. Sadly, "my beloved Swiss Army Knife" is slightly too long, but it's great that a travel-size one will be fine. Having a little pocket knife with you when you travel is "really astonishingly convenient, and I've cursed not having one more times than I can remember since 9/11. So hooray for common sense." And the ban on knives was always kind of capricious, aviation security consultant John L. Sullivan tells The Associated Press. "There are a lot of things you can use on an airplane if you are intent on hurting someone," like a pen or shiv made out of a toothbrush.
Speaking of capricious, how is it that more than 3.4 ounces of toothpaste "remains a bigger threat than a knife"? asks Bob Collins at Minnesota Public Radio. This is exactly why "the Transportation Safety Administration has been the butt of more jokes than airline food," says Charles Pierce at Esquire. "Seriously, do you know anyone — even the grumbliest of grumbly passengers in line, tangled up shoeless in their own belts — who sat around once they got through the line and thought, 'You know, this would be a lot easier if they just let knives on the planes again.'?"
The top two reasons Pistole gave for the change "aren't thrilling: This puts our rules in line with those of other nations and will speed up security lines," says Karin Klein at The Los Angeles Times. But the third reason rings true: Screeners can focus their efforts on more dangerous items than your "low-level Victorinox," and with cockpit doors locked since 9/11, small knives are just "not an effective hijack weapon anymore." Still, "the public should be drawing a line" at golf clubs and hockey sticks. "There already isn't enough room many times for all the carry-on gear," and there's no good reason your pool cue can't go in the checked luggage rather than the overstuffed overhead bins.