March 6, 2013

TSA to allow small pocketknives on planes

Relax. That penknife you use to tighten the screws on your glasses won’t get you in trouble at the airport anymore. Starting April 25, that is.

Relax. That penknife you use to tighten the screws on your glasses won’t get you in trouble at the airport anymore.

Starting April 25, that is.

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration announced Tuesday that for the first time since 2001, passengers will be allowed to carry pocketknives onto airplanes. Small ones, anyway, with retractable blades no longer than 2.36 inches and no wider than one-half inch.

The change relaxes rules set in place after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and is designed to get the country in line with international rules.

Also off the banned list: pool cues, hockey sticks, Wiffle ball bats and golf clubs, but only two.

Still banned: fixed-blade knives, box cutters and full-sized baseball bats.

Speaking at a security conference in New York, TSA Administrator John Pistole said the new rules would allow airport officials to focus on the biggest threats instead of holding everyone to the same standards.

But unions representing flight attendants fired off immediately that the plan is an “outrageous” and dangerous idea that makes TSA’s job easier at the peril of workers on the planes.

The groups said they would fight right up to April 25 to get the TSA to rescind Tuesday’s announcement.

“As the last line of defense in the cabin and key aviation partners, we believe that these proposed changes will further endanger the lives of all flight attendants and the passengers we work so hard to keep safe and secure,” the Association of Flight Attendants said in a statement.

Union spokeswoman Corey Caldwell noted later that no in-air attacks had occurred since the rules were put in place after the 2001 attacks.

“So it doesn’t make sense to undo this successful ban,” Caldwell said from Washington. “We are taking away the common sense. A knife is a weapon, right? Why would we want to introduce knives back onto airplanes?”

And a Wiffle ball bat?

“OK, a Wiffle ball bat is not a top concern, but anything can be a weapon to someone up to no good,” Caldwell said.

Travelers came down on both sides Tuesday at Kansas City International Airport.

Keith Nathan, who flies frequently and was returning home to Dallas after a business trip, liked the knife ban.

“Sometimes I complain about the rules in place, but it’s for our benefit,” Nathan said. “As soon as you start easing up control, things start to happen. There are bad guys out there waiting for an opportunity. This may be one of them.”

But the change sounds good to Ron Heape of Warsaw, Mo., who was flying to Portland, Ore. He said he often drives to avoid TSA rules, even down to Galveston, Texas, once to catch a cruise.

Heape is still peeved about the time a security officer prevented him from carrying a fingernail knife with an inch-and-a-half blade on board.

“I took it and threw it in the trash right in front of him,” Heape said.

Carrie Harmon, TSA spokeswoman for the region that includes KCI, said the relaxation of rules is possible now because in-flight security has improved greatly in the past decade.

“There are multiple layers of security in place during flight to prevent someone from inflicting catastrophic damage to the aircraft, including hardened cockpit doors, federal flight deck officers, crew members with self-defense training and federal air marshals,” Harmon said.

“Taking small knives, novelty-sized bats and certain sporting equipment off the prohibited list will allow (TSA) officers to better focus their efforts on finding higher threat items that could cause catastrophic damage to an aircraft.”

The flight attendants union said that despite repeated requests for self-defense training “to allow us to defend ourselves, flight attendants still do not receive mandatory training about how to effectively recognize and defend others against attacks aboard the aircraft.”

Josh and Nicole Sheffield, who drove down from their home in Nebraska to pick up arriving relatives at KCI, were not concerned about pocketknives on flights. Nicole Sheffield was more surprised to learn that things like hockey sticks and ski poles will be allowed.

“Where are they going to put all that sports equipment?” she asked. “People freak out now when you bring a guitar on board and try to find a place to put it.”

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