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TSA: No small knives on planes

Jun. 8, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
By BART JANSEN   |   Comments

Flight attendants, law enforcement officers and lawmakers welcomed the Transportation Security Administration decision Wednesday not to allow small knives back in carry-on luggage.

TSA Administrator John Pistole had proposed allowing small knives and some sporting equipment on planes for the first time since the hijackings on Sept. 11, 2001, so that luggage screeners could concentrate on finding bombs that could bring down planes. He argued that knives were no significant threat because cockpit doors are locked now.

But his announcement March 5 sparked a firestorm of protest from crew members and passengers worried about their safety. Pistole reversed himself Wednesday and dropped the proposal, so that TSA could pursue his strategy of focusing the most intense scrutiny on the riskiest travelers. “We will continue to take steps to improve our ever-evolving security posture while also improving the experience of the traveling public,” Pistole said.

The 90,000-member Coalition of Flight Attendant Unions was a major opponent to the change, holding rallies and lobbying lawmakers with the memory of 9/11.

“Never again should passengers or crew face a knife in the aircraft cabin,” said Sara Nelson, international vice president of the Association of Flight Attendants. “The rule is common sense: No knives on planes.”

Jon Adler, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, which represents air marshals, commended Pistole’s decision. But he said the agency needs to devote resources to training officers to detect contraband, and Congress needs to provide funding for it.

Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the top Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee, said Pistole reached a reasonable decision after listening to experts in the field.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said the “decision will allow TSA agents to focus on more important things than measuring the length of knives and sorting the good knives from the bad.”

Pistole had proposed allowing knives with blades up to 2.36 inches long, as well as golf clubs and hockey and lacrosse sticks. He postponed the change before it was to take effect to better gauge reaction.

Pistole said TSA is good at finding small knives, detecting 2,000 a day, but that screeners will still focus on finding non-metallic explosives. He said the agency will focus on expediting screening for known travelers through programs such as Pre-check.

Bart Jansen reports for USA Today.

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