- March 6, 2013, 1:00 PM
By Scott McCartney
Is there actually logic in TSA’s latest move? Yes, and that’s apparently unsettling to some.
The Transportation Security Administration announced that on April 25 it would lift the ban on carrying aboard certain items such as very small knives, hockey sticks, golf clubs, toy bats, billiard cues and ski poles. Any knife wider than a half-inch or with a blade longer than 6 centimeters (2.36 inches) will still be prohibited, along with box cutters.
The move makes logical sense and brings the United States into closer alignment with international security standards. Since hardened, locked cockpit doors were installed and pilots were instructed to stay behind locked doors when trouble surfaces, it seems impossible someone could hijack a plane with a small Swiss Army knife or hockey stick. If there’s an assault in the cabin, the plane lands and police and the FBI deal with an attacker.
The changes reflect the logic that TSA Administrator John Pistole, a former senior FBI official, has been trying to bring to our often-confounding airport-security regime. Mr. Pistole has launched a trusted traveler program, eased up on children and the elderly, tried to make screening better for flight crews and active-duty military and attempted to improve training of TSA agents.
Sure, under his watch TSA has continued to have some outrageous episodes, including harassment of travelers and inconsistently misapplied rules. Theft from TSA-inspected baggage remains an issue. Travelers still complain about invasive pat-downs and aggressive officers; security experts still question the effectiveness of programs such as having officers wander airports trying to detect nervous behavior and spot bad guys before they get to screening checkpoints.
But the reaction to the easing of rules seems like knee-jerk derision of TSA. For years security experts have criticized TSA for its laundry list of seemingly nonsensical prohibited items. And now that it is trying to clean up the list and comply with International Civil Aviation Organization standards, flight attendant unions quickly complained that the relaxation of rules on small knifes and golf clubs exposed cabin crews to dangers and made airline flights less safe. Some even complained relaxing prohibitions would add to over-stuffing of carry-on luggage bins.
The airplane cabin is a stressful place and “air rage” does happen—it’s a serious concern for flight attendants. But TSA’s job is to prevent planes from being destroyed or commandeered as weapons. The agency needs to be focusing on bombs and guns, not pocketknives. We don’t ban pocketknives or pool cues from other public settings, nor do we make travelers check their metal pens or knitting needles or paperweights or any number of items that could become a weapon.
TSA confiscates thousands and thousands of pocketknives and gives them to states to sell off by the pound as surplus property. Children’s toys and fancy golf clubs are among the merchandise available for sale. Walk into a state surplus store and realize how silly some of the TSA rules have been. The more airport security can get to focusing on real threats, the better for travelers.