Posted March 13, 2013

Airline Employees, Politicians Sticking It To TSA's New Knife Allowance

Politicians, airline officials and others continue to take stabs at the U.S. Transportation Security Administration's revised policy that as of April 25 would allow small knives on commercial aircraft.

In a letter to TSA administrator John Pistole, Delta CEO Richard Anderson wrote: "We have consulted with our flight attendant group and we share their legitimate concerns regarding this decision. ... If the purpose is to increase security checkpoint flow, there are much more effective steps we can take together to streamline the security checkpoints with risk-based screening mechanisms."

Delta is not the only airline expressing concerns. Will Ris, senior vice president of government and regulatory affairs for American Airlines, also wrote to Pistole and stated that while the airline has and will "adhere fully" to TSA policies, it also believes that input from airline officials, pilots and flight attendants "would have been valuable to help determine the most useful and appropriate revisions."

Many flight attendants have made their trepidation clear. The Association of Flight Attendants, for example, is circulating an online "no knives on planes" petition, which reads in part: "There's no excuse for reversal on the policy to ban knives from the aircraft cabin. Multi-layered security, including prohibition of items that could pose a threat, ensures U.S. aviation is the safest in the world. The ban on dangerous objects is an integral layer in aviation security."

"This isn't a commonsense approach to aviation security," added an AFA spokesperson. "If these [knives] were not considered weapons, they would be allowed into federal office buildings and the White House, but they are not. These are items that are often on prohibited items lists due to the fact that they can be used as weapons."

But a TSA official said that a small knife is not a "weapon to cause catastrophic damage to the aircraft." The official added that TSA intelligence "affirms the real risk to aviation security is improvised explosive devices." Allowing passengers to board with small knives—those with non-locking blades, shorter than 2.36 inches and less than a half-inch in width—will permit security agents "more quality time" to screen for those explosive devices.

But like many in the airline industry, concerns abound in the minds of politicians.

In a letter to Pistole dated March 9, Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) suggested the new policy should not fly. "The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, demonstrated that in the confined environment of an airplane, even a small blade in the hands of a terrorist can lead to disaster," he wrote. Reinforced cockpit doors, Markey added, "do nothing to protect the lives of the passengers and flight attendants in the main cabin."

Safety seemingly is not a partisan issue. On MSNBC's "Andrea Mitchell Reports," Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) said, "There is some rationale to what [Pistole] was trying to do. By taking things like pocketknives off the table, if you will, they could focus more on other devices and instruments they may feel are more lethal. In view of the fact that the professionals who are going to be on the flights are concerned, I think that John Pistole should go back and look at [the new policy] again." 

Posted by: Holly Leber | More by Holly Leber

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