WASHINGTON – The Transportation Security Administration is abandoning a plan to allow passengers to carry small knives, souvenir bats, golf clubs and other sports equipment onto planes in the face of fierce congressional and industry opposition, the head of the agency said Wednesday.
TSA Administrator John Pistole had unveiled the proposal to loosen the rules for carry-ons in March, saying the knives and other items can’t enable terrorists to cause a plane to crash. He said intercepting them takes time that would be better used searching for explosives and other more serious threats. TSA screeners confiscate over 2,000 of the small folding knives a day from passengers.
Skeptical lawmakers, airlines, labor unions and some law enforcement groups complained that the knives and other items in the hands of the wrong passengers could be used to injure or even kill passengers and crew.
Just days before the TSA planned to lift the ban April 25, Pistole temporarily delayed the action, saying he wanted to consider the comments and concerns of a security panel made up of pilots, flight attendants and other airline workers.
Last month 145 House members signed a letter to Pistole asking him to keep in place the current policy prohibiting passengers from including the knives and other items in their carry-on bags. Flight attendant unions organized protests in Washington and at airports across the country. And Airlines for America, which represents major U.S. airlines, as well as top executives from some of the nation’s largest airlines, came out against the plan.
“After getting the input from all these different constituents, I realized there was not across-the-board support that would serve us well in moving forward,” Pistole said. By dispensing with the controversial proposal, he said the agency can focus on programs to identify the greatest security threats.
“It is a recognition that, yes, these items could be used as weapons, but I want our folks to focus on those things that, again, are the most concern given the current intelligence,” he said.
The proposal would have permitted folding knives with blades that are 2.36 inches or less in length and are less than 1/2 inch wide. The aim was to allow passengers to carry pen knives, corkscrews with small blades and other knives.
Passengers also would have been allowed to bring onboard novelty-sized baseball bats less than 24 inches long, toy plastic bats, billiard cues, ski poles, hockey sticks, lacrosse sticks and two golf clubs.
It’s unlikely in these days of hardened cockpit doors, armed off-duty pilots traveling on planes and other preventive measures that the small folding knives could be used by terrorists to take over a plane, Pistole told Congress at a March hearing.