What does it take to keep airline passengers safe from terrorists? No one can agree, except on one thing: Whatever the Transportation Security Administration decides must be wrong.
Last week, the folks who brought you full-body scans and snow-globe bans decided that small knives and some sports equipment are not threats to safety and can be carried onboard during flights. They’ve taken a beating from pilots, flight attendants, law enforcement officials, and even airline executives ever since.
The TSA approved folding knives with blades no longer than 2.36 inches and no wider than a half-inch. It said yes to hockey and lacrosse sticks, novelty baseball bats shorter than 24 inches, toy plastic bats, ski poles, pool cues, and golf clubs.
The backlash was immediate. The head of the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations railed against “the removal of any layer of security.” Richard Anderson, Delta Air Lines’ chief executive officer, said speeding up TSA screening lines a little wasn’t worth the added risk.
A former flight attendant told CNN that pilots may be safe behind their cockpit door, but attendants and passengers still could be injured. She said that passengers with pocket knives would reignite the grief and fear that followed 9/11.
TSA officials say they want to bring U.S. regulations in line with rules overseas. Opponents counter that America is the main terror target, so we shouldn’t follow the same rules as other countries.
TSA Administrator John Pistole said that agents at Los Angeles International Airport confiscate an average of 47 knives a day. Repeat that scenario at airports across America, and you have hundreds of daily arguments between screeners and passengers who don’t want to try to find their luggage, store the offending item, and go through security again. Redefining a dangerous weapon will eliminate some of those arguments.
Almost anything can be made into a weapon. A field hockey stick may not beat down a cockpit door, but it could crush the skull of a flight attendant.
Still, in the nearly eight years since nail files, knitting needles, small scissors, and similar items were again allowed onboard, there hasn’t been an incident involving them.
Screwdrivers, wrenches, and pliers less than 7 inches long have been OK for years. But which is more dangerous, a 6-inch screwdriver or a 2-inch penknife? That question should not have to be fought over by the TSA, law enforcement officials, and flight attendants.
Americans want to be safe from terror. We also want to be inconvenienced as little as possible, and preferably not at all. We want airport screening, but complain about a police state when an inept agent takes a stuffed toy from a small child.
Terrorists wielding knitting needles haven’t tried to take over any commercial airliners. They aren’t going to try it with 2-inch knives, either.
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