The U.S. Transportation Security Administration has had plenty of growing pains since its inception just over a decade ago, but its policy change allowing small knives back on planes for the first time since the Sept. 11 attacks was easily its most hotly contested decision to date.
Officials had remained adamant that their decision was in the public’s best interest, but in an apparent about-face late Monday, TSA spokespeople confirmed that knives would, in fact, not be allowed back on planes this Thursday, as planned.
The TSA established a committee to review prohibited items last year, and, based on its conclusions, Administrator John S. Pistole announced last month that the agency would allow billiard cues, golf clubs, hockey and lacrosse sticks, ski poles, small novelty baseball bats, and small pocket knives with nonlocking blades smaller than 2.36 inches and less than ½ inch in width in carry-on luggage beginning April 25.
While there was little discussion of the sports gear, the knives met with a firestorm of criticism. Now, all the items will remain prohibited aboard flights for the time being.
“In order to accommodate further input from the Aviation Security Advisory Committee, or ASAC, which includes representatives from the aviation community, passenger advocates, law enforcement experts and other stakeholders, the TSA will temporarily delay implementation of changes to the Prohibited Items List, originally scheduled to go into effect April 25,” a spokesperson told the Los Angeles Times.
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“This timing will enable the TSA to incorporate the ASAC’s feedback about the change to the Prohibited Items List and continue workforce training.”
The spokesperson provided no time frame for how long the policy would be delayed.
Pistole, who has spent the last seven weeks defending the policy, had previously argued that allowing knives and other formerly prohibited items back on planes was part of a “layered approach to security” that would speed up checkpoints. In regard to complaints about a rise in so-called air rage that could escalate with knives, Pistole said it wasn’t the TSA’s job to “prevent disturbances by inebriated passengers,” noting there are already items aboard planes that can be used to harm someone, from knives and forks to wine glasses and bottles.
Pistole also said the changes would put the U.S. more in line with international standards, but the news did not go over well with people in the airline industry, who saw little difference between the box cutters used to hijack four jetliners in the 9/11 attacks and small pocket knives.
Many senior union leaders complained that Pistole did not seek their opinions before announcing the policy changes.
At the forefront of the movement against the knives were the flight attendant unions, who cautiously welcomed the TSA’s decision Monday.
“Like any agency, before TSA changes a rule, it is legally required to issue a notice of rule-making, to allow all interested parties the opportunity to submit comments, and to fairly consider that input,” the 90,000-member Flight Attendants Union Coalition said Monday. “If those procedures are followed, we have no doubt that the administrator will conclude that knives have no place on our planes and will leave the rule barring ‘weapons’ in place.”
The coalition said it remained resolute in its stance: “No Knives on Planes Ever Again.”
“The United States has banned all knives from commercial flights since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks for good reason: Knives were the terrorists' weapons of choice in bringing down four jetliners and murdering thousands of Americans,” it said. “If the TSA wishes to explore a drastic departure from this logical, 11-year-old policy, it must comply with the rule-making requirements that it should have observed when it first announced its decision to allow knives on planes on March 5.”
The coalition is working with members of Congress, including Reps. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., as well as Sens. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, on legislation to permanently keep knives off planes.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, there have been no incidents in which a terrorist has successfully used a sharp object to take control of a plane, something lawmakers have said shows that the current policy of keeping even small knives off aircraft is working.
“We live in a post-9/11 world, and there is no excuse to take liberties when it comes to public safety,” Grimm stated last month. “As a former federal law enforcement officer, I know firsthand that even a two-inch blade can cause very serious harm when used by a trained individual.
“There is no place for a knife in an airplane cabin.”