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TSA delays lifting ban on knives on board

Published time: April 23, 2013 19:00
American Airlines and United Airlines flight attendants protest in front of Tom Bradley International terminal in opposition to the FAA's recent decision to start allowing small pocket knives back on board jetliners on April 1, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (AFP Photo / Kevork Djansezian)

American Airlines and United Airlines flight attendants protest in front of Tom Bradley International terminal in opposition to the FAA's recent decision to start allowing small pocket knives back on board jetliners on April 1, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (AFP Photo / Kevork Djansezian)

The TSA has had second thoughts about allowing pocketknives and golf clubs in carry-on baggage: the agency has delayed the implementation of a new policy that would serve as the greatest loosening of security since 9/11.

Last month, the agency announced that it would no longer confiscate pocketknives with blades shorter than 2.36 inches, golf clubs, ski poles and hockey sticks, and would instead focus its efforts on finding explosives. The agency confiscates about 2,000 pocketknives each day – a process that takes two to three minutes each at security checkpoints.

In his proposition, TSA Administrator John Pistole said that the new policy would allow security officers to concentrate on more serious threats, while also expediting the security process by shortening the amount of time spent confiscating items.

“A small pocketknife is simply not going to result in catastrophic failure of an aircraft,” Pistole said at a congressional hearing in March, addressing concerns that allowing knives on board could be dangerous.

The new policy was scheduled to take effect on April 25, but now the agency is having second thoughts about the change. The TSA has implemented a delay to accommodate feedback from an advisory committee consisting of law enforcement officials, aviation industry officials and consumers.  

The TSA called the delay ‘temporary’, but has not announced a new implementation date.

“In order to accommodate further input from the Aviation Security Advisory Committee, which includes representatives from the aviation community, passenger advocates, law enforcement experts, and other stakeholders, TSA will temporarily delay implementation of changes to the Prohibited Items List,” said a TSA spokesperson while announcing the delay Monday. “This timing will enable TSA to incorporate the ASAC’s feedback about the changes to the Prohibited Items List and continue workforce training.”

Handout image courtesy of the TSA shows the agency's guideline for small knives. (Reuters)

When the agency first announced the new policy in March, it faced significant backlash from labor unions representing flight attendants, which claimed that the changes would endanger their lives.

A coalition of unions representing 90,000 US flight attendants came together to rally their opposition to the security loosening, describing the TSA decision as “poor and shortsighted”.

“Knives were terrorists’ weapons of choice in bringing down four jetliners and murdering thousands of Americans,” the group said in a statement published Monday. “All knives should be banned from planes permanently.”

In the brief statement TSA published on its website, the agency did not explain why it decided to accommodate further input before implementing its policy. Some critics of the loosened rules, including international vice president of the Association of Flight Attendants Sara Nelson, believe the Boston Marathon bombing might have something to do with it.

“In the wake of the terrorist bombing in Boston last week… now is not the time to weaken transportation security,” Nelson told USA TODAY.

“Flight attendants are breathing a sigh of relief that the weapons that led to the deadliest attack on US soil in our nation’s history will not be allowed in the aircraft cabin this week,” she added.

TSA officials will now hear commentary on their policy before deciding whether or not knives, clubs and other athletic items that could be used as a weapon should be allowed on board.