TSA rule change unpopular with flight crews

Posted: March 08, 2013

You still can't carry a bottle of water through security, and those three-ounce liquids and gels must be in a see-through, quart-size bag, so why allow pocket knives?

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration says that beginning April 25, it will allow small knives, golf clubs, ski poles, toy baseball bats, and other previously forbidden items on flights in the United States.

The announcement drew immediate criticism from flight attendants and pilots. The union representing 8,000 American Airlines pilots said the changes "represent a significant step backward in aviation security."

Passengers arriving and catching flights at Philadelphia International Airport Wednesday had reactions varying from it's a bad idea and dangerous, to agreement with the new policy because they own pocket knives they can now carry, and calls for abolishing the TSA and using the millions spent on airport security differently.

The TSA's position is that small knives and sports equipment are not going to bring an airplane down. Explosives will. That principle seems to be at the heart of the new regulations.

The agency, created after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, says the change conforms with international security standards, and allows TSA screeners to focus on finding "higher threat items."

"The mission of TSA is to prevent a catastrophic incident onboard the airplane - using the airplane as a weapon, overtaking it, and flying it into the ground or into a building," said spokesman David Castelveter. "That's why TSA was started. The residual benefit of all the screening is there is some protection to passengers on board the airplane from unruly passengers."

There are security measures on airplanes today that are meant to better protect the flying public: bulletproof cockpit doors that are kept locked at all times, armed pilots who have been through federal flight-deck training and carry guns, onboard federal air marshals, and flight attendants with voluntary self-defense training.

The reason for the ban on liquids and gels is that they can be used to detonate an explosive device, Castelveter said.

Passengers have had to take off their shoes at security stations ever since Richard Reid tried to detonate a bomb in a shoe while en route from Paris to Miami in 2002. Passengers and crew subdued him before the concealed explosive material could fully ignite.

TSA screens 1.8 million passengers and their luggage every day. Annually, passengers abandon 750,000 prohibited items at security checkpoints.

At large airports such as Los Angeles, Dulles, and Philadelphia, security screeners confiscate 850 pounds of banned items monthly. More than 400 pounds of that are small knives, TSA said.

An average of 47 small knives were confiscated in Los Angeles and 35 knives at Dulles each day during the last three months of 2012, the agency reported. By not searching for and requesting that those items be surrendered, the screening process will speed up, TSA said.

Flight crews aren't buying it.

"Allowing items on board that appear to be a threat to the safety of our passengers and crew is of great concern to us," said Dennis Tajer, spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association.

Pilots and flight attendants say they were blindsided by the policy change, not consulted before it was announced Tuesday.

"We are doing everything possible to ensure that there is no repeat of Sept. 11," Tajer said. "We take very seriously the safety of our crew behind the door and our passengers. Anything that compromises that, we won't tolerate. Allowing knives does not make sense to us."

Capt. James Ray, spokesman for 4,000 US Airways pilots, said, "We cannot support any policy that compromises the safety of our passengers. Pilots have a bulletproof door that stands between us and the passengers. The flight attendants have nothing."

Passengers had different reactions to the new policy that allows for souvenir baseball bats, lacrosse and hockey sticks, billiard cues, and ski poles to be part of carry-on baggage instead of being checked. Box cutters, razor blades, and knives that do not fold or have molded-grip handles will still be banned.

"They have a good thing going. People are complying with it, so why change?" said Joe Fluehr, of Richboro, returning from vacation in Naples, Fla., with his wife, Chris.

Jeff Brown of Blue Bell was heading to Chicago, but his flight was canceled because of weather. "I think it's ridiculous," he said. "There's no reason anybody needs a knife on the plane. It was box cutters that the hijackers used before, and those things only have tiny little blades."

Laurel Johns, who was flying home to Columbus, Ohio, was happy with the new policy that permits folding knives with blades that are 2.36 inches or less in length and are less than one-half-inch wide.

"I usually carry a little pocket knife with me, and I haven't been able to carry it," she said. "It has a little nail file and scissors. It's kind of nice to have a pocket knife. To cut tags off, things like that."

Donna Sias of Warminster, whose flight to St. Louis was delayed, said, "I consider a pencil more dangerous than a lot of scissors. They're making it a little more convenient, because I do like to travel with a few tools for emergencies. I used to carry a pocket knife."

Cherry Hill native Keith Winn, heading home to Tampa, Fla., had a suggestion: Eliminate the TSA.

"It sucks billions of dollars out of our economy that could help sick people and starving people, and does absolutely nothing to increase security," he said.

"I think they should get rid of all the rules. It does absolutely nothing other than hassle and delay people, and make people feel good. They confiscate tweezers, scissors, baseball bats," Winn said. "We traveled with those for 50 years and never had a single problem."

What can you take on a plane? See a photo gallery at www.philly.com/allowed

Contact Linda Loyd at 215-854-2831 or lloyd@phillynews.com.

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