Pocket knives, golf clubs, hockey sticks and TSA: Another viewpoint

by Ned Levi on March 18, 2013

TSA in action. Photo by Dan Paluska http://www.flickr.com/photos/sixmilliondollardan/

Most every traveler, even infrequent vacationers, have likely heard of the new TSA policy which will permit small pocket knives, golf clubs, hockey sticks and other previously banned items to be taken into airplane cabins.

Since the announcement of the new policy, we’ve heard angry protests from the aviation industry, flight crew associations, law enforcement officials and members of the flying public.

They’re strenuously complaining about the dangers of pocket knives in the cabin, but unfortunately, in my opinion, they aren’t discussing nearly enough the other policy changes and their unintended consequences.

Delta Air Lines’ CEO Richard Anderson complained that the decision adds little value to passengers and increases safety risks, saying, “We continue to support a risk-based approach to security, however, we must object to the agency decision to allow small knives in the aircraft cabin.”

Veda Shook, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, stated, “We believe that bringing countless knives on board increases risk. Safety and security does not stop at the flight deck door. It’s not just about the ability to take down an airplane or use the airplane as a weapon of mass destruction as happened on 9/11. It’s about the ability to protect the entire airplane, including the aircraft cabin and all the passengers on board.”

Under the new TSA policy, “Small knives with non-locking blades smaller than 2.36” and less than 1/2 inch in width will be permitted,” however, “box cutters will remain prohibited in carry-on luggage.”

I have a typical box cutter in my office. Its very sharp blade sticks out 1” from its handle, yet I have no doubt my pocket knife, with a partially serrated 2.25” blade, is just as sharp and likely more dangerous than any box cutter, and it will be permitted in planes’ cabins, while the box cutter will remain banned.

There’s another way to look at the pocket knife ban — time consuming. How TSA Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) at airport checkpoints will enforce the new pocket knife rule which is dependent on the length of the knife’s blade.

A quick search at Amazon for small pocket knives got 273 results. The vast majority of those knives had blades which were either just a little longer or shorter than 2.36” standard.

If a TSO sees a pocket knife in a carry-on bag or bin via x-ray, are they going to pull each one out and measure it, to be certain it’s just 2.36” long, or are they going to let many oversized pocket knives through? Can you imagine how long the security lines might get if TSOs decide to measure those knives?

TSA says their decision aligns the Agency more closely with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards.

How can the rationale that we’re only duplicating the poor decisions of other countries make any sense whatsoever?

Stacy K. Martin, president of the Transport Workers Union’s Local 556 representing Southwest Airlines flight attendants, said, “a passenger wielding a small knife or swinging a golf club or hockey stick … are real threats to passengers and flight attendants in the passenger cabin.”

Association of Professional Flight Attendants safety and security coordinator Kelly Skyles raised the question of where passengers will put the larger items like golf clubs in planes’ cabins.

These are important points, and missing from most of the discussion about the new TSA policy.

I don’t understand why the aviation industry, flight crew associations, law enforcement officials and members of the flying public aren’t as upset about the other changes in the TSA Prohibited Items list.

Forget for a moment that ski poles can be used as spears, or that getting “wacked” in the head with a golf club, hockey stick, lacrosse stick or billiard cue can kill you, or even that a swinging novelty bat can crush your windpipe or knock you out.

I flew to Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago in an Airbus A321. It took 45 minutes to get the plane fully boarded. The last 15 passengers or so had to gate check their carry-ons because there was no room in the overhead bins. Flying home the following week, it was the same story. Boarding seems to take forever these days; the last passengers to board often seem to have no room for their carry-ons.

On almost all my flights in the last couple of years, especially since many airlines have instituted checked luggage fees, boarding has taken more and more time. More passengers than ever have to gate check carry-on bags.

Coupled with more passengers using “oversized” carry-ons than ever before and airlines, in my experience, generally not enforcing carry-on luggage rules, with golf clubs, hockey sticks, ski poles, lacrosse sticks and billiard cues allowed in the cabin, boarding will get worse. More and more carry-ons will have to be gate checked.

If TSA won’t reverse its policy on these other items, then maybe the airlines should ban bats, ski poles, hockey sticks, lacrosse sticks, billiard cues and golf clubs from being brought into their aircrafts’ cabins. Considering the size of these items, the ban shouldn’t be particularly hard to enforce themselves, if they can’t get TSA cooperation.

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  • Alex

    It’s a typical reactionary response. People automatically think knives = danger.

    But think about it, the hijacking scenario carried out on 9/11 is no longer possible. Anyone who tries to take control of a plane will likely be beaten to death within minutes, knife or no knife. Why? Because when people think hijacking, they’re no longer thinking “oh, they’ll just fly to Cuba and let us go”, they think they’re getting flown into a building.

    Did we have an epidemic of stabbings on airplanes back in the days when knives were allowed? I highly doubt it.

  • James

    As Ned pointed out, it’s not about the threat of hijacking. There have been more incidents of “air rage”. While the average traveler has a small chance of being the victim of a drunken or psychotic outburst, flight attendants operate at a much higher level of risk.
    As far as the rest of the junk, hockey sticks, ski poles, billiard cues, whatever, those items belong in the checked baggage just because of the space issue and the hassle of properly storing them.

  • MeanMeosh

    I will throw out an alternative viewpoint arguing that the knife issue isn’t the big deal some make it out to be. Yes, a disturbed passenger committing an act of air rage can cause serious injury, even death, to another passenger or FA with a knife. But if I became enraged and wanted to attack another passenger or an FA, I could do some pretty serious just by punching them with my fists, or grabbing them and putting them in a head-lock or some other similar kind of physical restraint. Heck, even a pencil or pen can be used to stab someone, and cause significant injury. You don’t need a knife, in other words.

    The hockey sticks, golf clubs, cue sticks, etc. bother me, but for a different reason. I don’t really see a hockey stick as a serious threat in the cabin. These would have to be stored in an overhead bin; just think for a second how hard it would be to first retrieve it from the bin, and then swing one with enough force to cause serious injury in a narrow airplane aisle. Remember that the force in any kind of swing is generated by being able to extend your arms as far as possible; you aren’t going to get much extension in an aisle without your elbows bumping into something else first, so I suspect the force would be about equal to trying to swat your seatmate in the head with a book or purse or something (in other words – you already face the same theoretical danger today). In any event, you might get off one swing before getting subdued by other passengers and/or an FA. The major problem I see is additional clogging of already precious bin space. Can you imagine the additional fighting between passengers, with FAs caught in the middle, when they have to tell someone that they have to check their carry-on because hockey sticks and golf clubs are occupying the bin space?

  • Alex

    But my point is we used to allow knives on planes for decades before 9/11, and we didn’t have people getting stabbed left and right.

  • mjhooper

    Passengers flying from smaller airport already often have to check their carryon bags…no big deal….
    I wonder how many sticks and clubs will be carried in the cabin on any given day. Doesn’t seem like much of a big deal to me.

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  • Pingback: TSA needs to drop, not postpone their changes to the prohibited items list

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