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

by Ned Levi on April 29, 2013

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

Early in March, TSA announced significant changes in its prohibited list, specifically to permit previously prohibited items to be taken into airplane cabins. The changes to the prohibited list were to take place just a few days ago, but after many in the air travel industry, including flight attendants, airline executives and others, strongly objected to the changes, they were postponed, pending further review.

In my column, Pocket knives, golf clubs, hockey sticks and TSA: Another viewpoint I wrote about TSA’s rule changes.

Last Tuesday TSA announced, “In order to accommodate further input from the Aviation Security Advisory Committee (ASAC), 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, originally scheduled to go into effect April 25…”

TSA needs to do more than consider industry input, passenger advocates and law enforcement experts. TSA needs to examine its rules changes using a little commonsense, then drop the changes all together.

TSA stated the following concerning the changes, “This decision aligns TSA more closely with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards.”

I don’t understand why TSA needs to align itself with the poor decisions of other countries’ security agencies. TSA should make decisions which are best for the safety and security of citizens of the United States, regardless of what other countries are doing.

• Under the new TSA policy which has been postponed, “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.”

There is no doubt that passengers and crew, if attacked with a typical box cutter’s very sharp 1” blade, can be seriously hurt, but passengers and crew can also be seriously injured by pocket knife blades which stick out from their handle twice as far, especially if they have partially serrated blades. Not only can those pocket knives be used to slash like box cutters, they can be more effective than box cutters when used to stab.

It makes no sense to permit a more dangerous blade while continuing the box cutter ban.

• As part of their justification for permitting short pocket knives in airplane cabins, TSA stated the following: “This is part of an overall Risk-Based Security approach, which allows Transportation Security Officers to better focus their efforts on finding higher threat items such as explosives.”

It is certainly true that explosives of the right type and quantity can destroy or crash airplanes and are therefore more dangerous than a few pocket knives on an airplane, but permitting some small knives and not others will make carry-on and passenger screening even more difficult than it is already at airport checkpoints.

Today, TSA TSOs (Transportation Security Officers) merely have to identify if a passenger is trying to bring a knife, any knife, into a plane’s cabin. If the new rules go into effect, TSOs will have to differentiate between knives of different blade lengths and types. The additional screening needed could become a nightmare for TSOs. Irrate passengers with knives they insist comply with TSA rules, will demand TSOs measure and examine their blades, rather than have them confiscated or discarded.

The unintended consequences of this rule change could cause lines to snake through TSA checkpoints far longer than ever before.

• Under the new TSA rules, passengers can bring hockey sticks into airplane cabins. The National Hockey League (NHL) understands the serious injury a hockey stick can inflict if used to spear, slash, or swing like a bat. As a result, they penalize such uses of hockey sticks extremely seriously, including for some players having lengthy suspensions.

Apparently, TSA doesn’t think hockey sticks could be used as dangerous weapons in airplanes. I invite them to speak to NHL referees and players.

• Under the new TSA rules, passengers can also bring ski poles, lacrosse sticks, billiard cues, and two golf clubs. There is no doubt that these items can be used as potent weapons on board a plane, too. People have been bludgeoned to death with a golf club, for example.

Just as important, these sports items are long and don’t fit well into the overhead bins of airplanes. Boarding is already taking far too long in planes these days. Couple these sport poles and sticks with passengers using more “oversized” carry-ons than ever before and airlines, in my experience, generally not enforcing carry-on luggage rules, packing carry-ons in the overhead bins in planes will make boarding take longer and longer, and more and more carry-ons with important valuables and belongings will have to be gate checked.

TSA management needs to use their collective commonsense and admit their prohibited item list changes were a serious mistake. TSA needs to totally drop the changes for the good of air passengers and airline crews.

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  • KCFluff

    Here is the fallacy in your argument: “TSA management needs to use their collective commonsense…”

  • James Penrose

    God what a hysterical set of ninny fears. You can beat someone to death with a well-made umbrella and those are allowed. You can do horrible things with a sturdy ball point pen up to killing someone nastily. An ordinary leather and metal belt is quite useful in hurting people if you are so inclined, probably a lot more so in a confined space like an aircraft interior where there’s hardly room to swing a hockey stick in the first place.

    Get the basic point: *Anything* can be a weapon. It’s the wielder that is the threat, not the weapon.

    I’m only moderately skilled but I know ways to kill bare-handed. If it comes down to it, you can beat someone to death with your fists.

    The goal was never to make planes a totally weapon free zone (you can’t). The goal was to prevent or at least make it harder, for someone to bring down an entire airplane or hijack one. Hijacking can’t happen now and the likelihood of mass murder in flight by a knife wielding nut is the same as it ever was: Almost zero.

    Better stay of buses and trains, they don’t screen for weapons at all and you can see from the dozens of murders that occur on city buses every day what a horror those are. (Irony off)

  • BobChi

    I don’t buy it. The point of the proposed changes was that TSA wants to focus its efforts on things that could really be a threat to flights, not on every little item that could conceivably sometime somewhere hurt someone. If a person is out to make an attack with a pocket knife he hardly has to board an aircraft to do so, and on an aircraft he would be certain not to get away with it. The TSA needs to be looking for bombs, not to protect every single flyer from every minuscule risk.

  • traveler

    I actually scrolled back up to make sure Chris hadn’t written this piece of drivel.

    Let me tell you what happened in Atlanta last week: I read the part about pocketknives now being allowed, and heading to Asia with a chopstick challenged older person, I bought two $4 sets of camping silverware at WalMart- the metal fold up kind that does indeed, have a knife on it. I went through hell in Atlanta over it, even after pointing out the new rule changes and gave them no hassle about giving them up. The TSA agent went to such great lengths to tell me what a bad security risk it was, blah blah. Then I got to China and had my hand luggage searched on the connecting flight. Why? Because after all that bluster in Atlanta, the TSA agent threw away the segment that had the fork and spoon and left the pocketknife portion in my carryon.
    Second, the comment about the increased number of carryon bags. Yes. Everyone is carrying on now after a $25 baggage check fee. You’re a fool to pay those fees. Carry on, my friend.

  • bookworm 47

    I agree with most of the comments – I do not believe that the “prohibited” items are any more dangerous that items we can carry on board. I hope TSA doesn’t back down ultimately and that they also change the “liquids” restriction.

  • NedLevi

    If you’re going to call the article drivel, at least get the points straight. I didn’t talk about the increased number of carry-on bags, I spoke about, “more “oversized” carry-ons.” The percentage of bags which must be turned sideways, thus taking the room of two carry-on bags which meet the max size requirements has significantly risen in the last year on US domestic flights, based on my experience. Couple that with allowing these unnecessary sporting bats, sticks and poles, and that means more and more passengers boarding at the end of the process won’t be able to bring their carry-ons aboard, even if legitimately sized.

    As to TSA stupidity, and slipshod work, that’s been par for the course since they were created.

  • NedLevi

    The trouble is, do you really think they will be able to focus better on explosives by allowing some pocket knives and not others, by continuing to ban box cutters, by allowing only small containers of shampoo, by allowing only small tubes of toothpaste, not even medium tubes, by allowing chicken sandwiches, but not if you want to have mayonnaise on it. If anything, the proposed pocket knife rule will cause TSA TSOs to have to look even more closely for stupid little items which won’t bring down a plane.

    Moreover, the inconsistency of the new rules are amazing, even for TSA.

  • NedLevi

    I guess you missed the point that by making these inconsistent, difficult to judge, hard to enforce rules about pocket knives, which will likely engender more arguments and angst at TSA airport security checkpoints, than we have now, will likely result in longer lines, and more wasted time and for what.

    I guess you missed the point that by permitting these oversized poles, sticks and clubs it will make overhead bins even harder to use than today, and cause boarding time to increase even more than today.

    Moreover, while TSA was not out to ensure there was nothing in the cabin which could be used as a weapon, there is still no need to have hockey and lacrosse sticks, gold clubs, and ski poles in the cabin. It’s downside far exceeds it’s potential upside.

  • http://tsanewsblog.com/10061/news/tsa-finally-holding-long-overdue-public-comment-period-on-scanners/ Lisa Simeone

    I’m so glad I don’t fly in this country anymore. Can’t wait to move out for good.

  • NedLevi

    LS, you’re certainly entitled to your opinion, and I’m not going to defend TSA for even a second, but I’ve traveled in 6 of the 7 continents in the last couple of years, and in my experience the security agencies throughout most of the world are just as bad as TSA, and some are worse and far less professional. It’s a very sad fact.

  • http://tsanewsblog.com/10061/news/tsa-finally-holding-long-overdue-public-comment-period-on-scanners/ Lisa Simeone

    I, too, have traveled all over the world, and my experience is very different. Regardless, other countries laugh at us. They laugh at our so-called security procedures. As well they should.

    And the fact that the tourist industry in this country is suffering and has complained to Janet Napolitano about it bears me out.

    I’m boarding the QM2 in a few days (I stopped flying in 2010, just before the Reign of Molestation was implemented) and can’t wait. After we disembark in the UK, we’re flying to France, then eventually flying back home. And no abusive, moronic, power-tripping TSA thugs to deal with.

  • BobChi

    Chris would have taken a very different point of view. Indeed a debate between Chris and Ned would be interesting to read.

  • BobChi

    Different people may have different experiencies, but I travel internationally quite a bit. The pattern for me has been much more efficient, courteous and rational (frequently no liquids or shoes issues) security when traveling outside the country, then when it comes time to board the flight back to the U.S., the full-court harassment is on again. I asked one agent why the security procedures for my flight home were so much more intense and time consuming than for flights within the region and she told me directly, “It’s at the orders of the U.S. government.”

  • http://tsanewsblog.com/10061/news/tsa-finally-holding-long-overdue-public-comment-period-on-scanners/ Lisa Simeone

    Bob, true. I experienced this in Mexico in February 2010, and the Mexican agents were very apologetic. They kept sighing and telling us, “Sorry, sorry, the U.S. makes us do this” as they were going through our bags a 2nd time. But there was no groping and no bullying, harassing, detaining, or other abuse, all of which the TSA is adept at.

    I know we’ll face more scrutiny when we leave France, but I also know it won’t be the sack of sh*t that would get dumped on us in the USA.

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