The US Transportation Security Administration’s plan to lift its ban of carry-on small knives, and sporting sticks is the right decision.
From April 25, airline passengers going through US airports will be allowed to take onboard small Swiss Army-type knives. This will bring US airport carry-on security rules in line with European Union rules. Certain sports equipment, such as lacrosse sticks, hockeysticks, pool cues, ski poles and up to two golfclubs, will also be permitted as carry-on.
This is a positive and overdue step toward establishing a set of security rules that are globally consistent; it also addresses an unnecessary irritant for the many passengers who rightly see no harm in traveling with these personal objects; and, most important, it allows screeners to focus on the highest priority threat—non-metallic explosive devices—that could bring down an aircraft.
It is understandable that some air transportation labor groups, US flight attendants in particular, have concerns about this move. And TSA administrator John Pistole certainly could have handled the messaging better, ensuring that airline labor groups were consulted and informed earlier. Pistole’s rule change announcement at the 22nd AVSEC World conference in New York seemed to take much of the US airline industry by surprise. Even when they make sense, regulatory surprises are best avoided.
But US Congressional reaction is lamentable, displaying both a lack of understanding of the issue and also a political grandstanding that has become a hallmark of Washington DC. Lawmakers have repeatedly chastised TSA for being overly bureaucratic and for failing to take measures to reduce passenger inconvenience. But many jumped on the “knock down the TSA” bandwagon as soon as the agency made a common sense move that the majority of passengers welcome. Some wanted a guarantee from Pistole that mentally disturbed or intoxicated passengers would not injure crew with the knives and sticks they will be allowed to carry onboard. This was an outrageous demand and Pistole was correct to point out that TSA’s charge is to keep terrorists off aircraft, not to screen out potentially disruptive passengers.
History has also shown that since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when the hijackers killed crew with box knives and blades that will remain banned, passengers are willing to be part of the solution when someone displays disruptive behavior onboard.
So instead of knocking TSA, the agency should be lauded for making some of the transitions that will make security stronger, more intelligence-based and help ease the flow of passenger screening.
Similarly, European Commission director for security and policy coordination Marjeta Jager should be commended for making clear at AVSEC that she is committed to phasing out the carry-on liquid restrictions, beginning with a move from January 2014 that would allow duty-free liquids to be transferred across flights. Jager said she also wants to see one-stop security screening for transatlantic transfer passengers. “We need to share a common vision and a common approach to security,” she said. “Common sense is what we need now.”
Sense and security are finally blending into a single mission.