Feds delay policy to allow small knives on planes

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Knives of all sizes and types are piled, among the items discarded at security checkpoints (AP Photo)

Knives of all sizes and types are piled, among the items discarded at security checkpoints (AP Photo)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Airline passengers will have to leave their knives at home after all. And their bats and golf clubs.

A policy change scheduled to go into effect this week that would have allowed passengers to carry small knives, bats and other sports equipment onto airliners will be delayed, federal officials said Monday.

The delay is necessary to accommodate feedback from an advisory committee made up of aviation industry, consumer, and law enforcement officials, the Transportation Security Administration said in a brief statement. The statement said the delay is temporary, but gave no indication how long it might be.

TSA Administrator John Pistole proposed the policy change last month, saying it would free up the agency to concentrate on protecting against greater threats. TSA screeners confiscate about 2,000 small folding knives from passengers every day.

The proposal immediately drew fierce opposition from flight attendant unions and federal air marshals, who said the knives can be dangerous in the hands of the wrong passengers. Some airlines and members of Congress also urged TSA to reconsider its position.

The delay announced by TSA doesn’t go far enough, a coalition of unions representing 90,000 flight attendants nationwide said Monday.

“All knives should be banned from planes permanently,” the group said in a statement.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who opposed the policy, said TSA’s decision is an admission “that permitting knives on planes is a bad idea.” He also called for a permanent ban.

Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., another opponent, said he will continue to push TSA to drop the proposal entirely.

“People with radical ideas can use everyday objects to cause great harm,” Markey said. “If there is an opportunity to decrease risks to Americans, we have a duty to protect our citizens and disallow knives from being taken onto planes.”

The proposed policy would have permitted folding knives with blades that are 2.36 inches (6 centimeters) or less in length and are less than 1/2-inch (1-centimeter) wide. The policy was aimed at allowing passengers to carry pen knives, corkscrews with small blades and other small knives.

Passengers also would have been be allowed to bring onboard as part of their carry-on luggage novelty-sized baseball bats less than 24 inches long, toy plastic bats, billiard cues, ski poles, hockey sticks, lacrosse sticks and two golf clubs, the agency said.

Security standards adopted by the International Civil Aviation Organization, a U.N. agency, already call for passengers to be able to carry those items. Those standards are non-binding, but many countries follow them.

The proposal didn’t affect box cutters, razor blades and knives that don’t fold or that have molded grip handles, which are prohibited.

Passengers were prohibited from carrying the small knives onboard planes after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Some of the terrorists in those attacks used box cutters to intimidate passengers and airline crew members.

It’s unlikely in these days of hardened cockpit doors and other preventative measures that the small folding knives could be used by terrorists to take over a plane, Pistole told Congress last month.

There has been a gradual easing of some of the security measures applied to passengers after the 9/11 attacks. In 2005, the TSA changed its policies to allow passengers to carry on airplanes small scissors, knitting needles, tweezers, nail clippers and up to four books of matches. The move came as the agency turned its focus toward keeping explosives off planes, because intelligence officials believed that was the greatest threat to commercial aviation.

And in September 2011, the TSA no longer required children 12 years old and under to remove their shoes at airport checkpoints. The agency recently issued new guidelines for travelers 75 and older so they can avoid removing shoes and light jackets when they go through airport security checkpoints.

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