More than once in the last decade, we’ve wondered what’s gotten into the Transportation Safety Administration. When the agency makes news, it’s for frisking an elderly or infirm passenger or for not intercepting weapons that passengers try to take on board.
Now we’re wondering why TSA policymakers suddenly think it’s safe again for passengers to take small knives — those no longer than 2.35 inches and no more than a halfinch wide — on board. Maybe the TSA doesn’t actually think the knives — or the pool cues, hockey and lacrosse sticks, up to two golf clubs and toy baseball or whiffleball bats — are security risks.
Maybe, as the TSA said in a statement, it’s allowing passengers to take these items onboard so its staff can focus on “finding higher threat items such as explosives.” That, a TSA spokesman said, can “increase security for passenger and improve efficiency, improving the checkpoint screening experience.” The agency also wants to bring its policies more into alignment with international standards. Those are all worthy goals.
The TSA will continue to ban large knives, as well as grenades, spears, ammunition, stun guns, nunchucks, swords, pitchforks and other items, including box cutters. But how it can ban box cutters while allowing small knives that can be just as deadly simply doesn’t make sense.
A small knife might not do as much damage as a vest laden with explosives, but if a terrorist — or someone who’s suffering from airline rage — were to put a small knife to the neck of a passenger, perhaps a small child, the individual with the small knife could control the plane. As for why the TSA thinks two golf clubs wouldn’t make potent weapons, that’s as mystifying as why anyone would take two golf clubs on board.
Understandably, the changes, to take place next month, have flight attendants alarmed. Sara Nelson, a United Airlines flight attendant who also is vice president of the Association of Flight Attendants,” denounced the decision to allow small knives on planes as an “outrage” that “cannot stand.”
For good measure, most pilots, as well as federal air marshals and even insurance companies also oppose the TSA’s changes.
Whether the TSA consulted these groups isn’t clear, but the agency certainly should have. Now it would be wise to cancel the changes. That might be embarrassing, but its better than than having a knife-wielding manic on the loose at 35,000 feet.