Are pocket knives no longer a security risk?

Photo: Frederic J Brown/AFP/Getty Images

Photo: Frederic J Brown/AFP/Getty Images

Air travellers in the United States would be able to carry on board with them small pocket knives from April 25 if the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) ahd not delayed its implementation. The proposal – which would also permit cabin carriage of billiard cues, ski poles, and lacrosse and hockey sticks – met with strong protest from the public and unions representing flight attendants. 

According to TSA chief John Pistole, the new policy would free screeners from such checks to focus on other threats, the excuse being that this would bring the US in line with international guidelines and offer a better experience for passengers.

This looks like a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul, to patch up one hole at the expense of exposing another. If pocket knives are deemed to be dangerous weapons to be carried on board, then it does not make sense to expose travellers to that risk. Judging by the long lines at security checks at US airports, there is always a nagging suspicion that there is a shortage of trained staff and that the methodology or system could be improved.  Yet, for all the complaints by passengers of the hassle, inconvenience and poor customer service, checkpoints, no one is truly advocating any compromise.

The restrictions on knives was introduced soon after the 9/11 attacks in 2001. More than a decade later, is it an issue of irrelevance? Seems not, and as Massachusetts Congressman Edward Markey pointed out, this could not have come at a worse timing in light of the recent Boston bombings. Mr Markey said: “We have a duty to our citizens (to keep knives off planes).”

It is surprising that the TSA should on such matters express a desire to be in line with “international guidelines”. True, checks at many airports outside the US may not be as stringent, but we all know that security requirements may be geographical in nature too. Take Tel Aviv in Israel, for example – you may have to arrive at the airport as early as four hours ahead for the checks just so that you do not miss your flight. Whatever the international requirements”, many airports around the world continue to bar any sharp implements including pocket knives to be carried on board. I had a nail clipper confiscated at Seoul Incheon International Airport in South Korea.

A better experience for passengers? Certainly the TSA can look into the manner of servicing air travellers considering the large number of complaints of rude staff and rough handling. Allowing pocket knives in carry-on bags is not going to make any difference. Besides, how many passengers carry such implements? Why undo the acceptance and a habit albeit forced by circumstances? Think again, TSA.

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About David Leo
David Leo has more than 30 years of aviation experience, having served in senior management in one of the world's best airlines and airports. He continues to maintain a keen interest in the business, writes freelance and provides consultancy services in the field.

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