Transport Airlines

TSA delays knives on flights policy in major reversal

Apr 22, 2013 5:36 pm

Skift Take

This is a major reversal even though the TSA says the move is temporary. In the past few weeks, despite scathing criticism, the TSA seemed hell-bent on proceeding with the policy.

— Dennis Schaal

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The U.S. Transportation Security Administration has delayed a decision to allow pocket knives on airliners, according to an internal e-mail sent to agency employees today.

TSA Administrator John Pistole said in the e-mail the agency wanted to further consult with the airline industry before making the change, according to a person familiar with its contents who wasn’t authorized to speak on the record.

The proposed policy change, announced in March, was designed to align U.S. rules with those in Europe and better reflect intelligence on active terrorist threats, the agency said. Instead, the plan provoked protests from flight attendants, air marshals, executives of the largest airlines and the union representing airport screeners.

The decision to delay the April 25 change comes one week after two bombs went off at the Boston Marathon, killing three people and wounding more 170.

“Last week’s events in Boston underscore our continued focus on explosive devices,” Pistole said in the note to employees. “Transportation security officer training will continue to emphasize these and other evolving threats.”

Pistole said he met today with an advisory committee of industry representatives, which includes flight attendants, pilots, airlines and other parties affected by TSA policy. The decision to “temporarily delay” changes to the prohibited- items list was made to incorporate suggestions and continue the necessary training, he said.

Airline Opposition

The TSA had said that it intended to ease cabin restrictions of items including knives less than 2.36 inches (6 centimeters) long, hockey sticks and golf clubs to match U.S. rules with those in other parts of the world.

Executives from Delta Air Lines Inc., AMR Corp. and US Airways Group Inc. condemned TSA’s proposed policy change. Unions representing flight attendants, pilots and airport screeners lobbied Congress for a reversal.

Appearing at a March 14 hearing of the House Transportation Security subcommittee, Pistole defended the new policy and the process that led to it, saying it was necessary for the agency to revise procedures as threats change. He also told lawmakers that responsibility to control passengers rested with the airlines, not the agency.

Pistole drew some key support from House Republicans including Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul of Texas. A larger group of lawmakers from both parties, including Senators Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, and Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, said they would support legislation to keep knives off planes.

‘Huge Backlash’

The delay came “in the face of a huge backlash” from opponents, the Flight Attendants Union Coalition, an umbrella group representing more than 90,000 airline employees, said in an e-mailed statement. The agency should follow regular rule- making procedures and analyze comments from the public, it said.

Referring to the “Boston terrorist bombing,” the coalition said in its statement that “now is not the time to weaken security and let down our guard.”

It added: “We have no doubt that the administrator will conclude that knives have no place on our planes.

–Editors: Elizabeth Wasserman, Don Frederick

To contact the reporter on this story: Jeff Plungis in Washington at jplungis@bloomberg.net 

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bernard Kohn at bkohn2@bloomberg.net

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