Skift Take

Passengers were the loudest complainers about the no-tiny-knife policy the TSA had prior to last month's announcement easing the restrictions, and they're the first ones to suggest publicly that the opponents aren't speaking for the traveling public.

Kevin and Kelly Sabo arrived with their three sons at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport on Thursday afternoon for a youth hockey tournament in Troy, Mich., but somewhere along the way, the boys’ hockey sticks were misrouted.

Had the trip occurred a week later, the Sabos, from Rosemount, Minn., might not have had that problem because security revisions that take effect this week remove hockey sticks, among other things, from the list of items passengers may not take with them into aircraft cabins.

Then again, the sticks might have gone missing anyway because, Mr. Sabo explained, the airlines generally count a bag of hockey sticks as being part of the same baggage item as an accompanying gear bag — and that’s simply too much stuff to carry on.

“I don’t think we would have brought the sticks on the plane,” he said before being paged into a Delta Air Lines baggage office to learn the latest about where the missing equipment might be. “We probably would have checked them anyway. Where would they put them [in the cabin]?”

But overall, Mr. Sabo said, the relaxed carry-on restrictions slated for Thursday won’t affect him too much, a sentiment shared by several other travelers at Detroit Metro.

“I think it’s acceptable,” said Chris Gill, who arrived on a flight from Washington to return to his home in Ferndale, Mich. Onboard security has tightened, he said, and “this must have been assessed pretty thoroughly” before a decision was made.

“With all the security on the airplanes these days, you’re not going to be taking down an airplane with any of these things,” agreed Robert Barto of Fowlerville, Mich., who said he occasionally carries a Swiss Army knife that would be allowed under the new rules.

Risk-based security

The Transportation Security Administration announced early last month its plan to allow certain small knives and selected sporting goods in aircraft cabins, at least in part to make American restrictions consistent with International Civil Aviation Organization standards.

“This is part of an overall risk-based security approach, which allows Transportation Security Officers to better focus their efforts on finding higher-threat items, such as explosives,” a TSA statement said.

Knives with blades that do not lock, are no more than 6 centimeters (2.36 inches) long, and no wider than a half-inch will be allowed in carry-on baggage as long as they also do not have molded grips.

Ann Martin, a TSA spokesman, said pocket knives account for about half of all items air travelers now surrender at security checkpoints.

“We’re still often surprised at some of the things people think are acceptable” to take aboard flights, she said.

Sports items to be allowed include hockey and lacrosse sticks, one or two golf clubs, ski poles, and novelty-sized or toy baseball bats weighing 24 ounces or less.

Airline policies

Ms. Martin noted that just because the TSA soon will allow these items in aircraft cabins does not mean airlines will allow passengers to carry them aboard.

“We recommend that passengers check with their airlines about what must be placed in checked baggage,” she said.

Among items still prohibited are razors and box cutters, the latter being the weapon Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists brandished when they hijacked four jets, three of which they later crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon — the actions that prompted many current security regulations.

Restrictions on passengers’ abilities to carry bottles of liquids and gels onto airplanes remain in place, because those materials could conceal flammable or explosive material.

Holly Kemler, a spokesman for the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, said changing the prohibited-items list should have no operational effect at Toledo Express Airport, which her agency operates. She offered no opinion about the wisdom behind the changes.

Need for vigilance

Dr. Lloyd Jacobs, the president of the University of Toledo, who arrived at Detroit Metro on Thursday returning from a trip to India, said that while “erring on the side of safety is probably a good thing,” the relaxed carry-on rules are “probably OK.”

Someone could attack other passengers or crew aboard an airplane “with almost anything,” he said. “It’s impossible to make the world perfectly safe. We need to be in a milieu of watchfulness, of vigilance.”

“If somebody is going to commit a crime, it doesn’t matter what they’re going to use as a weapon,” said Kathleen Krolikowski of Hazel Park, Mich., an inbound traveler from Las Vegas.

“This is a weapon,” she continued, waving her handbag in the air. “People who want to do stuff are going to do it.”

Flight attendants

Flight attendants, who would be most at risk from passengers using knives to disrupt flights, remain unpersuaded that relaxing the knife prohibition, in particular, is appropriate.

“The attacks in Boston prove once again that we can’t be selective in our vigilance,” Rebecca Marchand, wife of a flight attendant slain during the Sept. 11 attacks, wrote in an open letter to TSA Administrator John Pistole that a coalition of flight-attendants’ unions circulated last week.

“We must guard against all threats, big and small. Dramatically changing the prohibited-items list now would be a huge mistake,” said Mrs. Marchand, a Phoenix resident whose son continues to work as a flight attendant. “… Knives have no place on an airplane.”

Theresa LaPrairie, who arrived at Detroit on Thursday after a trip to Rome and Paris, said authorities ought to pay heed to what flight attendants say because they’re on the front lines of air travel. Security checks that included a full pat-down in Paris, the Linwood, Mich., resident said, “gave me a feeling that we’re protected.”

“It needs to be the way it is,” she said. “I don’t like the idea of putting knives in people’s bags. The stewardesses are the ones we should be paying attention to.”

Ms. Martin said the rule changes were based on the evolution of airplane cabins since 9/11, with the items soon to be permitted posing no threat of catastrophic damage to aircraft.

“There are a number of security measures in place in the cabin that weren’t there [immediately] after Sept. 11,” she said. “We have hardened cockpits, air marshals, and a very vigilant public.”


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