After a 6-week hiatus from flying, I’m back in the role of female opt-out[i] in a brand new Delta[ii] terminal with free internet and ipads[iii]. I heard last week that the TSA plans to allow small knives in carry-ons, for the first time since 9/11, as “part of an overall risk-based security approach”. But now it appears that flight attendants, pilot unions, a number of elected officials, and even federal air marshals are speaking out against the move, writing letters and petitions of opposition.
“The Flight Attendants Union Coalition, representing nearly 90,000 flight attendants, and the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations, which represents 22,000 airline pilots, also oppose the rule change.”
Former flight attendant Tiffany Hawk is “stupefied” by the move, “especially since the process that turns checkpoints into maddening logjams — removing shoes, liquids and computers — remains unchanged,” she wrote in an opinion column for CNN. Link is here.
The Association of Flight Attendants, representing 60,000 flight attendants working for more than 20 airlines, said last week that it “strongly opposed” the TSA rule change, which it believes threatens security on planes.
“For years, AFA has partnered with TSA on important security issues, which makes it hard to understand why we were not consulted on this policy reversal,” lamented AFA International Vice President Sara Nelson.
But what I want to know is how TSA officials could be making unilateral decisions about U.S. air safety largely on their own, without these other aviation workers being involved? Don’t these people talk?
The decision was spearheaded by John Pistole, head of
The Sports Authority (TSA) Transportation Security Authority (TSA). According to the TSA blog (yes even they have a blog)
TSA Administrator John S. Pistole made the decision to start allowing the following items in carry-on bags beginning April 25th:
But what I want to know is why only two golf-clubs?
By putting less focus on these items, Pistole says, airport screeners will be able to focus on looking for bomb components, which present a greater threat to aircraft. Such as:
bottled water, shampoo, cold cream, tooth paste, baby food, perfume, liquid make-up, etc. (over 3.4 oz).
They do have an argument; namely, that while liquids could be used to make explosives[iv] sharp objects will not bring down a plane. At least not so long as we can rely on the locked, bullet-proof cockpit door. Not that they’d want to permit any bullets to be around to test… And not that the locked door rule can plausibly be followed 100% of the time on smaller planes, from my experience. But the real question is: will letting the sports teams bring on their Hockey clubs or Golf rackets [v] really translate into more time spent
confiscating perfume identifying genuine threats?
CEO of Delta, Richard Anderson says no. He wrote a letter to Pistole saying
he shares the “legitimate concerns” of Delta flight attendants about the decision. He says allowing small knives will do little to speed up passenger screening — but adds risk for cabin staff and passengers.
And Veda Shook, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, said the move is “completely unnecessary” and “makes no sense.” Rather than freeing up time, she predicted that security officers will get more bogged down testing and measuring the knives to see if they meet the criteria.
The rule says a blade more than 2.36 inches is too big, but there are all sorts of details about the kind of handle that is/is not allowed.
The Flight Attendants Union Coalition, representing nearly 90,000 flight attendants, and the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations (CAPA), which represents 22,000 airline pilots, also oppose the rule change. (link is here.)
[Aside from waiting in the security line while they argue if a blade is too big, imagine being behind a team of 20 (sweaty) hockey players who choose to carry on their sports equipment, while others have to toss out deodorant, perfume and baby food? And won't the airlines lose out big on baggage fees?]
Battle axes and machetes?
When the former TSA chief, Kip Hawley, was asked to weigh in, he fully supported Pistole; he regretted that he hadn’t acted to permit the above sports items during his
reign service at TSA:
“They ought to let everything on that is sharp and pointy. Battle axes, machetes … bring anything you want that is pointy and sharp because while you may be able to commit an act of violence, you will not be able to take over the plane. It is as simple as that,” he said. (Link is here.)
I burst out laughing when I read this, but he was not joking:
Asked if he was using hyperbole in suggesting that battle axes be allowed on planes, Hawley said he was not.
“I really believe it. What are you going to do when you get on board with a battle ax? And you pull out your battle ax and say I’m taking over the airplane. You may be able to cut one or two people, but pretty soon you would be down in the aisle and the battle ax would be used on you.”
There does seem to be an emphasis on relying on passengers to rise up against ax-wielders, that passengers are angry these days at anyone who starts trouble. But what about the fact that there’s a lot more “air rage” these days? (NPR has an interesting and very funny interview.) That creates a genuine risk as well…
Security expert Rafi Ron[vi] says the TSA should focus on risky people rather than risky objects.
“Risk is not measured by the item, whether it is a knife or gun. It is measured by the person holding it. A bad guy with a Swiss Army knife can still cause a lot of damage to the crew and passengers in the cabin before the aircraft can land.”
Well sure, guns don’t kill people….but what does this have to do with golf clubs vs baby food, or with applying Pistole’s risk assessments vs the risk assessments of the groups of aviation workers, passengers, etc. (Read the flight attendant’s accounts in the NPR interview.)
Personally, I’m all for liberalizing the restrictions, but not for a decision-making process that lets a Mr. Pistole or Mr. Hawley decide without including the risk assessments of other “stake holders” to use a popular term (which I dislike, but it works).
How did the TSA turn into 50,000 “uniformed officers” anyway?[vii]
Why do I have a sneaking suspicion that the TSA obtained tacit approval from some “stakeholders” who are now running the opposite away, seeing the outrage…? What do you think?
[iii] What a clever way to get more data on our trolling habits.
[iv]Never mind that several 3.4 oz bottles are allowed, and that any amount purchased after screening may be taken on board.
[v] John Worrall would not forgive me for confusing the name of the equipment used in what he claims is the absolute most perfect sport in all the world, though I won’t say which it is. But Worrall I’m guessing does not follow my blog.
[vi] president of Virginia-based New Age Security Solutions and former head of security of Ben-Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, Israel.
[vii] I have nothing against TSA employees: the women who have gotten me through years of “female opt-outs” have been very professional and kind.