Groups representing passengers, pilots and flight attendants objected… (Bob Chamberlin, Los Angeles…)
In one of the most significant rollbacks of airline rules since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, federal officials said they will allow passengers to carry small knives, golf clubs, hockey sticks and pool cues into the cabins of commercial jets.
The policy change, which will take effect April 25, was immediately criticized by flight attendants and passenger rights groups, who say the move will create an unnecessary risk and further crowd already limited space in overhead bins.
"While we agree that a passenger wielding a small knife or swinging a golf club or hockey stick poses less of a threat to the pilot locked in the cockpit, these are real threats to passengers and flight attendants in the passenger cabin," said Stacy K. Martin, president of Southwest Airlines' flight attendants union, TWU Local 556.
Brandon M. Macsata, executive director of the Assn. for Airline Passenger Rights and a critic of airport security screening procedures, said he is not sure how the change will improve security or speed the screening lines at airports.
"It seems to be a poorly thought-out decision," he said. "I don't pretend to understand the logic behind it."
In a statement, the Transportation Security Administration said the change will help align the list of prohibited items on U.S. flights with those of international carriers and cut the time passengers spend going through security screening.
"This change allows TSA to focus on the threats that can cause catastrophic damage to an aircraft," the TSA said.
The TSA list of prohibited items will no longer include small knives with non-locking blades less than 2.36 inches (6 centimeters) long and 1/2-inch wide. Also removed from the list will be sporting equipment such as golf clubs, billiard cues, ski poles, toy bats and hockey and lacrosse sticks.
The TSA pointed out that other security measures are already in place to protect planes, including hardened cockpit doors, armed federal air marshals, armed pilots and crew members with self-defense training.
A spokesman for the Allied Pilots Assn., the union that represents pilots from American Airlines, said the announcement caught him by surprise. "It represents a significant step backward in security," said Gregg Overman.
The Assn. of Professional Flight Attendants, which represents flight attendants for American Airlines, said the group worries that allowing golf clubs and hockey sticks in the cabin will lead to more headaches for passengers and flight attendants.
"There's less space than ever in overhead bins, and on some particular aircraft safely storing these large items will be impossible," said Kelly Skyles, safety and security coordinator for the flight attendants group. "Add to that the cramped confines of an airplane cabin, and you have the potential for passengers getting hit with these items during boarding and deplaning. It's a recipe for disaster."
Macsata and other TSA critics point out that the terrorists who hijacked four commercial jets in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were believed to have been armed primarily with knives and box cutters.
Soon after the attacks, the TSA was formed and adopted a list of items that passengers are prohibited from carrying into the cabins of commercial planes. The list originally included knives and other sharp objects, sporting goods, guns, explosives, tools and martial arts equipment. Liquids and gels in containers with more than 3.4 ounces are also banned.
Since 2005, the TSA removed small scissors, screwdrivers, wrenches, pliers, snow globes and common lighters from the list of prohibited items, saying the agency wanted to focus its attention on more serious threats.