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TSA’s Pocket Knife Ban: The Blow-by-Blow

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Members of the Association of Flight Attendants protest TSA’s pocket knife rule change

March 6, 2013, may have been the most newsworthy day for pocket knives in history.

On that date, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced that it would be allowing small pocket knives (under 2.36 inches) on planes.

The policy change, which brought the U.S. in step with regulations across most of the world, was seen by knife owners as not only a personal victory, but also a step toward a more sensible and effective policy for TSA.

In addition to allowing small knives on a plane, the rule reversal also meant that individuals would be permitted to carry hockey sticks and golf clubs on board.

TSA officials cited the low risk of these items to passenger safety and the time-consuming task of searching for them as the reason for the policy change.

“The focus is on what could present catastrophic damage to the aircraft,” said David Castelveter, a TSA spokesman.

Backlash Erupts Over Pocket Knives On Planes

The rule change, which was result of significant lobbying by knife advocacy groups such as The American Knife and Tool Institute, was quickly the target of harsh criticism from a number of different groups.

The most vehement objection came from the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), who characterized the decision as one that makes both airline employees and passengers less secure.

The organization started an online petition, No Knives On Planes.com,  and recently filed a grievance with the TSA, stating that “permitting knives in the cabin is an unnecessary risk to the traveling public.”

Member of Congress from both parties also vowed opposition to allowing knives on planes.

New York Senator Charles Schumer blasted the decision in a radio interview with a local station.

“You don’t have to have a PhD in physics, you don’t have to be Albert Einstein to know that these items are dangerous.” he said.

Family members of 9/11 victims were also angry

TSA Backs Down in Wake of Boston Marathon Bombings

While the AFA and other organizations decried the decision, a number of transportation safety experts, journalists and policymakers supported the change.

In a article for the libertarian publication Reason, J.D. Tuccille, blasted the AFA for its opposition. Tuccile  noted, as many others had, that there were a number of other equally harmful, if not more dangerous items that would be allowed in board, but weren’t drawing the same criticism.

I hesitate to point this out for fear of sending the flight attendants’ association into an organizational panic, but the same TSA notice allowing for small knives also allows novelty bats, pool cues and golf clubs.

Honestly, in a bar fight, I’m reaching for the pool cue, not my Leatherman micra.

It’s also been pointed out by many that TSA currently allows pointed scissors with blades up to four inches long, knitting needles and screwdrivers as long as seven inches, and glass bottles, all of which can easily be transformed into a deadly weapon.

Lastly, many cited the fact that since all cockpits are now fortified, it would be impossible to hijack a plane using a pocket knife.

It appeared that, despite the opposition, TSA would go ahead and begin allowing pocket knives on planes starting April 25.

Yet, on April 23, two days before the new rule would go into effect, TSA announced that it would delay the change while considering additional input from airline companies, passenger advocates and other stakeholders.

Many suggested that in addition to the backlash, the recent bombing at the Boston Marathon may have also swayed TSA to move more cautiously.

What Happens Now?

For the moment, passengers are still prohibited from carrying any and all knives on planes.  TSA has given no indication of when it will act, or if it will act, on the issue.

While opponents consider the delay a victory, others, such as Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman, described the delay as an example of the bureaucratic impulse to choose extreme caution over common sense.

“Small knives are also useful tools that many people find indispensable in the course of daily life, including the part that takes place on airplanes,” Chapman wrote in a recent editorial.

“But making life slightly better for travelers may not be enough to overcome the bureaucratic imperative: When in doubt, do nothing.”

Do you think pocket knives should be allowed on planes?  Weigh in via the comment section.  If you leave a stellar comment, we may hook you up with a free knife.  Just don’t bring it on a plane, yet.


Daniel Lawton

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19 Comments

  1. Kyle Bird-Fitzgerald

    May 13, 2013 at 5:55 pm

    I think that pocket knives should be allowed on planes because to me it would be a deterrent for terrorists to take over a plane.

  2. George@pocket knife

    May 17, 2013 at 10:17 pm

    When you think about a knife, the first thing that obviously comes to mind is the blade. The blade is the most important thing to consider when buying a knife.

  3. A knife may be either a potential weapon or a potential lifesaver. An evil person has an entire plane full of weapons, if they have the desire and look in the right places. Additionally they have plenty of time to plan an attack. A good person with a knife only has to reach quickly into their pocket for personal protection and the protection of other passengers. Personally, I am happy that more passengers are involved with helping the airline staff calm or control passengers that are disruptive and potentially dangerous. Recent history has clearly shown that passengers can and do help airline staff control disruptive passengers. We must stop punishing the numerous good passengers because of a very few potential bad ones.

  4. Not sure where I stand on this issue really. I can see how it would be unsafe if they allow pocket knives, but I also understand that some people forget they have a pocket knife on them when going through the TSA. I even forgot to leave my Leatherman at home when traveling a few years ago. Whatever the TSA ultimately decides I hope America doesn’t have to endure another hijacking or 911.

    • Christopher Montrose

      December 20, 2016 at 8:36 am

      If you really believe box cutters took down 3 airliners, I may have a bridge coming up for sale very soon!

      • Now box cutters are scary tools as the grip allows for you to put lots of pressure in your cutting surface while the majority of the tool is hidden in your hand. While I do agree that small knifes should be allowed i a plane I can’t say I feel safe with someone carrying around a box cutter only because of its nature not being an everyday carry but those terrorists could have taken down the plane with nearly any readily available potential weapon

      • Hey Chris! I know it’s a little late but can I see that bridge you have for sale? Apparently box cutters really can bring down an airline. According to Corbin, my three inch box cutter is scary enough to do the job.

  5. While the verdict is a little disappointing the whole process has been a debacle. They should have thought it through from the beginning and stuck to a decision rather than wasting people’s time.

  6. I absolutely think the ban should be lifted on small pocket knives. I carry a small one in my purse that has a 2″ blade, fingernail file, scissors, toothpick and tweezers. Any of it would do less harm than a sharp pencil, which I assume is allowed. Because I carry it in my purse I often forget to take it out before flying. I wish I had a dollar for every little pocketknife I’ve left with TSA.

  7. I agree with Kim. It’s a stupid rule. My wife just lost a nail file set that had a blade attached of about 1″ in length. You might have been able to cut room temp butter with it, but not much else. We’ve lost several of those “micro” swiss army knives– nail file, tiny scissors, and a 1.5″ blade, which would not be able to hurt an apple very hard. There are far more lethal things that make it through all the time. Costing us things we carry for the sake of a bottle opener or cutting a thread when sewing on a button, is both nonsense and false security.

  8. Just lost my Boy Scout knife at Las Vegas airport. The same one I carry into DHS HQ EVERY DAY.

    This is yet another act of stupid from TSA.

    Something needs to be done.

  9. Christopher Montrose

    December 20, 2016 at 8:34 am

    It is ridiculous to allow some tools, like scissors or screwdrivers, both of which could be used as better impromptu weapons then a 2 inch pocket knife. As long as the majority sits back and takes it, the louder, minority of nanny law support groups will continue putting pressure on agency’s that allow common sense items all in the name of a “feel better, accomplish nothing” America.
    Christopher

  10. Foolish is foolish everone knows knives are the problem not the character of the individuals. I would like to ask the TSA how many terrorists were Boy scouts or in the armed forces?

  11. Can the TSA tell us when the last time an aircraft was terrorised by someone wielding a knife? A gun is different but obviously not to the TSA.

    Sign at the entrance to the TSA offices: Please park your brain at the door, it makes our work easier!

  12. A trained terrorist can find any number of common items that can be used as weapons more deadly than your 2 .3″ blade. The credit card he paid for the flight with comes to mind. So in my opinion the total ban on pocket knives is useless.

  13. As my uncle, who was Retired Army, once told a TSA agent about his nail clippers that had a “knife blade” attached to it. If I wanted to kill you I am not going to use that knife. My credit cards, shoelaces, belt, hardback book, water bottle, plastic bag, backpack, luggage bag expanding handle, and whatever else my imagination can see and use is what will kill you. So this law is pointless and stupid. The TSA guy was speechless and his supervisor.
    The other crazy thing is I can remember flying out of San Antonio with a tanto blade boot knife when I was 12. The TSA stopped me and I thought my mom was going to kill me. But they measured the blade, gave it back to me, and we flew home. So there wasn’t this big of a problem in the mid 90s.

  14. Everything a about the TSA rules is usually blown way out of proportion and I think the started to realize that which is why they were considering lifting the ban on these items the real problem is the reaction of the public and the media. Just this week I was watching a short video of some people for speaking a different language. The stigma of safety on a plane is a joke if the whole thing about 911 never forget was sent created this could have gone away years ago in fact we’re probably doing what the terrorists wanted by never forgetting issnt that the goal of terorism to show everyone. Thanks for reading my off topic rant just something to think about

  15. I have a very small two blade pocket knife I carry on the plane with me. My first time getting it through, it was an accident so I’ve made a game with it. So far I’ve successfully brought it on 8 of 8 flights taken in the past 5 years. I keep it burried in the bottom of my very packed backpack or in my ACU M. O. L. L. E. bag about the size of a purse. I expect to loose it someday but in the meantime I still bring it with me.

    My 13 yo daughter was playing with her knife while socializing with my mom, uncle, adult cousins, and my mom’s husband. My mom told her to put it away so she wouldn’t cut herself. My daughter, running the blade on the palm of her hand says, “So? Mom gave it to me. I can do this.” (My rule is that she doesn’t damage anything or hurt someone else with it. Everything else is free game so she can learn from experience how to use it without being scared of it like I am). My mom’s husband laughs, borrows the knife from my daughter, sharpens it, then gives it back. She continues “shaving” the palm of her hand, cuts herself, and covers it with a napkin, insisting to my mom that a bandaid is not needed. Coolest step grandpa ever (though I won’t acknowledge him as such officially, I do respect him and feel sorry for him because of the crap my mom puts people through. Glad my daughter stood up to her.) I gave in and let grandma complete proper first aid on my daughter and told daughter to use the band-aid.

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