Markey, airline crews: No knives on planes

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March 12, 2013, 8:03 pm
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(NECN: Peter Howe, Boston) - Eleven years after terrorists wielding box cutters seized two jetliners minutes out of Logan International Airport and used them to lay waste to the World Trade Center, the Transportation Security Administration plans on April 25 to significantly relax a key post-9/11 security measure and allow passengers to carry small knives and other once-banned potential weapons on to planes.

However, the proposed change has shocked and alarmed many frequent travelers - particularly flight attendants and airline pilots, who literally fear for their lives if the change goes through, and members of Congress, who are typically on a plane at least twice a week.

Tuesday, U.S. Rep Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), flanked by flight attendants and pilots from a half-dozen airlines, came to Logan to highlight legislation he’s pushing to order the TSA to maintain the 11-year-old "prohibited items" list.

Brandishing a Swiss Army knife with an extended blade that would be allowed on board under the new rules, Markey said, "A knife this size was all that" identified 9-11 ringleader "Mohammed Atta and the nine others needed at Logan Airport on 9-11. Why would we run the risk of repeating that history? … Allowing knives back into passengers cabins of planes is a bad idea."

Rep. Michael Grimm, a New York Republican, is co-sponsoring the legislation, which Markey said he plans to try to get enacted as stand-alone legislation or as a budget amendment or as an amendment to "any other legislation we can find to attach it to."

Steve Sevier, a 35-year veteran U.S. Airways pilot who chairs the security committee for the U.S. Airline Pilots Association, said every airline worker he talks to about the TSA change is "shocked, appalled, scared" to think about what it could lead to. The existing policy, Sevier said, has come to be well understood and overwhelmingly complied with by travelers.

"There’s absolutely no need to do this," Sevier said of the rule change.

Under the new rules, knives and Leatherman-type tools with blades less than 2.36 inches long and one-half inch wide would be allowed to be carried on board by passengers. Additionally, people could carry on one or two golf clubs per passenger, ski poles, hockey sticks, billiard cues, and lacrosse sticks, all of which have been banned by the TSA for their potential to be turned into weapons, especially if snapped to produce jagged edges. Also, baseball bats of up to 24 inches in length and 24 ounces in weight would be allowed in carry-ons under the TSA change.

What would still be banned:
-    Knives with blades over 2.36 inches long or one-half-inch wide
-    Knives with fixed or locking blades or molded grips
-    Razor blades or box cutters, of whatever size
-    Baseball bats over 24 inches long or 24 ounces in weight.

TSA spokeswoman Ann Davis said the agency was not able to accommodate requests for interviews to explain the policy but cited a headquarters statement that the policy is being changed to, in part, "align more closely with International Civil Aviation Organization standards" effective in Europe and elsewhere.

"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," the statement says.

TSA administrator John Pistole has noted that compared to before 9-11, many aspects of airline security are far stronger, including locking cockpit doors to protect pilots, the presence of armed federal air marshals on many flights, and a completely different mindset among passengers, flight attendants, and pilots about how to respond to an on-board terror incident or hijacking. Pistole and other TSA officials have argued that by freeing up TSA staff from looking for small pocket knives or sports equipment that, they think, are very unlikely to ever be used by hijackers or terrorists, they’ll have more time to look for improvised explosive devices.

But Markey said that "it’s not an either-or. They should be doing both, and they can do both."

Sevier said that just because pilots now have the protection of locking cockpit doors, "That doesn’t mean we’re willing to leave the flight attendants out there to be cannon fodder or exposed to whatever … That’s just not what we do. We are all a team, and we all look out for each other."

CEOs of airlines including American, Delta, United, and US Airways have also voiced strong doubts about and opposition to the TSA change.

Sara Nelson, a Boston-based United Air Lines flight attendant and international vice president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, noted how often each day flight crews have to de-escalate conflicts with and among angry, drunk, or belligerent passengers.

"Now imagine re-introducing life-threatening weapons to those situations," Nelson said. "We would be in trouble every single day on board our aircraft, and millions of passengers would be at risk, too. We cannot allow this to happen."

With videographer Daniel J. Ferrigan

Tags: Boston, Peter Howe, TSA, Ed Markey, Logan International Airport, michael grimm, TSA knife policy, airline crews
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