Knives on a Plane


I’ve been watching the debate over TSA’s recent decision to allow knives with short blades-that’s 2.36 inches or shorter-to pass through its security screening stations. You’d think that such a simple relaxation in the overbearing process of simply getting on an airliner would be universally applauded.But no. The flight attendants are in an uproar. The CEO of Delta Air Lines is outraged. Several politicians, evidently courting the powerful anti-knife constituency, have decried the decision as a gross abdication of the TSA’s duty to protect every citizen from every conceivable threat. Of such stuff is the police state made. Would they propose banning ballpoint pens and paper clips? That’s a rhetorical question, but you know the answer is probably yes. There is one silly aspect to the rule change: Box cutters still aren’t allowed, even though they have a blade shorter than 2.36 inches. We all know why. Nonetheless, I’m thinking of replacing that little Swiss army knife the TSA seized from me a decade ago.Normally, I stand with the flight crews on such issues. But not this time. I don’t agree with the flight attendants’ claim that allowing short-bladed knives exposes them to unreasonable risk. I realize 911 is an emotional issue, but almost 12 years later, it’s time to get over it and move on to a more sane security footing.And that’s the salient importance of allowing knives, not the welcome convenience of using one to open your reduced-size, low-fat pretzels or to clip the occasional annoying hang nail. TSA’s decision represents an ever-so-slight course change back to common sense and reality. I have the faint hope that it will crack the edifice enough to allow us to get on an airplane without disrobing, having our shoes X-rayed or our suitcases and carry-ons rifled for that forbidden four-ounce tube of shampoo.The larger issue is that this might represent a slow evolution toward an airline security system that isn’t so focused on things, but on the people carrying those things. While the rest of the world, especially Israel, has constructed security methods that emphasize profiling and excluding likely hijackers or threats, we’ve tried to devise means-easily defeatable-to deny potentially hazardous things from the entire flying public. It’s kind of the neutron bomb approach. Or maybe the play school approach. Few people believe that what the TSA does now is effective security, hence the popularity of security and theater as search terms.TSA’s argument is that in allowing short blades through the scanners, the agents can spend less time sorting through noise and more time looking for more dangerous stuff. In other words, they’re triaging. Eventually, one hopes, the agency will realize the futility of object-based security in favor of threat-based security. When a government agency actually demonstrates that it can make decisions that make the public’s life less onerous, shouldn’t we encourage it?Well, evidently not. We’re our own worst enemy sometimes.