The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

March 24, 2013

New rules at airports make sense


I don’t know John Pistole, but I like the guy.

Pistole is the head of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the agency that screens passengers at airports. Recently, he announced that, starting April 25, passengers will be allowed onboard with small pocket knives, golf clubs, hockey sticks and miniature souvenir baseball bats.

He was criticized, of course. But pen knives, he said, “are not things that terrorists are continuing to use.” He wants the TSA to focus on non-metal explosives that can blow a hole in a plane.

“It is the judgment of many security experts worldwide, which I agree with, that a small pocket knife is not going to result in the catastrophic failure of an aircraft, and an improvised explosive device will,” Pistole told the House Homeland Security Committee. “And we know, from covert testing, searching for these items which will not blow up in an aircraft can distract our officers from focusing on the components of an improvised explosive device.”

Much has changed since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, in which terrorists with box cutters forced their way inside cockpits and rammed passenger jets into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

For one thing, cockpit doors have been strengthened and locked. For another thing, undercover federal air marshals are now on many flights. Most importantly, thousands of specially-trained pilots now carry guns on their flights. They got permission to pack heat in 2002, but none has ever had to shoot anybody.

I have always carried a small pocket knife, but since 2001 I have had to leave it at home or stash it in my checked luggage. My present knife is a lot like a Boy Scout knife, with a 2½ -inch blade, a little blade, a screwdriver, and a can opener. I use it all the time.

Since 2001, untold thousands of passengers have had such knives confiscated. I have seen bins full of them for sale at flea markets. The airports or the TSA must sell them.

Ironically, when I go on a backpacking trip, the TSA people always let me get on with my hiking staff. It’s made of metal, and it’s 5 feet long, with a wooden knob on the end. It would make a much better weapon than my knife.

When asked about it, I just tell the inspector that it’s a walking stick. Apparently, some rule allows people to board with walking sticks, canes, crutches and other assistive devices, even if they could, conceivably, be used to clobber somebody.

The TSA could relax a few more rules, too. For instance, when I was boarding in Portland, Maine, I watched inspectors confiscate sealed bottles and cans of maple syrup. The passengers had already checked their luggage, so it was too late for them to rescue their syrup. It saw $20 pint cans go into trash cans.

But I have a feeling that it went home with somebody. Maybe it wound up at a flea market, too.

Danville native Kevin Cullen is a former Commercial-News reporter. Reach him at