Flight Attendants Protest New TSA Rules Allowing Small Blades

The Transportation Security Administration is scaling back its list of prohibited items for airline passengers. Starting next month, people can once again carry small knives and some sporting equipment, such as golf clubs and hockey sticks. Audie Cornish talks with air travel writer Harriet Baskas about the new policy.

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Near the front of an airport security line, you've probably noticed a clear, plastic bin filled with contraband - you know, the pocket-knives and other items passengers have to surrender in order to get on the plane.

Well, starting late next month, that bin might be a little less full. The Transportation Security Administration has announced that you'll be allowed to take some small knives on board. The agency is also easing its ban on some sports equipment that can be carried on.

For more on the knives, hockey sticks and toy bats that will rejoin airline travel, we're joined by Harriet Baskas. She's a journalist who covers airports and air travel, and she joins us from Seattle, where she lives. Welcome Harriet.

HARRIET BASKAS: Thank you so much.

CORNISH: So what exactly is no longer on the banned list and why?

BASKAS: The TSA has decided that small knives that have blades that are no longer than 2.36 inches and are no wider than half an inch will be allowed to be taken as carry-on. And that includes a variety of different kinds of knives, but if you think of your standard Swiss Army knife or a corkscrew with a foldout foil cutter, those are allowed. And they've also decided that a wide variety of sports equipment will be allowed. People will be able to carry on two golf clubs per person, a ski pole, a lacrosse stick, a billiard stick and a hockey stick.

CORNISH: Now, am I going to be standing in a security line while somebody is measuring a pocket knife? I mean, how is this exactly going to work?

BASKAS: I asked if they were going to be a picture or a ruler at the security checkpoint and the TSA said there will be a guide there and that security people will be kind of eyeballing it and they'll know what works and what doesn't.

CORNISH: And what's their reasoning here?

BASKAS: Well, their reasoning is that these are not things that will take an airplane down. The TSA is, over the course of the last year or so, has been relaxing some rules. I think you might know that children no longer have to take their shoes off. And they're realizing that there are bigger fish to fry, really. They're after the things that will take a plane down, not the things that people will use to try to accost another passenger, for example.

CORNISH: Now, what kind of response there's been to this? I know that flight attendants have spoken out.

BASKAS: Yes. Some flight attendants unions have spoken out saying they're uncomfortable with this. Some passengers' rights organizations have said they are also uncomfortable with this. And the TSA said they've worked with the airlines over the past several months and the airlines are comfortable with this and so the flight attendants are going to have to deal with the airlines, their employers, if they don't want these things on board.

CORNISH: So give us a sense of scale. I mean, just how many knives or toy baseball bats or even lacrosse sticks really have been confiscated by the TSA?

BASKAS: Well, I've asked that question a lot and the TSA, they don't even keep track of that anymore. It is so many knives, especially, buckets and buckets. Hundreds of thousands of knives have been taken over the course of the last 10 years.

CORNISH: And what happens to them?

BASKAS: Lacrosse sticks - I don't know.

(LAUGHTER)

BASKAS: What happens to them is each state has its own rules about what happens to things that are surrendered at airports. So in some states it is destroyed. In some states it is donated - and I can't imagine donating a bucket of knives to a homeless shelter or something like that. And in some cities it's auctioned off or sold as surplus.

CORNISH: Well, Harriet Baskas, thank you so much for speaking with us.

BASKAS: OK. Thank you.

CORNISH: Harriet Baskas writes about travel. We were talking about the TSA's announcement that it will no longer ban airline passengers from carrying certain small knives and sports equipment in carry-on luggage.

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