The TSA blows it again

Who is in charge of the Transportation Security Administration? Obsessed with security theater rather than real security, they’ve just made a decision to allow small knives and sporting goods like golf clubs and small baseball bats to fly with passengers in the cabin.  As CNN reports:

On Tuesday, TSA Administrator John Pistole announced that small pocketknives and an array of sporting equipment — which were banned from aircraft cabins in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks — will be allowed in U.S. planes beginning April 25.

Pocketknives will be allowed if the blade is no longer than 2.36 inches (6 centimeters), which is shorter than the 4-inch blades that were allowed at the time of the 2001 attacks. And they must adhere to other rules: the blade can be no more than 1/2 inch at its widest point, it cannot have a locking or fixed blade and cannot have a molded grip. Box cutters and razor blades are still not allowed inside the passenger cabin.

The TSA also will allow travelers to bring billiard cues, ski poles, hockey and lacrosse sticks and a maximum of two golf clubs into aircraft cabins as carry-on baggage. It will allow novelty and toy bats if they measure less than 24 inches and plastic bats if they weigh less than 24 ounces.

Air marshals and flight attendents have rightly objected:

FLEOA President Jon Adler said the dangers extend beyond air marshals. “Pistole’s decision is putting my guys at greater risk,” Adler said. “It’s not just the (Federal Air Marshal Service), it’s all of my guys,” he said, noting that law enforcement officers are allowed to carry weapons during commercial flights.

A union representing 90,000 flight attendants called the measure “a poor and short-sighted decision by the TSA.”

“Continued prohibition of these items is an integral layer in making our aviation system secure and must remain in place,” the Coalition of Flight Attendant Unions said in a statement.

I’m not sure about the miniature baseball bats, but I don’t see why knives can’t be checked. Do you really need a knife in your possession on a plane?  Remember that the 9/11 hijackers began their attacks by cutting the throats of flight attendants.  They’re not sure what kind of knives they used (they could have been box-cutters), but a knife with a 2.4-inch blade is pretty good at cutting jugular veins.

If the TSA wants to do something, why not get rid of that idiotic rule to take your shoes off before screening?

It’s time for somebody with brains to be put in charge of the TSA. And while they’re at it, why don’t they replace those officious, authoritarian, and extremely rude TSA screeners? They seem to get people who revel in newfound authority, ordering passengers around like we’re children.



  1. Posted March 7, 2013 at 6:09 am | Permalink

    Well, thing is…

    …I can’t board the plane with my Swiss Army knife, yet I can’t board the plane without my driver’s license.

    I could spend five minutes with my driver’s license (or another credit card or a grocery store loyalty card or whatever) and a sharpening stone and have a blade longer (and, to be honest, sharper) than the one on my pocket knife.

    Similarly, I have another small little Swiss Army knife on my keychain — the kind with the nail file, scissors, and yet another little blade. That blade is shorter than my car key. Honestly, I’d rather get attacked with that knife, which will at least leave a clean wound, than impromptu brass knuckles made out of a keyring.

    What we need to do is get rid of the TSA entirely. Securing the cockpit door, combined with undercover air marshals, especially combined with a universal passenger determination to die rather than let the plane be hijacked, is more than enough to stop all future hijackings. Get rid of all security checkpoints. Have explosives sniffers at strategic points, have leashed bomb-sniffing dogs wandering around the area, and call it a day.

    (The problem with being more aggressive with searching for bombs is that you thereby create a choke point with lots of people. If you stop a bomber short of the plane but in the middle of a huge crowd, the bomber just sets off the bomb right there for almost as “good” an effect.)



    • travisrm89
      Posted March 7, 2013 at 6:26 am | Permalink

      Yeah, it’s hard to argue with this logic. Also, one study found that the increased airport security after 9/11 resulted in an additional 242 car-related fatalities per month because people found driving more convenient than flying (
      Considering that the number of commercial airline fatalities per month is essentially zero, airport security seems to be killing more people than it saves.

    • Posted March 7, 2013 at 6:37 am | Permalink

      Goodness, I finally agree with you on something, Ben! :-))))

      • Posted March 7, 2013 at 6:45 am | Permalink

        Happens to the best of us….


      • threecheersforreason
        Posted March 7, 2013 at 7:11 am | Permalink

        yeah, me too. i’m not sure whether my head is spinning from that, or because it’s now okay to carry clubs and knives through security, but not water.

        • Posted March 7, 2013 at 7:49 am | Permalink

          Water can be deadly if it goes down the wrong way. …or if one drinks too much of it. …or if one gets the bottle it came in shoved down one’s windpipe.

          That being said, I still think passengers with uncontrolled flatulence are a bigger security risk.

        • Occam
          Posted March 7, 2013 at 9:03 am | Permalink

          Water can actually be very dangerous because of its ability to preserve a morphogenetic field. This is why the new TSA regulations are so ill-advised: suppose a terrorist, endowed with telepathic faculties and carrying a newly allowed 6cm blade, plunges the latter into a water flask containing a previously generated morphogenetic field and activates its morphic resonance.

          Rupert Sheldrake has shown why we must fear that the morphogenetically energised blade may grow to alarming and lethal proportions.

          Indeed, the only man whom I would trust to succeed in lieu of the unfortunately named Mr. Pistole as head of the TSA is Rupert Sheldrake himself.

          • Posted March 7, 2013 at 9:19 am | Permalink

            Damned straight. What I really don’t get, since we are talking about eliminating the most palpable risks here, is why the FAA hasn’t already enacted a rule barring Christians from being flight deck personnel. I think this image from an up-and-coming movie starring Nicholas Cage illustrates my point quite nicely.

    • Mattapult
      Posted March 7, 2013 at 7:06 am | Permalink

      You hit most of my thoughts exactly. I have to disagree with getting rid of all screening though.

      Keep the metal detectors. They are minimally invasive, and fairly efficient at detecting the items we least want on the planes. If anyone wanted a gun on the plane, they would probably need to find a way around the screening.

      As for those little pocket knives… I would fight back with the seat belt and buckle (given a moment to get it loose). Even if I wasn’t successful, I’m sure others would follow my lead.

      • darrelle
        Posted March 7, 2013 at 8:10 am | Permalink

        Or just the seat cushion, and as you said several other people backing you up.

        • Occam
          Posted March 7, 2013 at 9:13 am | Permalink

          We shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our aircraft, whatever the cost may be.
          We shall fight with the seatbelts, we shall fight with the buckles, we shall fight with the cushions and the posts, we shall fight with the headrests; we shall never surrender.

          • darrelle
            Posted March 7, 2013 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

            Damn! You just made me blow it. Right through my nose.

    • Brian
      Posted March 7, 2013 at 8:45 am | Permalink

      I would add, provide (require) training in unarmed combat for the flight attendants, such as Aikido for example.

      Knives are OK but box cutters aren’t — can’t figure that one out.

    • Bob J
      Posted March 7, 2013 at 10:14 am | Permalink

      I flew with my Swiss army knife for many years. You would be surprised how often it was used not just on the plane but in the air terminals as well. small blade scissors, and tweezers come in very useful.

  2. klementz1
    Posted March 7, 2013 at 6:22 am | Permalink

    Also, get rid of the ridiculous rule banning nail clippers. On the other hand, I suppose two hijackers could hold you down while a third performs the dreaded “death by a thousand clips” on your face.

  3. twentynine
    Posted March 7, 2013 at 6:30 am | Permalink

    How come on an airplane gun-control is fine but not outside on the ground? I’m not hearing anyone complain about this, where are the arguments of having the right to defend yourself against suicidal terrorists on a plane, or the arguments that guns don’t kill people, people kill people? Why isn’t anyone defending their right to carry guns on planes?

    • Posted March 7, 2013 at 6:50 am | Permalink

      I don’t want guns on a plane. I don’t even want air marshals and pilots to have guns. Every shot fired is guaranteed to injure somebody or damage the aircraft. And every gun already on board the plane is one fewer gun the evildoers have to smuggle on on their own.

      Tazers, pepper spray? Absolutely. Clubs? Of limited utility…there’s not much room to swing them? Guns? Fuck no!


    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted March 7, 2013 at 6:57 am | Permalink

      Why isn’t anyone defending their right to carry guns on planes?

      Because most people (probably wrongly) think that firing a gun inside a plane is suicide by being sucked out of the plane as the fuselage rips open.
      Aloha flight “wotsit”, the one where a third of the cabin roof fell off, gives the lie to that. I think that the legend has been Mythbusted too (not that they’re terribly rigorous).

      • Posted March 7, 2013 at 7:09 am | Permalink

        A bullet hole isn’t going to cause people to get sucked out of a plane.

        But, first, modern aircraft are pretty densely packed with important stuff. A bullet has a very good chance of cutting an hydraulic or electrical line, and that would be very bad. It has an even better chance of hitting a passenger, which would also be very bad.

        Remember, in most situations where law enforcement is going to want to fire a gun, they have a clear field of fire — no bystanders in front of or behind the suspect, and the backstop is generally pavement or a solid wall free of critical safety equipment.

        On an aircraft, you’re pretty much guaranteed to never have a clean shot unless you’re firing at point-blank range. And if you’re at point-blank range, you’ve got other effective options instead of firearms — and those other options don’t present the hazards of a firearm.

        So what idiot would want a gun on a plane, except to wreak havoc?


        • Darth Dog
          Posted March 7, 2013 at 8:18 am | Permalink

          “So what idiot would want a gun on a plane, except to wreak havoc?”

          Any one of the several million idiots who belong to the NRA, for starters.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted March 7, 2013 at 11:00 pm | Permalink

          I may have misread it, but I think Twentynine was arguing the other way – if it’s perfectly fine to ban guns on planes, why is it so bad to ban them in places on the ground?

  4. darrelle
    Posted March 7, 2013 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    Pocket knives are pretty useful general purpose tools, and are commonly used in that capacity. I don’t have a problem with the types of pocket knives described being allowed on planes, or any where else.

    But it is completely ridiculous to allow pocket knives again, but not a regular size bottle of multipurpose solution. Or any of the other similarly ridiculous restrictions.

    I agree with Ben up top. The TSA has got to go. It is a farce. It cracks me up that conservatives, those more inclined to hold manliness in the highest esteem, and to preach small government and that the government should stay out of their business, are the ones that came up with the TSA, make up the majority of TSA employees, and make up the majority of those who are pro TSA.

    As far as the affect on our society as a whole, the TSA is one of the worst things our government has done in modern history, in my opinion. Or at least it has the potential to become the worst thing, the longer it goes on the more damage is done.

    • Nick Evans
      Posted March 7, 2013 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

      Agree that knives have several useful purposes. But how many of those purposes are useful on a plane?

      • darrelle
        Posted March 7, 2013 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

        Any of the uses that you might put one to anywhere else that you are sitting for a relatively long period of time with nothing in particular to do. Personal hygiene, opening packaging of some sort, who knows? Can people get by without having their trusty pocket knife on them for a few hours? Sure. But, I am not convinced that trying to enforce a ban on such knives, and many other things, on planes is effective at increasing security.

      • Fatboy
        Posted March 8, 2013 at 8:38 am | Permalink

        Why does it have to be on the plane. Most people I know personally do their best to not check any luggage these days, and travel light with just a carry on (especially for short trips). And most of those people still want their pocket knives once they get to their destination.

  5. Posted March 7, 2013 at 7:08 am | Permalink

    WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Under fire from flight attendants and others, the Transportation Safety Administration’s new rules allowing air passengers to carry small knives, baseball bats, golf clubs, and other sporting goods onto airplanes got a vote of confidence today from the National Arbitrariness Association.

  6. Alex T
    Posted March 7, 2013 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    I think a big part of the reason that the TSA agents are so officious and rude is that they’re enforcing a totally nonsensical, arbitrary set of rules. They can’t be explained or guessed at using common sense so the passengers resist and forget.

    You’re right about the shoes, but I think you should think again about the motivations for banning small knives (including nail clippers) which people may carry automatically on key chains or in toiletry bags. Yeah, some terrorists used them once. So what? The mentality of passengers and flight crew has changed and there are reinforced cockpit doors which are the real security measures so knives are unlikely to work again.

    And Ben Goren is right – bringing any guns aboard is a big risk with little benefit. They can too easily be taken away from the air marshals. Drop the security theatre, acknowledge that motivated terrorists will always find a way through, and stop playing this futile game of catch-up where the TSA is always just reacting to the last plot.

  7. Posted March 7, 2013 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    Re: Ben Goren. Here we go again in the spirit of the holstered gun set. No rule reducing our power by weapon can be implemented because so many Davy Crocketts gotta have theirs. My take is that they are the very security issues that the TSA is supposed to address. What a circus we live in! Oh, and that driver’s license weapon sounds like NRA reverse thinking. Any objective soul can see right through this dysfunctional mindset. The TSA are nearly the NRA, n’est-ce pas? Ultimately, the way we raise our children will determine the survival of our civilization and these perpetual kids are just older game boys.

  8. Posted March 7, 2013 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    Fortunately, gila monsters under 13 inches are now permitted in carry-on attaches.

  9. morkindie
    Posted March 7, 2013 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    Maybe people should check their clothing and fly in the nude.

    • Posted March 7, 2013 at 7:57 am | Permalink

      Fine with me. Apart from the myriad ways clothing can be used to conceal any manner of non-metallic weaponry, most clothing can be torn and fashioned into a functioning garrote. One can never be too careful. It also makes it easier to identify the flatulent passengers.

      • Posted March 7, 2013 at 8:52 am | Permalink

        …if they’re not wearing clothing. !@#$#!%&%

    • gluonspring
      Posted March 7, 2013 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

      Nah. They should just drug us all at the gate and fly us unconscious. They could pack more passengers in that way too. Win win!

  10. Matt Bowman
    Posted March 7, 2013 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    The last thing I want to see on an airplane is sports equipment. I can’t stand it when some dolt brings a bunch of large bags on the plane and tries to reach up and stuff and smash them over my head.

    Long objects like bats, clubs, and poles make lousy weapons on an airplane. But they can still be used as weapons. You can’t wield a large object like that in the confines of cabin and with people all around, at least not very well. But you could knock a few heads before you are stopped.

    I doubt you can get very far with a little knife either. At least post 9/11 I don’t think you can get far. Maybe if the plane is filled with the Vienna Boys Choir and your local bingo club that 2.36-inch knife might get somewhere.

    The idea of sorting through all this crap leads me to wish that they would just keep things as simple as possible. It seems like they are asking the TSA to remember an awful lot of nonsense. No sir, you can pick 2 of your clubs and the rest you have to check. That knife is OK, but you have to check this one. Ski poles yes, skis no. Also your son needs to dump the water out of his Boy Scout canteen.

  11. Posted March 7, 2013 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    I had a minute Swiss Army knife that was only useful for cleaning nails discovered in the folds of one bag where it had descended by accident.

    The reaction from the TSA officer was as completely out of proportion to the item, which had a blade about as long and blunt as my suitcase zipper pull.

    Still all else pales next to my flight the week after 9/11 when my nail scissors and sharp pieces of paper were confiscated and then we sat down to meals on the plane with steel knives and forks….

    • darrelle
      Posted March 7, 2013 at 8:29 am | Permalink

      Yeah. Even a cheap plastic spork can be a deadly weapon. Eyeballs, nostrils and ears are very vulnerable and give direct access to other very important and delicate stuff. That kind of thing illustrates how farcical all the silly restrictions the TSA has are. It is not possible to provide for all possible risks when just about anything, including fingers, elbows and knees, can be deadly “in the hands” of a sufficiently motivated person. And the TSA is not necessary in order to provide a reasonable level of security for transportation.

      • Matt Bowman
        Posted March 7, 2013 at 11:17 am | Permalink

        Reminds me of a scene in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
        Sheriff of Nottingham: Locksley! I’m gonna cut your heart out with a spoon.

        Guy of Gisbourne: Why a spoon cousin? Why not an axe?

        Sheriff of Nottingham: Because it’s dull, you twit! It’ll hurt more.

        • darrelle
          Posted March 7, 2013 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

          Possibly my favorite scene in that movie. Whatever happened to Alan Rickman and the actor who played Guy of Gisbourne? I liked both of them in several films, particularly as villains.

          • Gregory Kusnick
            Posted March 7, 2013 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

            Not a Harry Potter fan, I take it.

            Here’s what happened to Alan Rickman. Looking up the other guy is left as an exercise for the reader.

  12. Posted March 7, 2013 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    My knitting needles could cause quite a bit of bodily damage in the wrong hands. I’ve never been stopped at security (except that time I refused to do the body scanner, but that’s another story).

  13. Posted March 7, 2013 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    Finally I can resume my in-flight whittling!
    Also, most Americans (both passengers and TSA agents) have no idea how long 2.36 in or even 6 cm is…I can’t wait to stand in line while they measure everything.

    • Posted March 7, 2013 at 9:23 am | Permalink

      Oh hell. I sure hope they aren’t going to be measuring everything. Those body scans are invasive enough as it is.

    • docbill1351
      Posted March 7, 2013 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

      You jest, but I had a friend who made regular trips to Indonesia such that all the flight crew knew him. He spent his time building wooden model boats in First Class. Cutting, sanding and gluing “timbers.” After 9/11 he had to find a new hobby.

  14. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted March 7, 2013 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    I’m not sure about the miniature baseball bats, but I don’t see why knives can’t be checked.

    I am not in the habit of checking luggage. There was always the risk that your luggage would be shipped to Singapore, but in the last several years most airlines have been charging money to offer that risk.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted March 7, 2013 at 10:44 am | Permalink

      I can’t remember the last time I checked a bag. Everything I need for a three- or four-day trip fits into my carryon. So why should I be required to bring a second bag just to hold things the TSA deems dangerous?

      That said, I think airlines have the baggage incentives exactly backwards. Checked bags should be free, and overhead bin space should cost extra. Boarding would go a hell of a lot faster that way. But that’s a whole nother rant.

  15. Derek
    Posted March 7, 2013 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    “Security theater”? – some of it seems as if it is, but there are still occasional incidents with people trying to take guns on planes, and I don’t mean the air marshals. I’m not wowed by the TSA (wish we could go back to the time when getting on a plane was like getting on a bus or train- though it’s not going to happen), but in my limited experience – 2 or 3 trips a year recently – the screeners seem to have become steadily more professional over the years, no yelling, polite questions/instructions, even a smile or two. And this from low-wage people in what must be a pretty mind-deadening job that yet they are surely told is absolutely critical to “get right”.
    This one seems strange, though.

  16. Kevin
    Posted March 7, 2013 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    You folks don’t get it.

    It’s not about the rules themselves. It’s about the ability to impose rules.

    I fly often enough that I could develop a “standard” routine for getting through the security system. But no — because every few months or so, a new rule is put into effect that changes the way screenings are done.

    It has the effect of creating discomfort through the screening process. And this is PRECISELY the point. They don’t want you feeling like you know what’s going on.

    It is SOOOOOO not about pen knives.

  17. Posted March 7, 2013 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    billiard cues, ski poles, hockey and lacrosse sticks, … golf clubs

    Paraphenalia for rich-white-people hobbies. Coincidence?

  18. TK1123
    Posted March 7, 2013 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    I think there may be some misunderstanding of the proper application of the term ‘security theater,’ because silly restrictions on pen knives were a pretty precise working example of said theater. This is a good thing, and if you agree that the TSA needs work, but think that this isn’t a step in the right direction, then you are misunderstanding the present national security snafu in which we are all embedded.

    Security theater is what happens when you value the perception of security over the exceptionally hard-to-engineer existence of security, and that happens when said response is too narrowly in the face of the universe of all possible threats, and when it is too difficult to meaningfully enforce. And it’s just plain bad security when a methodology inconveniences the legitimate users of a system more than it would a sufficiently The ban on pointy things was both.

    As for the first. A lot of people died thanks to the actions of men making use of pointy objects on an airplane- but the security vulnerability exploited wasn’t the availability of knives of airplanes, it was the ability to *commandeer* airplanes, which was a product of the ability to gain access to cockpits through flimsy unlocked doors and the perception that hijackings were about taking hostages and not about ad-hoc cruise missiles. Those vulnerabilities could have been equally well exploited by men with cudgels, or tasers made from laptop parts, or water balloons full of acid or flamethrowing squirt bottles or garrotes or a plastic toy gun that couldn’t do any harm at all, or poisoned blow guns or…a list that would get as long as a clever person would care to think about it. Imagine for a minute that the knife ban was a spell that simply beamed them out of pockets with 100% efficacy. Now imagine that you are a 9/11 conspirator that wishes to still carry out the plan and need to generate an equivalent amount of menace as a knife with a blade as long as a housekey. Can you succeed? Of course you can- not least of all, because you’re bringing along prop bombs- remember that part, where the number one reason for passenger compliance was because they though the hijackers had explosives? Anyone have a good plan for keeping things that a terrified commuter could be talked into believing is dangerous off of planes?

    Of course, you don’t need to, because it’s trivial to get something sharp onto an airplane, if you cared to. I mean, they were effectively trying to ban the combination of hard materials and acute angles. Good luck with that. I remember hearing people describing how they were intentionally keeping sharp pencils and the like accessible to stab a hijacker- which somehow didn’t ring any irony bells. Trying to screen out one particular shape of a piece of metal amidst the infinitude of things that people carry when travelling that I know of people who just snuck it through when they realized they had forgotten to leave a knife that was part of their daily carry at home- or people who did said sneaking entirely by accident. There were security researchers who used adhesives, paper, and a spoon to make knives in airplane lavatories. There’s ceramic steak knives and plastic lettuces knives. You could put sharp edges on the splint in the sole of a hiking boot or slip a rapier blade into the hollow square tube handle of your rolling carry-on.

    And, I mean, we’ve arrived at rapiers. The comedy is complete. Which brings us to part 3- the proportional inconvenience. I recall at one point the TSA doing this big drug-seizure-type press conference, with what amounted to a vat of pocket knives and nail clippers, bragging they had seized millions- and omitting the fact that each and every one had been taken from a person *who was not a terrorist.*

    So, I for one am looking forward when I don’t have to turn my pockets out.

  19. lkr
    Posted March 7, 2013 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    Hey folks,

    The point is that TSA isn’t concerned with possible, potential, imaginable assaults on a plane. They ARE concerned that one can’t commandeer or blow up the plane.

    Shoes and baby’s milk could conceal an explosive, and that’s what they-re concerned about.

    Now let me look forward to making sausage and cheese sandwiches on those long, hungry flights.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted March 7, 2013 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

      Shoes and baby’s milk could conceal an explosive, and that’s what they-re concerned about.

      That’s what they pretend to be concerned about. What the people who make policy are really concerned about is losing their jobs if a plane blows up and they did nothing. So they have to be seen doing something, however absurd and ineffectual. (As as added bonus, giving boondoggle contracts to makers of airport security equipment helps their job prospects after they leave government.)

      If the TSA actually cared about transportation safety, they’d be working on reducing highway fatalities.

      • darrelle
        Posted March 7, 2013 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

        Oh my god! Don’t give ’em any ideas!

  20. Diane G.
    Posted March 7, 2013 at 10:48 pm | Permalink


  21. madscientist
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 2:20 am | Permalink

    Well, at least they don’t allow knives with a locking mechanism – they may actually have consulted people who know their weapons in this instance – but who has the time to inspect all the knives and make sure they meet the conditions? What I really want to see banned are the so-called “air marshalls” and any pilot who carries a gun onto the aircraft – they’re currently the biggest threats to air safety. The airlines just need to schedule some maintenance on the aircraft and fit them with those $2000 reinforced doors.

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