ATLANTA_Flight attendants at the nation's busiest airport protested Monday against the relaxing of U.S. security restrictions that once again allow passengers to bring small scissors and screwdrivers aboard planes.
"They have taken our safety and our security one step backwards," Air Tran attendant Susan Cosby said at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta. "How can these items that once were viewed as potential weapons now be deemed safe?"
In actions expected to be mirrored in air hubs across the United States, about a dozen flight attendants in Atlanta wore placards and pins with an image of scissors and a screwdriver with a red slash mark through them, and they gathered signatures for a petition asking Congress to reinstate the bans.
The Transportation Security Agency lifted the bans Dec. 22, allowing previously forbidden items - such as screwdrivers and pliers smaller than 6 inches (15 cm) and scissors with blades smaller than 4 inches (10 cm) - back on board planes.
TSA spokesman Chris White said the bans were lifted so the agency could refocus attention on explosives, which the agency considers the current top threat to aviation.
Knives of any length still are banned from planes, as are cigarette lighters.
"As a flight attendant, I'd take a lighter over a blade (from scissors) any time," said flight attendant Amy Green of Atlantic Southeast Airlines. "I can hear a lighter. I can't hear a blade."
If an X-ray machine detects a small tool or pair of scissors, TSA officials must perform a hand search of the passenger with those items.
White added that since December 2004 the agency has offered free self-defense training to all flight crew members.
He noted other improvements to aviation security in the four years since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, including hardened cockpit doors, an increase in federal air marshals and the arming of some commercial airline pilots.
"Because these enhancements have taken place, the threat to aviation has shifted," White said. "We believe that time is better spent to attempt to detect explosives."
But Green and other flight attendants said the small scissors and tools are much larger and potentially more dangerous than the box cutters terrorists used during the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to gain control of planes. The flight attendants said airlines should make the self-defense training sessions mandatory and make the courses more accessible to crew members, who often are flying several days a week.
"Safety is not tedious," Green said. "If a small blade can hurt somebody and brought planes down on 9/11, then a four-inch blade (from scissors) can hurt someone."
On the Net:
List of allowed items on planes:
Petition to reverse TSA rule: http://www.leaveallbladesbehind.com