Knives: Cleared for Takeoff?

A memo by TSA Staff is being criticized for suggesting passengers be allowed to carry scissors, ice picks, razor blades and knives.

As he attended ceremonies in New York honoring the victims of Sept. 11, something beyond the obvious grief nagged at Gordon Haberman.

If it wasnt enough to lose his 25-year-old daughter in the attacks on the World Trade Center, Haberman couldnt understand why the federal government would consider allowing passengers to start carrying razor blades and small knives on planes.

If there is anything that I have learned in the last four years, it is that terrorists are opportunistic, said Haberman of West Bend, Wis. They watch what we are doing and would exploit any relaxation of the rules.

Those rules might change.

The Transportation Security Administration, the federal agency that oversees airline security, is re-examining how it screens the 630 million passengers who board planes each year.

An Aug. 5 memo, prepared by TSA staff and obtained by The Washington Post, has set off an avalanche of criticism across the country because it suggested allowing passengers to carry items such as scissors, ice picks, bows and arrows, razor blades and knives less than 5 inches long.

The proposal also suggested reducing security nuisances such as patdowns and routine shoe removal as passengers go through security. Passengers who set off a metal detector, for example, would still have to remove their shoes under the proposal.

Families of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, some congressmen, pilots and flight attendants have assailed the idea of allowing knives on planes. They say it undermines any improvements made to airline security in the last four years.

I dont think people should carry things on like they did on September 11 and kill people. It doesnt make sense, said Robert Hemenway of Shawnee, whose son, Ronald, was killed when an American Airlines jet slammed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11.

TSA officials would not comment on the memo, but said no decisions had been made about any changes in the prohibited items list. A decision is not expected until later this fall.

The latest re-evaluation came with the arrival of Edmund S. Hawley to head the TSA in his role as assistant secretary of homeland security, said TSA spokeswoman Carrie Harmon. He called for the review in an effort to make security less of a hassle for passengers.

We are constantly looking at our screening procedures and trying to balance high-level security with a high level of customer services, Harmon said.

Harmon stressed that the TSA is trying to collect input from as many different groups as possible, including the airlines, airport managers and others directly affected by the Sept. 11 attacks.

Some groups, like the one that represents more than 20,000 American Airlines flight attendants, have ripped the initial proposal to relax screening regulations. Two American Airlines planes were hijacked on Sept. 11, and 13 American flight attendants were killed.

Its just unimaginable the TSA would consider this, said Lonny Glover, national safety coordinator for the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, which represents Americans attendants.

These are things that have no reason or purpose to be brought into the aircraft cabin by a passenger. Why does a passenger need a freakin ice pick?

For the traveling public at Kansas City International Airport, screening is sometimes a hindrance to boarding the plane on time. Some passengers said there are other ways to thwart terrorism than searching for pocket knives.

Heinrich Klinge of Harrisonville travels almost every week and thinks many TSA policies, such as the ban on small knives and scissors, were an overreaction to the terrorist attacks.

He said some of the technology used at airports was a more effective way of fighting terrorism than confiscating certain items.

I am for airport security, he said, but not feel-good security.

Robert Brown of Kansas City agreed. He said sealing the cockpit doors prevents terrorists from overtaking a pilot. Lifting the ban on certain carry-on items would make airport security lines move more quickly, he said.

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