Knives back on planes an alarming idea

Posted Saturday, Mar. 09, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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You've got to wonder if Transportation Security Administration officials have started dipping into the mountain of illegal drugs confiscated every year at the nation's airports.

It's pretty clear these people have taken leave of their senses. Allowing knives, sticks and clubs on airplanes? When the flight attendants I work with at Southwest and AirTran heard about this decision, we could hardly believe it. If they allow small weapons on board, what's next?

It took less than 24 hours to get an answer, when former TSA administrator Kip Hawley told CNN he supports the policy change -- and would go further:

"They ought to let everything on that is sharp and pointy. Battle axes, machetes ... bring anything you want that is pointy and sharp because, while you may be able to commit an act of violence, you will not be able to take over the plane. ... You pull out your battle ax and say I'm taking over the airplane. You may be able to cut one or two people, but pretty soon you would be down in the aisle and the battle ax would be used on you."

Hawley says that allowing small and large weapons to pass through TSA screening will "smooth the process, cost less money, and be better security." Which proves that, despite his years of service at TSA under President Bush, Hawley apparently knows very little about the realities of security aboard an airplane.

Neither does current TSA head John Pistole.

Nobody who works in aviation wants to go back to pre-9-11 procedures, when terrorists could physically storm the cockpit. I'm glad the pilots I fly with can operate behind locked doors and land a plane safely even if there is a disturbance in the passenger cabin.

Security is about more than preventing terrorism. Incidents of "air rage" were on a dramatic uptick prior to 9-11. Over the past dozen years, added security and zero tolerance for violence have led to a decline in abusive behavior and physical attacks in the passenger cabin.

Aside from showing a revolting, cavalier attitude about the lives of flight attendants and passengers, the idea that we can live with ax-wielding mayhem at 30,000 feet without compromising the overall security of air travel is nonsense.

Pilots, flight attendants, airline ground workers -- and passengers -- are partners in safety before, during and after a flight. Sure, a trained pilot can land a flight even during an emergency -- but why adopt a policy that could lead to repeated airborne emergencies?

Neither the current nor former head of the agency that's supposed to prevent terrorism seems to understand much about the actual psychology of terror. The point is not necessarily to take down a plane or cause a large number of casualties. The goal is to terrify people and make daily life impossible.

Can a determined psychopath wielding a knife, machete or battle ax strike terror into the hearts and minds of passengers at 30,000 feet? And into the hearts and minds of millions of people who would see news of any such an event repeated endlessly on TV, the Internet and social media?

The question answers itself. TSA must reverse course. That's why the Transport Workers Union is joining the Coalition of Flight Attendants Unions, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association and other concerned citizens in a petition drive and campaign to stop this harebrained scheme from taking effect.

Let's work together to prevent "acts of violence" wherever they may take place, and make our skies as safe as possible.

Stacy Martin of Dallas is president of TWU Local 556, representing nearly 11,000 flight attendants at Southwest Airlines.

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