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Is TSA serious about letting people carry knives?

By Tiffany Hawk, Special to CNN
March 7, 2013 -- Updated 1819 GMT (0219 HKT)
This presentation outlines changes to the Transportation Security Administration's prohibited items list. Some small knives will be allowed in carry-on luggage starting in April. This presentation outlines changes to the Transportation Security Administration's prohibited items list. Some small knives will be allowed in carry-on luggage starting in April.
HIDE CAPTION
Knives allowed by TSA
Knives not allowed
Small knives guideline
Sharp objects not allowed
Novelty bats allowed
Sports equipment allowed
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Tiffany Hawk shocked TSA soon will allow air passengers to carry some small knives
  • Hawk: There is a reason knives were banned before -- they made the 9/11 attacks possible
  • She says passengers and flight attendants are at risk if someone wields a knife
  • Hawk: Faster and easier checkpoints needed, not backward and absurd policies

Editor's note: Tiffany Hawk, a former flight attendant with United Airlines and Virgin America, is the author of "Love Me Anyway," a forthcoming novel about two young flight attendants coming of age at 35,000 feet.

(CNN) -- Like most Americans, I am stupefied that the Transportation Security Administration will soon permit passengers to carry some small knives on airplanes, especially since the process that turns checkpoints into maddening logjams -- removing shoes, liquids and computers -- remains unchanged.

The only thing more surprising is the news that they will also allow items such as pool cues, lacrosse sticks and one or two golf clubs. Who travels with one golf club? I can just see "Happy Gilmore" twirling his nine-iron as he makes his way through airplane terminals around the country.

The absurdity is just laughable - only this is serious.

Former TSA chief backs 'knife' decision, suggests axes

Tiffany Hawk
Tiffany Hawk

There is a reason knives were banned in the first place -- they killed people and made the 9/11 attacks possible. The TSA argues that hijacking procedures have changed and cockpits aren't likely to be breached by knife-wielding terrorists again. "Sharp objects can no longer bring down aircraft," former TSA chief Kip Hawley told CNN.

Note the word "aircraft" -- not people. As someone who was a flight attendant for United Airlines on 9/11, I am intimately familiar with that logic.

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Only a few weeks after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, I sat through cockpit briefings that went something like this: "If a terrorist takes you hostage, we will have to let you die," or "If terrorists take over the cabin, we will drive the plane into the ground."

In other words, knives probably won't endanger pilots, skyscrapers or expensive airplanes, but passengers and flight attendants? You're on your own.

I don't know about you, but I find that blatantly offensive. When terrorists use box cutters and pocketknives to slit your colleagues' throats, you don't move on so easily. And that is why I am so utterly slack-jawed at the decision to allow the same weapons that were used to kill so many people. In 2004, the 9/11 Commission found that terrorists used knives such as Leatherman tools to overtake the crew.

Air marshals, flight attendants want TSA to reconsider

Even if I were to concede that small knives no longer pose as imminent a threat as say, bottled water or shampoo, allowing knives stirs up grief and fear for so many. And what is the upside?

TSA to lift ban on small items
Knives on a plane

The TSA claims this policy will benefit passengers, citing the 850 pounds of banned goods that are surrendered at checkpoints each month. Who are these people who don't know about the 12-year-long ban on knives? The same ones who can't buckle a seat belt without watching a safety demo, I suppose.

So the TSA, an already embattled agency, is annoying most of the country and pissing off hoards of flight attendants for the sole benefit of their own screeners and the apparently powerful knife-nut lobby. Could it unwittingly help terrorists, too?

If the search for knives truly is the culprit that's clogging up screening lanes, maybe those who bring them should be fined.

There is no question that our security system is a catastrophe and desperately needs to be overhauled. Do you ever notice just how drastically people's moods change after navigating a checkpoint at a major airport? It's shocking to watch travelers enter the line all smiley and jazzed about a vacation or career opportunity only to emerge exhausted, disheveled, angry and possibly late.

I would even argue that, ironically, the current security system contributes to air rage, an increasing threat of its own. However, I don't believe for one minute that being forced to check one's sporting equipment is anywhere near the heart of the problem.

We need faster and easier checkpoints, but instead of coming up with a novel approach, the TSA wants to go backward. Allowing such weapons just doesn't make sense. Unless, of course, you believe the only thing that will stop a bad guy with a billiards cue is a good guy with a Wiffle ball bat.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Tiffany Hawk.

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