Blades on a Plane: Why the TSA Cares More About Mouthwash than Passenger Safety

Knives on airplanes. The phrase is like a cataract on a defining, horrific moment in American history. Think about it: every passenger with a knife in their pocket. Each person as potentially armed, potentially dangerous. Have we actually managed to convince ourselves that bladed weapons weren’t the preamble to the single greatest act of terrorism committed on United States soil? That’s myopic thinking, a reduction so absurd that it would be laughable if it weren’t actually happening. I mean it’s ridiculous; who in their right mind would allow blades of any size on aircraft traveling through U.S. skies after September 11, 2001? The Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The very same body tasked with finding and removing contraband items from passengers and their bags would still like to throw away shampoo bottles, but the knives can stay, within reason, of course. This is stunning amnesia, a brain fart the size of a continent.

What’s worse? Knives aren’t the TSA’s biggest problem – it’s all those explosives their agents still fail to find.

A Perfect Storm of New Weapons and Lax Security

The $44 billion in cuts to discretionary budget spending, more popularly known as “the sequester,” include a reduction in the TSA’s coffers for at least 2013. According to CNS News, the chopping effect on TSA’s budget may force a sharp reduction in the number of agents checking bags and performing security screenings. A hiring freeze may also go into effect, along with mandatory eliminations of overtime hours for existing employees not already furloughed. All this adds up to longer lines at airport security checkpoints, and fewer agents to find contraband items. In essence, TSA would like to focus on finding explosives, which necessitates the relaxed knife rules, but plan to do so with fewer agents. Does that sound like an effective strategy for protecting passengers and flight crews across the country?

The loosened security screenings could allow contraband knives, with longer blades and molded grips, to slip through the lines and get on planes. It’s not as though passengers will all of a sudden begin carrying their knives onto aircraft, they’ve been trying all along. The TSA isn’t suddenly choosing to open the flood gates; the city is already under water. Consider the following:

- Blades with 2.36-inch lengths and ½-inch widths are allowed through security checkpoints beginning in April.
In 2011, TSA agents confiscated 1,306 guns at U.S. airports, according to NBC News.

- Full-body scanners, reportedly responsible for catching the majority of contraband items, including ceramic knives, were removed from security checkpoints.

- In March 2013, an undercover TSA agent was able to pass through two security checkpoints, and survive a pat-down, while carrying a mock security device through Newark International Airport.

Dangerous items found by TSA security agents in 2012 include: chunks of C4 explosive, a live cannonball, training claymore mines, a fully-gassed chainsaw, a spear gun, a grenade launcher, multiple explosive grenades, a handgun in a hollowed-out book, a bazooka round, and warheads. What kind of warheads? TSA isn’t saying.

A focus on finding more explosives is an admirable goal, but it lacks perspective. Terrorists didn’t need explosives in 2001 to hijack three of our passenger aircraft and turn them into weapons of mass destruction. They needed knives, and now they’re back in the cabin. How can we say the main interest is safety when we skimp on the systems in place to keep us safe?

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