Airlines to TSA: Keep knives off planes

Major U.S. airlines are expressing strong opposition to the Transportation Security Administration’s decision to allow knives on airplanes.

Permitting knives in carry-on luggage will make flying less safe, the CEOs of Delta Airlines and U.S. Airways wrote in letters this week to TSA Administrator John Pistole that were obtained by The Hill.

"The announcement this past week to begin allowing certain knives back into the cabins of commercial aircraft is of concern to us and we ask you to reconsider this decision," U.S. Airways CEO Doug Parker wrote in a letter that was dated March 11.

Delta Airlines CEO Richard Anderson echoed those sentiments in a separate letter to Pistole.

"We continue to support a risk-based approach to security," Anderson wrote. "However, we must object to the agency decision to allow small knives back in the aircraft cabin. These items have been banned for more than 11 years and will add little value to the customer security process flow in relation to the additional risk for our cabin staff and customers."

TSA declined to comment on the letters.

Pistole last week announced a change in TSA policy that would allow passengers to carry knives with blades shorter than 2.36 inches in their carry-on luggage for the first time since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. 

TSA has said that its decision to allow small knives on airplanes "aligns [U.S. airport security] with international standards and our European counterparts."

"Small knives, novelty-sized bats and certain sporting equipment are unlikely to result in catastrophic destruction of an aircraft," TSA said in a statement on the decision. "In the context of a layered approach to security, hardened cockpit doors further reduce the likelihood of breaching the cockpit. Federal Flight Deck Officers, crewmembers with self-defense training and Federal Air Marshals will help to ensure the safety of all crewmembers and passengers."

The agency said it was comfortable making the change because of its shift to a more "risk-based" security approach. It said allowing small knives will allow security screeners to focus their efforts on explosive devices that can be hidden in shoes and liquids.

American Airlines and Delta expressed support for the TSA’s risk-based approach, but said the agency should have met with airline officials before making such a dramatic change.

"We also understand and support the risk-based assessment employed by the TSA. However, this review and policy amendment process is most effective when it is conducted in a collaborative way with the airlines and their flight crews,” wrote Parker, who will also be the CEO of American Airlines if the company’s merger moves forward.

“In particular, seeking input before implementing a change in policy that might place our flight attendants' safety at risk would have provided a more thoughtful path to the desired outcome of secure and safe air travel."

TSA’s decision to allow small knives on planes has riled unions and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) said the TSA’s move “needlessly places the lives of airline passengers and flight attendants at risk."

Another group of lawmakers sent a letter to Pistole reminding him that small blades were used to take down American planes on 9/11.

“On September 11, 2001, hijackers on board United 93, United 175, American 77, and American 11 took over these planes using mace, box cutters and knives to attack passengers and crew," wrote Reps. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) and Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.).

"After these deadly terrorist attacks of 9/11, all knives and dangerous sporting equipment, like pool cues, were placed on a list of prohibited items and banned from planes," the lawmakers continued. "Congress acted swiftly to ensure that TSA was afforded the resources and authority to ensure a secure aviation system for the American flying public. We strongly believe that the prohibition of dangerous items is an integral layer in the safety of our aviation system."

The airline CEOs said there are other ways for TSA to cut down on the security lines that won’t compromise traveler safety.

"If the purpose is to increase security checkpoint flow, there are much more effective steps we can take together to streamline the security checkpoints with risk-based screening mechanisms," Anderson wrote. 

The changes to the TSA's list of prohibited items are scheduled to take effect in April.

— This story was updated at 1:25 p.m.