On June 5, 2013, the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) finally came face-to-face with reality.
It announced that it was abandoning its plan to let passengers carry small knives, baseball bats, golf clubs and other sports equipment onto planes, as it had originally intended.
Of course, TSA didn’t drop this plan because it wanted to. It did so because of fierce opposition from passengers, Congressional leaders and airline industry officials.
TSA Administrator John Pistole had unveiled the proposal in March, saying that in these days of hardened cockpit doors, armed off-duty pilots traveling on planes and other preventive measures, small folding knives could not be used by terrorists to take over a plane.
He said that intercepting them takes time that would be better used searching for explosives and other more serious threats.
TSA screeners confiscate over 2,000 small folding knives a day from passengers.
The proposal would have permitted folding knives with blades that are 2.36 inches (6 centimeters) or less in length and are less than 1/2 inch (1 centimeter) wide. The aim was to allow passengers to carry pen knives, corkscrews with small blades and other knives.
Passengers also would also have been allowed to bring onboard novelty-sized baseball bats less than 24 inches long, toy plastic bats, billiard cues, ski poles, hockey sticks, lacrosse sticks and two golf clubs.
The United States has gradually eased airline security measures that took effect after 9/11.
In 2005, TSA said it would let passengers carry on small scissors, knitting needles, tweezers, nail clippers and up to four books of matches. The agency began focusing on keeping explosives off planes, because intelligence officials believed that was the greatest threat to commercial aviation.
With regard to the use of edged weapons as terrorist tools:
- The terrorists who highjacked four jetliners and turned them into flying bombs on September 11, 2001, used only boxcutters to cut the throats of stewards and stewardesses; and
- They then either forced their way into the cockpits and overpowered and murdered the pilots, or lured the pilots to leave the cabins and murdered them.
It’s also worth remembering that for all the publicity given the TSA’s “Air Marshal” program, it’s been airline passengers who have repeatedly been the ones to subdue unruly fliers.
Consider the following incidents:
- On August 11, 2000, Jonathan Burton, a passenger aboard a Southwest Airlines flight tried to break into the cockpit was killed by other passengers who restrained him.
- On May 9, 2011, crew members and passengers wrestled a 28-year-old man to the cabin floor after he began pounding on the cockpit door of a plane approaching San Francisco.
- On February 21, 2012, passengers aboard a Continental Airlines flight from Portland to Houston rushed to aid a flight attendant subdue a Middle Eastern man who began shouting, “Allah is great!”
- On March 27, 2012, a JetBlue flight from new York to Las Vegas was forced to land in Texas after the pilot started shouting about bombs and al-Qaeda and had to be subdued by passengers.
- On January 9, 2013, passengers on board an international flight from Reykjavik to New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport subdued an unruly passenger by tying him to his seat with duct tape and zip ties after he began screaming and hitting other passengers.
- On May 27, 2013, a passenger aboard an Alaska Airlines flight from Anchorage to Portland, Oregon, tried to open an airplane door in-flight and was subdued by passengers and crew members until the plane landed in Portland.
In every one of these incidents, it’s been passengers–not the vaunted Air Marshals–who have been the first and major line of defense against mentally unstable or terroristically inclined passengers.
In opposing TSA’s proposal to loosen security restrictions, skeptical lawmakers, airlines, labor unions and law enforcement groups argued that knives and other items could be used to injure or kill passengers and crew.
Such weapons would have increased the dangers posed by the above-cited passengers (and a pilot) who erupted in frightening behavior.
Prior to 9/11, commercial airline pilots and passengers were warned: If someone tries to highjack the plane, just stay calm and do what he says.
So many airplanes were directed by highjackers to land in Fidel Castro’s Cuba that these incidents became joke fodder for stand-up comedians.
And, up to 9/11, the advice to cooperate fully with highjackers and land the planes where they wanted worked. No planes and no lives were lost.
But during 9/11, passengers and crew–with one exception–cooperated fully with the highjackers’ demands.
And all of them died horrifically when three of those jetliners were deliberately crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
World Trade Center under airplane attack
Only on United Flight 93 did the passengers and crew fight back.
In doing so, they accomplished what soldiers, military pilots, the CIA and the FBI could not: They thwarted the terrorists, sacrificing their own lives and preventing the fourth plane from destroying the White House of the Capitol Building.
Memorial to the passengers and crew of United Flight 93
Since every airline passenger must now become his or her own Air Marshal, it seems only appropriate that the criminals they face be rendered as harmless as possible.