Are you confused about why the Transportation Security Administration was planning on allowing small knives on planes starting this Thursday, but still won’t let you bring large bottles of liquids on board? Don’t be. It’s simple. Liquids can be used to make an explosion and bring down an airplane; knives can’t.
But on Monday the beleaguered head of the TSA, John Pistole, temporarily backed down from his decision last month to allow small knives on board, saying he would reassess the move after he hears from a committee of passenger representatives, flight attendants and law enforcement officials.
Pistole has been on the hot seat since the announcement, under attack from politicians, flight attendants and others. But he still stands by it. “His thinking was and remains that the focus of TSA should be on threats that present the greatest risks to air travelers,” says TSA spokesman David Castelveter, “And those risks are explosive devices. It’s not his belief, nor that of the Intelligence community, that a pen knife would contribute to bringing down an aircraft.”
Think about the post-9/11 measures that have been implemented to diminish the danger from small knives: cockpit doors have been locked and hardened; air marshals ride random flights incognito; pilots carry handguns; and flight attendants have gone through self-defense training. Even if a terrorist could get to the cockpit and take over the controls using a folding, non-locking knife with a blade that is less than 6 centimeters long and ½ inch wide, there is no way passengers would sit by and let him fly the plane into a building.
Much of the resistance to the new rule has come from those who worry that a small knife might be used to hurt a passenger or flight attendant. In testimony, Pistole has pointed out that a broken glass, the heel of a shoe or the fork from a business class meal can do as much damage as a small folding knife.
Why let the knives on at all? The main reason is to bring U.S. rules into line with international ones allowing small knives on board. “[Pistole's] intent to align our standards with international airline industry,” says Castelveter.
No timeline for the delay has been set.