Batter Up! Terrorists Threw a Pitch, TSA Admits They Whiffed

TSA Will Permit Knives, Golf Clubs on U.S. Planes. Implicit admissions their bans did nothing to enhance safety.

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration will let people carry small pocketknives onto passenger planes for the first time since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, along with golf clubs, hockey sticks and plastic Wiffle Ball-style bats.

The agency will permit knives with retractable blades shorter than 6 centimeters (2.36 inches) and narrower than 1/2 inch, TSA Administrator John Pistole said today at an aviation security conference in Brooklyn. The change, to conform with international rules, takes effect April 25.

Apparently wiffle ball bats remain dangerous tools used by terrorists for the next 7 weeks. But terrorists will no longer be using them after that.

Passengers will also be allowed to board flights with some other items that are currently prohibited, including sticks used to play lacrosse, billiards and hockey, ski poles and as many as two golf clubs, Pistole said.

The TSA would like you to choose your clubs wisely. You may bring on only two. So you are advised to consult with your caddy prior to packing for your trip.

Changes removing items like sporting goods from the prohibited list are based on recommendations from a TSA working group that’s trying to weed out commonly confiscated items that don’t present a security threat, agency spokesman David Castelveter said.

“These are popular items we see regularly,” Castelveter said. “They don’t present a risk to transportation security.”

I want to applaud this. I really do. But it’s taken better than a decade to get here, even acknowledging that the items weren’t a security threat all along.

And to the Transportation Workers Union that’s going out there today decrying the risk to the cabin that these items will present, the change conforms to international standards and we haven’t seen a decade worth of wiffle ball bat attacks.

And TSA Administrator Pistole makes the very sensible point that banning low risk items makes us less safe.

“The idea that we have to look for, to find and then somehow resolve whatever that prohibited item is — that takes time and effort,” Pistole said. “That may detract us from that item that could lead to a catastrophic failure on an aircraft.”

And yet some low risk items will continue to be banned for sentimental reasons.

Box cutters, like those used by the Sept. 11 terrorists, and razor blades will still be banned.

“The sensitivity to those who were attacked on 9/11 still resonates strongly,” Pistole said. “There’s just too much emotion associated with them, particularly the box cutters.”

The agency also is carving out two exceptions to its ban on most baseball and softball bats. It will allow souvenir, novelty baseball bats less than 24 inches long and will permit lightweight plastic bats even if they’re more than 2 feet long (61 centimeters).

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. So we can have knives, but not smaller box cutters? What if my box cutter doesn’t have any blades in it? What if I have blades but no box cutter? The blades are smaller than the now-permitted knives.

  2. @Gary Steiger – they haven’t been banned worldwide, are box cutter attacks only feasible within US airspace? TSA finally admits that focusing on items that aren’t a threat draws resources away from items that ARE a threat, making us less safe.

  3. I’m skeptical how closely the TSA screens prohibited items in the first place. Golf clubs are obvious, but pocket knifes have probably been making it through security for a while. I’ve been pushing the boundaries on what I can bring on-board recently: larger bottles of sunscreen, razors, big tubes of toothpaste. I don’t want to wage war on my country, I just want to shave my legs immediately when I go the beach for a weekend. So far, I’ve had one false positive inspection. None of my prohibited items have been confiscated yet.

  4. Ski poles? Does that go into effect now? And how can we verify if “our” airport is included?

  5. The water ban makes sense – if you drink too much water, you can die. Protecting you from yourself…

    I’m still sore about the confiscation of my hot sauce from a carribean vacation some years back. I had forgetting to move it to my checked luggage, along with a corkscrew and knife combination. They only took the hotsauce and missed the knife.

  6. No, the thinking is that dehydrated terrorists really can’t effectively take over a plane. And since anyone might be a terrorist, it’s best to keep us all thirsty.

  7. I’d rather see water bottles be allowed through security than pocket knives. I really don’t think golf clubs should be on board they are a security risk. Get a person carrying golf club po’d and they can become a weapon.

    As for the water, I think the TSA gets a cut of every bottle of water sold past security. That’ why its banned. LOL

  8. If a box cutter is still outlawed, why the h*** is a knife allowed. I know this article mentions why, but I wish knives were still not allowed. If a plane with 3-4 terrorists, each with a box-cutter, can take over an aircraft I don’t see why they couldn’t do the exact same thing with a 2.36″ long pocket knife. I applaud the re-instating of wiffle ball bats and golf clubs, but I personally think the knife thing is ludicrous. And god-forbid something similar to 911 happens again, then we’ll all be right back here blaming the TSA for NOT keeping us safe.

  9. “The sensitivity to those who were attacked on 9/11 still resonates strongly,”

    Sad translation: the terrorists continue to win

  10. So I’m thinking I’ll take my 3 wood and 9 Iron. I can pretty much hit around the course with those two or maybe I should go with a hybrid club. Now I’ll be able to use those free golf balls I got last year from Crown Plaza stays 🙂

  11. “If a plane with 3-4 terrorists, each with a box-cutter, can take over an aircraft”…

    Except, that’s not what happened. The standing policy back then was not to confront highjackers. So the FAs ordered the passengers to stay seated. Then complied with the terrorists demand to be allowed to tie the FAs hands behind their backs. Once so bound, a box cutter was all that was needed to slit their throats.

    If 4 terrorists tried that today, armed only with box cutters, half the plane would be yelling “let’s roll” as they jumped them, tied them up, and sat on them until airport security came on board.

  12. “Apparently wiffle ball bats remain dangerous tools used by terrorists for the next 7 weeks. But terrorists will no longer be using them after that…The TSA would like you to choose your clubs wisely. You may bring on only two. So you are advised to consult with your caddy prior to packing for your trip.”


  13. Hey, as absurd as much of this is, let’s not lose sight that the TSA just admitted that it wasn’t right… Rare for any large organization (government, airline, or corporation). Let’s all encourage him and the more rational elements within the TSA.

    Pistole is admitting that several banned items never posed a danger. This never would have happened under prior management (recall Kip Hawley and the plastic bag notes). Pistole has also talked about making screenings less intrusive and expanding trusted traveler so they can focus on real threats.

    I at least get the sense that Pistole is trying to be logical and reasonable, even if the politics don’t quite let him get there.

  14. so they make a positive change, and you still ream them out?

    positive changes should be applauded, even if they took too long. any good change is still a change in the right direct

  15. @Robert Hanson

    It can reasonably be argued that the 9/11 attacks lead a recession in 2001, which then (through various policies) lead to the trauma of the financial crisis in 2008 through to the present. Of course it is also beyond argument that 9/11 lead to two devastating wars, budget deficits, loss of American prestige, and of course the deaths of many in Afghanistan and Iraq. Therefore it is in our interest, even at the extent of troubling flyers, to prevent them.

    Certainly attacks are remote and the possibility small. But they have happened and planes remain the best chance for technically unsophisticated terrorists to create truly massive and spectacular destruction. That being said, precautions to limit any potential weapon on a plane is good policy. We are trying to prevent an outlier event. I don’t see a legitimate reason for knives and sharp objects on a plane, and while the water rule and shoe removal is cumbersome, these have been ploys attempted since 2001 and we are in a sense fortunate that they did not work.

    Your optimism at a positive outcome after giving everyone access to weapons, and then pitting passengers vs terrorists in a cage match in the sky is not one I, or I imagine most, would share.

  16. Any word on when they will start allowing YOGURT? My daughter is allergic to dairy and loves a specific type of soy yogurt, so we always try to bring a couple of 6-ounce factory-sealed ones on the plane. But, you guessed it, yogurt is deemed a liquid! The last time the TSA Yogurt Nazi ruled that two yogurts were too much for the 4-hour flight. So one was let through, the other went into the trash. Everyone felt safer!

  17. I trust that aligning with international standards wii mean getting rid of the nonsense about removing shoes. The US is the only country I know of which makes everyone remove their shoes

  18. I agree with AJ, I see no reason to allow knives or razors or anything sharp on airplanes. You can pick up a razor at your arriving airport shops on your way out, so you can be clean shaven before you get to the beach. I think it is an incredibly small sacrifice to make when considering the sacrifices made by 9/11 folks and our military folks since 9/11. I don’t understand the people who belly ache the most about security inconvieniences are the first and loudest to want to place blame when something terrible happens. That being said whiffle bats and many other restricted items are ridiculous. Common sence needs to prevail and it seems except for the knife and golf clubs, Pistole is trying to make good common sence changes. Good for him. I just hope he doesn’t go to far to appease the complainers. I.E. knifes and golf clubs on Cary on.

  19. @AJ So I guess you are saying that the 9-11 terrorist attacks were a BAD thing?

    I find the logic of “we need to prevent bad things from happening, so we must do things, even if useless” to prevent them foolish. The International standard is to allow these things on planes, has been ever since 9-11 everywhere except the US, has never led to a hijacking anywhere. So why are they dangerous in US airspace, but not anywhere else.

    If someone wants a weapon, a full wine bottle is as good a blunt instrument as a golf club. As for knives, the FAs give them out with meal service. Much longer ones than the 2 inch ones the TSA is going to allow people to carry. While the TSA is busy confiscating my cork puller, people still do occasionally get loaded handguns thru the security screening. I say they concentrate on truly dangerous weapons, and let people bring on their pocket knives and 6 oz toothpaste tubes.

    And then, yes, let the passengers pay attention to their surroundings. It wasn’t the TSA that caught the shoe bomber, and the underwear bomber, it was passengers seated near them. And 4 basically unarmed terrorists vs 125 to 250 passengers is hardly a “cage match”. Simply knowing that passengers will no longer sit passively by while 4 terrorists take over the plane is the reason we haven’t seen another attempt of that sort since 9-11.

  20. Any move toward logic on this issue is welcome; yes, we have a loooooong way to go, but as Confucious states, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

    @thoseconcernedwithcuttinginstrumentsinthecabin, consider that the paradigm *has* changed, and you won’t see 5 or 10 evildoers take over the cabin; the rules have changed and every passenger understands this, for an example read up on Southwest 1763…

    The next ‘battle’ will likely involve an item in the cargo hold, shipped as cargo and not screened nearly as closely as your vacation underwear, so I’d rather the TSA show more scrutiny to what lies below.

  21. I must admit that I don’t agree with these TSA changes, in spite of their arguments of international standards. Just pack them locked in checked luggage. It is only really electronics and certain valuable items you should really carry on a plane otherwise security have a tendency to nick them.

  22. @The Guy you may not need to carry them on, but if you ban them then TSA needs to check for them which distracts resources and attention from real threats and makes us less safe. That’s the argument, not that people need to bring the stuff into the cabin.

  23. I can see why golf clubs, lacrosse sticks, etc are annoying from a cabin crew perspective, practically speaking. Those things can be annoying to store in an very full bin. But the danger argument just smacks of an “abundance of caution.”

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