This past Tuesday news headlines abounded about a Utah man being arrested after he boarded a Delta Air Lines flight from Salt Lake City to Las Vegas with a knife, but the real headline should be “How do all these knives keep passing through Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoints?”
Granted, David Alan Anderson travel’s with a knife are significant because he threatened to murder passenger, followed by threatening to murder two Federal Agents, but let’s get past that … most people with knives on planes have no intention of murdering anyone, much less two Federal Agents.
For nearly two years I have been crossing in and out of airport security with a knife, partly to test the system and see if the knife ever gets stopped and partly because my knife has a number of useful tools I find myself needing frequently. My knife has been in my possession passing through passenger security checkpoints throughout the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan, Hong Kong, Government Buildings, ramp security checks, and security before entering hanger complexes and some other places I’m sure I’ve forgotten about. I don’t hide my knife, in fact I’ve blogged about it in the past and Tweeted about it quite a few times … with pictures … more than once, going so far as to use the “#TSA” hash-tag.
This past winter as I sat in an airport lounge with my knife out, using the screwdriver tip to tighten a screw on a lens, a woman sat down next to me and started chatting with me about my knife. In turn she pulled out the pocketknife she said she’d been flying with for the past few years. This may sound odd, but I’ve even had more than one airline employee, and a few TSA employees, ask me where I purchased my knife after reading my blog post or seeing my Tweets about this knife …
… which leads to this question, why is the TSA looking for, and seemingly not finding, an item that the agency widely believes is not a significant threat to aviation security? Nearly all of the TSA’s security research for the past few years has shown that small pocketknives pose no significant threat to commercial aviation. A decade ago it was shown that a knife could be used to keep passengers on a flight in fear while a flight was hijacked, however passenger attitudes have changed, airline passengers are no longer “sheeple.” Passengers have shown they will tackle a terrorist with a bomb, restrain a violent passenger and in one case kill a passenger trying to enter the cockpit.
Should someone seek to do damage with a knife, ceramic blades are lethal and somewhat easy to get through security. Skipping high-tech and expensive ceramic blades, a rigid carry on bag insert can be sharpened down, inserted back into a bag and become nearly impossible to detect. By why would someone who was a real threat to aviation security even use a knife when countless other weapons that can be fashioned in non-threatening ways and go completely undetected by security screenings?
So back to the real question here … why is it the TSA is consistently unable to find something they constantly say they are looking for?