The TSA Rereverses Its Already Reversed Decision On Knives As Carry On

This afternoon at 14:42hrs EST the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) Administrator John S. Pistole sent an email to all agency employees regarding a “Prohibited Items List Update.


The email, one which was expected by many, rereversed an already reversed decision by Administrator Pistole to withdraw the March 5 2013 announcement that passengers would be allow to fly with small pocket knives, two golf clubs, ski poles, and other items prohibited after September 11th 2001, on the 25th of April.   The change to the TSA’s prohibited items did not go into effect on the 25th of April, but instead was temporarily delayed on the 22nd of April. Now, on the 5th of June all items slated to be reallowed as carry-on items will remain prohibited for the foreseeable future.


Today’s email from Administrator Pistole states:


Recently, I asked the Aviation Security Advisory Committee, law enforcement officials, passenger advocates, other important stakeholders, and the public to review modifications to the Prohibited Items List.


TSA strongly values the input of our partners and traveling public, and I have appreciated the varying points of view shared throughout the review process. After extensive engagement with these stakeholders, I have decided to continue to enforce the current prohibited item list. Small knives, novelty-sized and toy bats, billiard cues, ski poles, hockey sticks, lacrosse sticks and golf clubs will remain on the prohibited items list for carry-on baggage.


Our top priority continues to be expansion of efforts to implement a layered, risk-based security approach to passenger screening while maximizing resources. Risk-based security enhances the travel experience while allowing TSA to continue to keep passengers safe by focusing on those we know less about.”


This email from Administrator Pistole is interesting, especially since the original decision to remove small knives and other prohibited items included the input of the Aviation Security Committee and other “stakeholders” as part of a working group. The original text from Pistole’s email on the 5th of March reads After reviewing the working group’s assessment, I have made the decision to remove some items from the Prohibited Items List. This risk-based change maintains a focus on IEDs and aligns our Prohibited Items List with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) list that currently governs most foreign countries whose passengers fly into, through and out of the United States. ”



The statement on the 5th of March was based on research that “included analysis of intelligence, the current threat environment, operational impacts and existing international prohibited items regulations” so one has to ask … what happened in the world of aviation security between the 5th of March and now?


On the 22nd of April the Administrator Pistole cited the terror attack on The Boston Marathon, however that attack involved a pressure cooker and ball bearings, both of which the TSA still allows on board all flights as carry on items.   There have been no threats to global commercial aviation security using small knives, ski poles, golf clubs or miniature toy bats, however there was industry outcry from flight attendant organization and some negative public sentiment, leading to one conclusion.


The conclusion is this, the rereversal of the original reversal to once again allow small pocket knives on commercial flights is a decision made based on public opinion, much like the decision to allow children and the elderly to leave their shoes on and pass through the walk through metal detector rather than the advanced imaging technology (AIT) scanners … despite actual intelligence and threat analysis showing that children and the elderly could potentially be high risk for unknowingly concealing prohibited items while passing through airport security checkpoints.


The TSA is an odd agency. As a whole the agency appears to rarely answer to anyone, constantly citing intelligence and threat analysis, yet at times the agency makes policy choices based on public opinion, while completely ignoring intelligence and threat analysis.


Aviation security is not a show. It is not up to the public to dictate aviation security policy. Aviation security is about using detailed information, research and threat analysis to create a security policy and system that has a single goal of protecting aircraft in-flight.


The TSA’s management needs to take a step back, stop listening to the talking heads and follow the intelligence while making risk-based changes that align with the ICAO Prohibited Items List.

Happy Flying!




  1. I know, it is so frustrating… After several years of randomly applied guidelines at different airports, I just gave up trying to carry the tiny little swiss army knives. There have been MANY times on roadtrips I have missed my little scissors and tweezers, and was happy the restriction was ending. Alas……

  2. I believe that scissors with pointed blades up to four inches long remain legal to carry on, however. What could go wrong?

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