TSA To Allow Small Knives on Airplanes, and I’m Glad


Beginning on April 25, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is doing something that you don’t often see; it is loosening restrictions on what you can bring through security. Shock! Horror! What is now being permitted, small knives among other things, has caused an uproar in some groups. Personally, I like this kind of move. We need more changes like this one.

TSA Thinks It Isn't a Knife

Unfortunately, the new rules will not allow you to bring liquids over 3 oz on to an airplane. That horrendous rule continues to inflict pain on all travelers, all in the supposed name of security. (That being said, the European Union (EU) is again making rumblings about changing that.) Instead, this rule will now allow the following to pass through security:

  • Small knives with non-locking blades smaller than 2.36 inches and less than 1/2 inch in width
  • Small novelty bats and toy bats
  • Ski poles
  • Hockey sticks
  • Lacrosse sticks
  • Billiard cues
  • Golf clubs (limit two)

I think we can all agree that the allowance of billiard cues through security is the really important change here. I mean, how many times have you arrived at the airport with your billiard cue, only to remember that you can’t bring it through? That’s the worst.

No, of course the knife is the big thing here. So does this mean that terrorists can come on with knives and crash airplanes? Well, in theory, I suppose. But let’s be realistic here. The knives that we’re talking about have to be non-locking and have blades that are pretty tiny. This will effectively allow people to bring their Swiss Army knives on the airplane. Considering how useful those are and how many people carry them, this should make life easier for a lot of people. I can’t even imagine how many have been thrown away at checkpoints in the last decade.

But couldn’t a terrorist bring that knife on? Sure. But if someone is a terrorist and he’s relying on a Swiss Army knife to commandeer an airplane, I’m going to guess he’s not the best terrorist around. That can hurt someone, but it’s not hard to subdue someone with just a tiny knife. We’re only talking about a 2.36 inch blade here. And there are plenty of other objects that can be brought onboard today that can do worse damage. (Last time I checked, letter openers weren’t banned.)

Brief sidebar here – why the heck is the limit 2.36 inches? That’s the same as 6 centimeters and it now aligns with the rules in the EU. Damn them and their metric system. Now back to the post.

The other rules seem largely inconsequential to me. Even if you can bring a hockey stick through, good luck getting that to fit in the bag sizer. Even if the TSA allows these things, that doesn’t mean the airline will. All this means is that the TSA is ceding that responsibility to the airline, because it’s not a security issue.

In the end, you have to weigh the potential threat of these objects with the pain inflicted upon all other travelers. In this case, it seems quite right to say that the pain saved by allowing these will outweigh the potential for harm. There has been a lot of disagreement on this, of course, and flight attendants have been leading the charge. (You can listen to some back and forth here.)

For me, however, this specific move isn’t a big deal. I don’t carry any of those things. But it tells me that the TSA is getting smarter about how it designs security, so there is at least a minor hope that they’ll work to fix the real pain-points. The day that I can bring a full bottle of water from home on to an airplane will be proof that the TSA is doing things right. Consider this an appetizer, I suppose.

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52 comments on “TSA To Allow Small Knives on Airplanes, and I’m Glad

  1. First of all a small comment: damn you Americans being the _only_ industrialized country to still use the imperial system :-)))

    Furthermore: great to see that even the TSA is easing up a bit. Here in Europe we’re very happy with the proposed changes in liquor limitations. It seems like the world is finally realizing that some things really don’t matter.

    It’s like when I was in Berlin and I had to dismantle my Zippo because it could be a threat… By the time I could light a chair (or something else), I’m sure the whole plane would have me on the floor.

    1. The US uses the US measurement system, not the Imperial system. The US system is similar to, but older than, the British Imperial System (for example the Imperial gallon is larger than a US gallon) The US was actually one of the earliest nations to standardized their measurement system.

    2. Damn you the rest of the world for being too confused by US Weights and measures. The foot for example is very anthropmetric in scale while a meter is an arbitrary unit of measure that has not point of reference. Also the farenheight scale gives much more unit points in the temperatures in which we life in. Oh how I hate when the weatherman says it’s 22c here and 30c there. That’s a big difference in personal comfort for 8 meager degrees. Metric is brain dead simple but it doesn’t have any personality.

      1. Honestly: should the whole world use a system that only one country feels happy with?

        The foot is just as arbitrary as the meter and was even worse: originally the foot had different sizes in different countries. At least the meter has always been a meter. Please don’t tell me you think it’s easier to have:
        – 12 pica is one inch
        – 12 inch is one foot
        – 3 feet is one yard
        – 5280 ft or 1760 yd is one mile

        Thank god for Wikipedia.

        Then let’s go to the other system:
        – 10 cm is a decimeter
        – 10 decimeter is a meter
        – 10 meter is a decameter
        – 10 decameter is a hectometer
        – 10 hectometer is a kilometer

        You really think the US customary units (thank you Bravenav! Learned something today!) is much better?

        I actually think it’s all a matter of getting used to. When The Netherlands switched from the Guilder to the Euro, it took me a while to get used to it. But now I’m really happy with it! For me 8 degrees is a big difference, because I’m used to it being a big difference.

        Relating this to the aviation world:
        – Height is feet
        – Speed is knots
        – Distance is nautical miles

        Imagine the metric system:
        – Height is meters
        – Speed is (kilo)meters per hour
        – Distance is (kilo)meters

      2. Haha, that’s silly. Not every person has the same size foot, so the measurement is hardly anthropmetric. All units of measurement are arbitrary — we simply become so used to them that they no longer seem that way.

        How do you know how long a mile is when traveling? Because you’ve done it a million times; you have a sense of it. You don’t think, “Hmm, I’ve gone 5,280 feet by now.” You think, “Hmm, I can tell that it’s probably been about a mile.” It’s the same with kilometers for someone used to them. And to someone accustomed to the Fahrenheit system, 8 degrees may not seem like much; but to someone brought up with Centigrade, he knows that 8 degrees is much more significant. Granted, it does give you a wider scale, but I’ve never felt cheated because 8C is 47F and 9C is 49F. Can you actually feel the difference in that one degree F that we don’t have? No — why? Because at that small a difference, we’re reminded how arbitrary it all is.

        There’s nothing more intuitive about what either system actually means, but there is something more intuitive about how the metric system works.

  2. I can’t help laughing at the uproar. How many times have I been upgraded, only to see a metal knife on my tray? Or a metal fork? Those have been okay for years.

    They DO need to solve this liquids thing though.

  3. In complete agreement with your analysis.

    My only fear is that now we’ll have TSA agents with rulers and arguing that the knife is 2.7 inches. :)

  4. @Jorg: Ditto on the imperial system. But no, we’re America, we don’t have to join the rest of the world on metric.

    Speaking of joining the rest of world — in this case, in the form of the IACO — bringing our carry-on policies in line, it gives me great pause. One, boxer cutters were used to murder flight crew members on 9/11. Two, given the seemingly increasing rate of air assaults on crew, is it wise to have hockey & lacrosse sticks, ski poles — really? — within reach? As a former ticket/gate agent, the last thing agents need is another airline policy to enforce: no sir, you may not bring your_____on board. Passenger: But I carried it on board on my flight here!!

    Granted, TSA and their mediocre security theater leave a lot to be desired. But CF nails it when he mentions “ceding responsibility to the airlines.” Yup that sums it up pretty well for the TSA: shirking responsibility.

    1. Unless you’re Marty McSorley, or the Hanson Brothers, or a similarly skilled expert in the art of stick-swinging, I seriously doubt you’re going to be able to cause much mayhem with a hockey stick, lacrosse stick, golf club, ski pole, etc. I’m pretty sure if someone started menacing a passenger or crew member with one of these objects, multiple passengers in the vicinity would immediately gang-tackle the offender. That’s even assuming you can find enough room in a narrow airplane aisle to get off a good swing. You might be able to get off one good swing before getting subdued, so IMHO, the danger to the crew/passengers isn’t any higher than from some drunk guy getting agitated and punching you in the face.

      The bigger problem with these items, as someone else noted below, is the amount of space these types of objects will consume in an overhead bin. FAs will just end up having to mediate even more bin disputes when passenger #1 puts his hockey stick in the bin, and passenger #2 then can’t fit his bag up there.

  5. @Jorg: Ditto on the imperial system. But oh wait, this is America we don’t have to join the rest of the world on metric.

    Speaking of joining the rest of the world, in the case the ICAO, on carry-on policies, gives me pause. One, box cutters were used to murder flight crew members on 9/11. Then again, ask a convict about what materials can be made into a blade. Which leads to two given the seemingly increasing rate of assaults against crew members, does it make sense to have hockey and lacrosse sticks and ski poles — really? — within reach?

    As a former ticket/gate agent, the last thing agents need is yet another airline policy to enforce: “Sir, you may not bring your ____on board.” “But I brought it on board on my flight here!”

    Given TSA and its lousy security theater, Brett nails it with “TSA ceding responsibility” sum it up pretty well. Especially ordering new uniforms in the era of sequestration and government layoffs. Brilliant.

  6. Not a complaint, but I haven’t heard a rationale for limiting the number of golf clubs that can be carried on to two. Is a larger number of golf clubs in carry-on a greater threat than one or two?

    1. Three or four golf clubs may be fine, but they should definitely outlaw these high-capacity golf club magazines, to give passengers a chance to tackle you while you reload.

    2. Miles – A great question, and I have no idea why that’s the case. You would think that if two are ok, then 10 should be ok from a security perspective. If the airlines want to create restrictions due to sizing issues, then that’s up to them.

    3. It’s the powerful Par 3 Golf Course Owner’s Association lobby. “You can only bring two clubs on a plane? Can’t play Pebble Beach with that! Instead, come to your local pitch and putt with your 9 iron and your putter, and have a blast!”

  7. on liquids, the Clinton team did an analysis and determined it was not worth it after the Ramsey Yousef incident. No idea what Bush did but if I recall, Yoisef used mini shampoo bottles, smaller than the current size allowed, to blow up a plane.

  8. Can’t you juse hear it at check points, people complaining because they can’t bring on their shampoo, but the guy in front can have his knive.

    If you can bring a hockey stick, can you bring hockey pucks? If so that could be a real danger, someone could whack a puck and sent it flying into a window smashing it and having everyone sucked out of the plane while it nose-dives into New York City. Oh wait, that only happens in the movies.

  9. My biggest worry isn’t the knives, but the fact that some idiot is going to actually put a hockey stick in an overhead bin, blocking the ability for normal rollaboard bags to fit in the bin. It’s bag enough when people with guitars do this now (one guitar in an overhead bin take up the space of two, if not three rollaboards placed the proper way, and it drive me NUTS), so I hate seeing a list that includes really big items such as lacrosse sticks, hockey sticks, and ski poles.

  10. Imagine my surprise last week when I arrived in Seattle and realized that I had gone through security with a U lock in my backpack. That’s 5 lbs of case hardened steel. Even better, on the way home, they pulled me out to bag check because this time they saw it. Apparently it’s an allowed item, but while dismissing my U lock, the TSA agent lectured me for not removing my 2oz shampoo bottle from my bag when sending it through the scanner.

  11. Maybe the ban on Swiss Army knives was a conspiracy by the manufacturer to sell more knives.

    But seriously, it seems to me that setting a consistent, pragmatic international policy regarding carry on items would be useful and welcomed by the public.

  12. I like that TSA is focusing on bigger threats, expandind Pre Check, and reducing its invasiveness. There are so many ways to beat the system, that the status quo only lengthens lines and increases stress and frustration. Not sure if knives should be allowed, given the number of assaults on FAs and crazy pax we have seen lately, but I think TSA is moving in the right direction.

    However, by turning a lot of this stuff over to airlines, it allows for variance in policy which is also frustrating. Perhaps the industry can set some standards on this front and work together for everyone’s benefit. After all, hockey sticks and golf clubs wont fit well in bins and shouldn’t be allowed on board. If every airline comes to an agreement, then the airport person who stands at the checkpoint can weed people out.

  13. I pulled out my trusty Swiss Army knife to measure the blade, and what do you know, it measures almost exactly 2.36 inches! So perhaps it’s not such an arbitrary limit at all.

  14. To be honest, I really am not worried about the knives. A knife that small is fairly hard to detect anyway, such as those on corkscrews. One prominent travel blogger has openly stated for years that he carries a swisskey with him whenever he travels, and that he has done so for years and it has never been detected.

    Personally, I’m more worried about the billy clubs er “souvenir bats” that are going to be allowed now. I think one could do more damage with one of those than with an allowed knife.

  15. You kid, but I’ve actually had a letter opener taken from me at security in Las Vegas. They claimed the small blade was dangerous.

    Another time I got stopped with a cheesecake because an agent thought it wasn’t solid enough for the liquid rule, but a supervisor gave the okay.

    1. Oh no, a cheesecake! Maybe the agent needed a dessert for the TSA potluck.

      I was worried about my jelly filled Voodoo doughnuts at PDX until I saw about half the people in line had a box.

  16. A serious question that I haven’t seen specifically addressed anywhere. Is a corkscrew good to go? I’m assuming yes, since most pocket knives that would fit under the new rule have one. I frequently travel with one (I prefer the folding kind like most restaurants use) and don’t always remember to check my bag. I have had several confiscated over the last few years.

    1. BW – Yes, corkscrews are permitted. However, before April 25, if your corkscrew has a knife attached, then it can’t go.

      1. I was told by several TSA agents that no corkscrew could go, even the butterfly type. I never asked about an electric. The battery doesn’t last long.

    1. You lost me at security theatre. LOL

      The TSA hasn’t delt with the most dangerous weppon onboard airplanes – the passengers themselves! LOL

  17. Kiddo, the entire world, with very few exceptions, is on metric. The biggest exception: the medieval and generally ignorant US of A, trying to patronize the rest of the world. So how about it? Progress a little? The profit that could be made by changing things around! And the public, as usual, wouldn’t know and just pay those half cents per item extra…

    1. maxe – I couldn’t help but laugh at your disdain for the US “trying to patronize the rest of the world” while you decide to call me (or a commenter?) “kiddo.” Patronizing, indeed.

      I do find it amusing how many comments here are about the metric system. I like the metric system and wish we had finished the job of switching back in the 1970s.

  18. I like Tiffany Hawk’s commentary on CNN. The current security environment needs to be changed, but I don’t think allowing knives is the place to start.


    Two quotes from her piece to consider: “…Note the word “aircraft” — not people. As someone who was a flight attendant for United Airlines on 9/11, I am intimately familiar with that logic.”

    “…the only thing that will stop a bad guy with a billiards cue is a good guy with a Wiffle ball bat.”

    1. John – Thanks for including that link. I disagree with much of what she says. Here’s where I think we differ.

      In other words, knives probably won’t endanger pilots, skyscrapers or expensive airplanes, but passengers and flight attendants? You’re on your own.

      My thought is that the TSA is there to protect the integrity of the aircraft. And while boxcutters were used in the 9/11 hijackings, there are two things that have happened since that would make knives virtually harmless in terms of aircraft integrity.

      1) The cockpit door is now locked and will not open if someone pulls a knife in the back.

      2) Passengers will no longer sit around and wait for a happy resolution. If someone tries any funny business, there are instantly multiple passengers tackling that person within seconds.

      So does this mean that one person could be hurt by a knife? Sure. But that can happen anywhere in the world. Should we ban people from carrying Swiss Army knives everywhere because they might be used to stab someone? No. (I realize we’re getting very close to the gun debate here, but I think a highly useful Swiss Army knife is quite different from a semi-automatic gun.)

      Even if I were to concede that small knives no longer pose as imminent a threat as say, bottled water or shampoo, allowing knives stirs up grief and fear for so many. And what is the upside?

      There are a ton of people who carry knives for a variety of daily uses. Do they necessarily need them on an airplane? No, but they might need them once they land. The same argument can be made for 6 oz of shampoo. You don’t need it on the airplane either but you will when you get down. It’s still an inconvenience for a lot of people who rely on their utility knives for a lot of things.

      1. Hi Cranky,
        Not to go in circles but I don’t think revamping security by allowing knives is the place to start. How about starting with keeping our shoes on, or reviewing the security theater (great quote) in total vs. piecemeal, and take logical comprehensive steps to improve the quality of security as well as the customer experience. Seriously, how many of our tax dollars were spent reviewing the contents of this latest directive – it seems crazy that we actually spent time and money on this latest.

        While I agree that small knives are not likely to threaten the security of most people on board, it is a small confined space where there are enough instances of air rage, that keeping fewer things in the hands of nutjobs is probably a good thing. And as you well know, flight attendants are on the front lines of passenger abuse – they have a hard enough job, adding to their stress is not something we need to do right now.

        I don’t carry any knives on board, but I would like to carry a corkscrew … although i cant take the wine to use it with… If I need a knife – I will check it just like my over 3 oz of liquid, or I will buy it at the other end.

        Ideally, my tax dollars at the TSA … or my $5 security fee … are going to research how to provide more effective security with less intrusion – and I don’t see this latest as really doing that. I see it causing more fuss at the security line.

        But fun debate – thanks for stimulating conversation today.

        1. John – Oh I agree. Would I start with knives? No, I’d start with the things that have bigger passenger impacts. But still, I’m not going to look down on any kind of progress even if it’s not where I would have started. I can see why they did this, however, because it brings the TSA rules in line with the European rules so that’s a good thing.

          Fun debate, indeed. It’s always good when people come to have a real back and forth. That’s why Twitter is probably the death of civilization. It’s impossible to have real discourse in under 140 characters.

  19. It is heartening that Terrible Security Always is loosening up its arbitrary, ineffective, and just plain stupid restrictions. It is scary to watch a hoard of blue shirts descend upon a 90-year-old with a hip replacement or a teenaged girl with a 3.2 ounce tube of sunscreen. I would depend upon my fellow travelers long before I would depend upon these misguided civil servants to detect a potential threat to our security.

  20. File “small knives” under bullshit……agreed, hardly the place to begin any restrictions by the TSA…..I do agree with flight attendants and absolutely understand their concerns with their own safety………..

  21. Terrorist hijackings aren’t the only threat on a plane. So are crazies and drunks. So, WHY would we want more knives onboard? Simply for the “convenience” of those travelling with knives who don’t want to check their bag?

    I’m sorry to swim against the tide here, but I don’t support this change. As stupid as I find airport security theater, this just seems even dumber.

    1. If that’s the real threat, then shouldn’t we be spending our efforts trying to keep crazies, drunks, and terrorists off airplanes?

  22. I’ll present a bit of a contrarian viewpoint (albeit not my own) on this.

    I work with a guy who, as a side gig, makes plastic training knives for martial arts/security training folks, modelled after actual knives (yes, he sells SAK and boxcutter trainers as well as the large Crocodile Dundee versions). When these came down the pike the other day, I showed him the website — and he went nuts over one of the “permitted” knives on the TSA website. The large corkscrew/knife combo with the curved handle (second from the right on the TSA picture demonstrating permitted knives) would be an excellent weapon in close-contact fighting, with both the knife and corkscrew extended, especially given the curve and size of the handle. Ironically, he said a hockey stick or golf club would be pretty useless in most airline cabins because there’s too little room to use it.

    Keep in mind this is from someone who knows knife combat.

    But, he doesn’t see the problem with allowing them on the planes, given how secure the cockpit doors are now.

    My personal issue: what is the definition of a “knife blade” for a SAK? I have one that measures 7cm from tip to where the shoulder of the handle is; but the part that’s sharpened is only 6cm. Do I take this to the airport and risk having a TSA guy say “it’s too long” because we don’t have the same opinion of what a “blade” is and give up a knife I’ve had for over a decade? (My answer — look for a replacement SAK that fits the definition for travel purposes.)

  23. Good. Now to remove the liquid ban. When reading this the only thing that comes to mind is the phrase “Anything can be a weapon” And the pax themselves are and have proven themselves to be ready to defend.

    A few months back I was in O’Hare airside and saw a box of 10 empty wine bottles behind an open air restaurant. With a towel and muffled shattering of the neck they could be transformed into a lethal or at least quite damaging weapon.

    I trust my fellow passengers more than I do the policies.

    1. I support this use of tax dollars. I realize it wouldn’t be necessary if we could just undo our previous stupid use of tax dollars (the liquid ban), but it seems we just have to get past that.

  24. I’m glad they are now allowing the handy Swiss Army knife. When we go travelling the Leatherman is the most useful thing we bring and if it got lost in the hold we would be far more annoyed by this than loosing our clothes.

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