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*VMBB Senior Chief Of Staff*
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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
March 27, 2013

A No-Fly Zone for Knives


IN April 2012, on a US Airways flight from Los Angeles to Phoenix, a passenger suddenly charged down the aisle and tried to ram the drink cart into a flight attendant, all the while screaming threats against the lives of everyone on board. He was subdued with the help of passengers, several of whom had to sit on him for the duration of the flight. He was arrested upon landing.

Countless stories like this are why flight attendants, air marshals, airline executives, pilots and rank-and-file officials from the Transportation Security Administration — the men and women who work in aviation, airports and aircraft every day — oppose the T.S.A.’s decision to allow passengers to carry knives with blades of up to 2.36 inches, beginning next month.

In Congressional testimony two weeks ago, John S. Pistole, the T.S.A. administrator, said, “A small pocketknife is simply not going to result in the catastrophic failure of an aircraft.”

Needless to say, the events that led to the deadliest attack on American soil tells us this statement is flawed — the terrorists on Sept. 11 used mere box cutters, much smaller than the blades that will now be allowed, to hijack planes. (In a strange twist of logic, the ban on box cutters will remain, because the T.S.A. feels there is still “too much emotion” connected to that particular tool.)

It didn’t take Sept. 11 to convince us in the industry that knives of all sizes should be banned. In 2000, an Alaska Airlines passenger, later found to be suffering from a rare reaction to encephalitis and in possession of a 2.36-inch knife, flew into a rage and attacked flight attendants, breached the cockpit door and attempted to destroy the aircraft before being tackled by passengers and crew.

While cockpit doors are now reinforced and virtually impossible to breach, mayhem in the cabin caused by an out-of-control passenger with a knife would still ensue. My fellow flight attendants and I face potentially violent passengers every day, passengers who are angry, depressed, intoxicated or frightened while we’re cruising in an aluminum tube miles above the ground.

Just last month, as a Delta Air Lines flight from Minneapolis to Atlanta began its final descent, a 2-year-old boy sitting on his mother’s lap started crying because of the change in cabin pressure. As the boy’s mother tried to soothe him, the man sitting next to them reportedly used a racial slur and told the mother to “shut up” her son, then turned and slapped the toddler with an open hand. The man was arrested upon landing and charged with assault.

It is our job to address such passengers, de-escalate the situation and, when necessary, enlist other passengers to help contain the problem. The scenarios are already overwhelming: what if we have multiple unruly passengers? What if they are working in concert? What if a passenger trying to help gets hurt and instinctively retaliates?

These are not hypothetical situations; they have all happened in the past, and experience tells us we will face them again sooner or later. Allowing a 2.36-inch knife into these scenarios makes us less safe.

And there is something cynical in the T.S.A.’s position that knives will not “result in the catastrophic failure of an aircraft.” Does that mean that anything less — the death or serious injury of a flight attendant or a passenger, for example — is acceptable?

The T.S.A. argues that relaxing the ban would merely put the American aviation security policy on a par with that of Europe, Asia and Africa. But those regions are hardly paragons of safety: after all, both Richard C. Reid, who unsuccessfully tried to detonate a bomb in his shoe on a trans-Atlantic flight in 2001, and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who carried a bomb in his underwear on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit in 2009, began their missions in Europe.

Moreover, having learned in the most horrible way what the smallest blade can do inside an airplane, why would we want to slacken our guard? In part because of that experience, the United States is a world leader in aviation safety.

For me and many others, this is a particularly visceral issue. We still grieve for friends lost on Sept. 11, 2001. Today, speaking as a wife, mother and aviation professional, that is an experience we need not risk repeating.

Sara Nelson is the international vice president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA.
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