Flight attendant Robert Valenta handed out flyers at Washington National Airport today protesting Transportation Security Administration's plan to allow certain small knives in carry-on luggage. Similar pamphlet protests were held at Boston, Atlanta and Philadelphia airports.
"Just look back to 9-11 and the very small blades that were used on the flight attendants and the passengers. That really began the day's events. There certainly is a potential that can happen again the future if these things are allowed back on the aircraft," Valenta, an American Airlines steward, said. "We have no place for it in our work environment."
Valenta said his trade organization, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, isn't opposed to the TSA reviewing banned items, but would rather see them focus on the size of shampoo containers, for example, and other inconveniences to passengers.
"I have been threatened on an aircraft. I've had a situation where police had to arrest a passenger and it's not a very comforting feeling knowing that person, if they had a knife, the damage they could have done," he said.
The TSA will permit folding knives with blades under 2.36 inches in length and without a locking mechanism onto flights starting April 25. Golf clubs, ski poles, and other items previously banned as potential blunt weapons will also be allowed. But razor blades, scissors, and box cutters like the ones used to hijack planes during the 2001 terror attacks will still be prohibited. The move brings the U.S. in line with international standards.
The new policy has drawn sharp criticism from at least three major airlines and unions representing flight attendants, air marshals, and some pilots. Next week the House Homeland Security subcommittee on transportation will have a hearing regarding the decision, but it doesn't look like the agency is open to reversing their position.
"I have to make sure that TSA's focus is on those things that are most destructive to the aircraft," TSA Administrator John Pistole told ABC News in an interview last month. "It is not pocket knives. It is those non-metallic improvised explosive devices, the bombs that are very small. They are concealable and they are well designed."
Pistole repeated the position in a letter to Congress this week.
While Valenta and other flight attendants handed out pamphlets to passers-by at Washington's departures and arrivals concourses, it came in concert with similar demonstrations at Boston, Atlanta, and Philadelphia airports. One traveler in Washington, who identified herself only as Andrea of Fairfax County, Va., was so enthused she decided to stick extra fliers on car windshields at the nearby parking garage.
"I don't think box cutters, knives, anything that can be used as weapons should be allowed on the planes," she said. "I think they need to ask the flight attendants and probably the pilots because they fly quite a bit more and they have a better idea, so I think they ought to go with what they say."
Traveler John O'Dowd was not alarmed by the small knives rule.
"I think that technology has come a long way since the rules were put in, so I don't think it's as big of an issue now as it was a few years after 9-11," he said, adding he'd appreciate the ease on prohibited items to be expanded further.
"If you go to a baseball game you know you can carry in up to a liter of water just so long as the cap hasn't been broken. So put that kind of restriction on it."