Flight Attendants Want Sharp-Tool Ban Reinstated

Flight attendants angry over loosened federal carry-on restrictions on scissors and other sharp tools took their case directly to passengers at Logan International Airport and more than 20 other US airports yesterday.

The new rules, which took effect Dec. 22, let airline passengers bring scissors with blades up to 4 inches long and tools such as screwdrivers and pliers up to 7 inches long in their carry-on bags.

Previously they were banned.

"They're just asking for another Sept. 11," said Soad Hamdan, a nine-year American Eagle flight attendant from Chicago who was handing out leaflets at Logan yesterday, urging passengers to ask Congress to overturn the new rules. "How am I going to fight off a terrorist with a screwdriver in my eye?" Hamdan said.

Another flight attendant involved in the Logan demonstration, Adam Thomas, a 10-year United Airlines employee, also invoked the specter of Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists believed to have been wielding small box cutters commandeered four airplanes, including two that took off from Logan and crashed into the World Trade Center in New York.

"We'll never forget Sept. 11, because our friends were on Flight 175," Thomas said, referring to the Boston-to-Los Angeles United flight that crashed into one of the two trade center towers.

"But this is not just an issue that's about us -- it's about passengers' safety also."

Ann Davis, a spokeswoman for the Transportation Security Administration, said yesterday that the agency remains confident it made the right decision by relaxing the rules.

"TSA carefully weighed the security risk associated with these items and the resources consumed by searching for them," Davis said. "TSA concluded that the amount of time spent removing small scissors and tools from carry-on baggage is disproportionate to the threat they pose to travelers."

By freeing screeners from having to find and seize small scissors and tools, Davis said, they "can focus more of their resources on where the threat remains the greatest: hidden explosives."

In the last three years, the TSA has seized 30 million small items, about one-quarter of which are the kinds of small scissors and tools that have been allowed back on planes in the last month.

US Representative Edward J. Markey, a Malden Democrat who opposes the change, has recruited more than 30 cosponsors, including a handful of Republicans, for his "Leave All Blades Behind" bill, which would restore the pre-Dec. 22 scissor-and-tool ban, his aides said.

Several Logan passengers who got fliers from about half a dozen members of the Association of Flight Attendants-Communications Workers of America union said their arguments made sense.

"My gut tells me I'd want to be as safe as possible," said James Hatfield, 39, a pharmaceutical industry executive from Philadelphia traveling on US Airways. The prior ban, he added, "wasn't that big an issue."

Carol Caton, also 39, a teacher from Charlotte, N.C., who was living in Boston when the Sept. 11 attacks occurred, said the TSA's relaxing of the ban "doesn't make any sense. We're already used to not bringing these things on the airplane. Why are they going to let us bring them on now?"

[Boston Globe, The (KRT) -- 02/01/06]