The expected lifting of the federal government's ban on sharp objects carried by passengers aboard planes has some flight attendants feeling like they are not only the last line of defense in aviation, but also that they've been left in the lurch.
The Transportation Security Administration, however, calls it part of a philosophical shift away from preventing a 9-11 style attack and toward the greater threat posed by explosive devices.
Changes to the TSA's banned item list is under White House review and will be announced by TSA head Kip Hawley on Friday, officials said. But The Washington Post cited anonymous sources Wednesday saying the new TSA list will remove the ban on small scissors and other sharp objects, a change that has been under industry debate since August.
With many pilots now armed and cockpit doors reinforced, a repeat of the 9-11 attacks is unlikely, experts say. Cabin security is another matter, according to flight attendants.
"What about the passengers?" said Lori Bassani, spokeswoman for the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, the union for American Airlines flight attendants. "The whole reason the TSA was formed was 9-11. The only weapons the hijackers used were those box cutters. The flight attendants are the last line of defense up to the cockpit doors.
"We feel overlooked and inconsequential if they're not willing to look after us," Bassani said.
TSA officials, however, say the next terrorist attack is more likely to come from a suicide bomber. Friday's changes to the banned item list, as well as changes to overall security-screening procedures, will reflect a new focus on stopping potential terrorists carrying explosives on their bodies or in their baggage.
"We're looking at the greater threat, one of those being explosives," TSA spokeswoman Andrea McCauley said.
Since August, the agency has discussed how to use its limited resources to prevent mass casualties. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has emphasized the need to devote funding toward stopping big disasters.
Dallas/Fort Worth Airport is equipped with explosive residue detection portals that some passengers must walk through, but most of the nation's airports do not have that technology.
STOPPED AT THE GATE
Prohibited items intercepted by airport screeners, Jan. 1-Nov. 29, 2005:
Lighters (prohibited as of April 14, 2005): 8,124,525
Sharp objects: 3,041,218
Knives and blades: 1,650,894
--Less than 3 inches: 1,599,103
--3 inches or longer: 51,791
Ammunition and gunpowder: 21,939
Box cutters: 19,499
Clubs, bats and bludgeons: 19,183
Source: Homeland Security Department