- The Washington Times - Monday, January 30, 2006

Flight attendants yesterday began a campaign to urge lawmakers to restore a ban that kept passengers from taking scissors and screwdrivers on airplanes.

“Passengers are now free to bring weapons back on board aircraft in the form of scissors,” said Patricia Friend, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants.

Members of the 46,000-strong union were at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and 22 other U.S. airports handing out leaflets to passengers outlining objections to the Transportation Security Administration’s decision last month allowing scissors with blades up to 4 inches long on planes. Screwdrivers less than 7 inches long also are allowed in carry-on baggage.

The TSA changed the list of prohibited items because the agency wants to spend more time searching for bombs.

“We believe today’s greatest risk is explosives,” said TSA spokeswoman Amy Von Walter.

At a Senate hearing last month, Edmund S. Hawley, an assistant secretary of homeland security, said screeners opened one in four bags to examine scissors they saw in X-rays, and that distracts them from efforts to search for bombs. Screeners collected 30 million banned items at U.S. airports from February 2002 through October 2005, of which 11.6 million were scissors, Ms. Von Walter said.

Terrorists used box cutters to commandeer four planes and carry out the September 11, 2001, attacks.

The TSA has received support from airlines. The Air Transport Association, a trade group representing major carriers, said screeners should focus on weapons capable of causing the greatest damage.

“We supported the TSA initiative and still do. We certainly respect the flight attendants’ perspective on cabin safety, but it’s not scissors that are bringing down airplanes today,” said David Castelveter, a spokesman for the group.

But flight attendants said they feel overlooked by transportation security officials.

“They keep touting that the cockpit doors are steel and impenetrable, but that does nothing for the flight attendants and passengers in the cabin,” said Alin Boswell, a 17-year US Airways flight attendant.

Flight attendants have more protection than before because of the efforts of screeners and air marshals and the arming of some commercial pilots, said Rep. John L. Mica, Florida Republican and chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure aviation subcommittee.

“They don’t understand that it has taken almost 3 years to get the TSA to focus on the real threats. The risks are explosives that can take aircraft down,” Mr. Mica said.

All knives and cigarette lighters remain banned from airplanes.

But there is little difference between a 4-inch pair of scissors and a knife with a 4-inch blade, said Rep. Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat, who introduced a bill last month that would restore the ban and joined flight attendants yesterday at Reagan Airport — before boarding a flight to Boston.

Allowing small scissors on planes hasn’t reduced the time passengers spend in security checkpoint lines, Ms. Von Walter said, adding that reducing wait times for consumers was not the reason for the change.

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