WASHINGTON - Nine groups of airline workers and travelers filed a legal challenge Monday urging the Transportation Security Administration against allowing passengers to carry small knives on planes.
The groups, including representatives for TSA officers and air marshals, filed a legal petition with TSA and the Department of Homeland Security to prevent any return of knives into plane cabins. The groups warned they could potentially challenge the policy in court.
The move is the latest skirmish over TSA Administrator John Pistole's proposal to allow knives with blades up to 2.36 inches long, along with hockey and lacrosse sticks and golf clubs. The items have been banned since the hijackings Sept. 11, 2001.
Pistole announced March 5 that he would allow small knives and sporting equipment in plane cabins on April 25.
Pistole defended the policy change at a congressional hearing, where he said knitting needles and scissors were allowed back in cabins in 2005. He said baggage screeners would better search for explosives that could bring down a plane if they weren't worried about small knives.
But TSA temporarily postponed the policy change April 22, for Pistole to get more input from the industry and law enforcement about which items should be prohibited on planes.
Airline workers and some travelers remain concerned because a summary obtained by USA TODAY of TSA's Aviation Security Advisory Committee, which met April 22, says the policy change to allow small knives could be revived after 30 or 60 days.
In a two-page legal petition and a 29-page memorandum, the groups said TSA regulations prohibit anyone from having "a weapon, explosive or incendiary" in a secure part of an airport or on a plane.
"There can be no dispute, however, that allowing knives would endanger those TSA is charged with protecting," the memo states. "The knife would also increase the likelihood of a successful terrorist attack."
In order to change that policy, the groups of workers and travelers contend that TSA must go through a formal rule-making process, which could take months and would allow public comment.
"The TSA is simply wrong in planning to allow knives in the aircraft cabin," said Sara Nelson, international vice president of the Association of Flight Attendants. "My flying partners throughout the industry will be put in harm's way again if the new rule goes into effect."
The groups that filed the legal document are: the American Federation of Government Employees representing TSA security officers; the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, including air marshals; the consumer group FliersRights.org; the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA at 20 airlines; the Association of Professional Flight Attendants at American Airlines; the Allied Pilots Association of American pilots; the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers; the Teamsters; and the Transport Workers Union.