What Kind of Knife Does TSA Allow on Planes
When Does the Rule Take Effect?
Though TSA originally planned for knife carry to begin on April 25, 2013, that date has been pushed back. TSA spoke of the delay in saying, "This timing will enable TSA to incorporate the feedback about the changes to the Prohibited Items List and continue workforce training."
After caving to the pressure from public outcry, well at least the ones who cry the loudest, the TSA has scrapped the idea of carrying a knife on a plane like the rest of the world.
Can I Carry a Knife on a Plane?
As someone who has carried a knife for most of their life, I feel naked when I board a plane. It is a feeling of nudity not only because the TSA agent manning the body scanner knows what I look like in my birthday suit, but because a knife is a daily companion in my pocket. Without it, I am incomplete, for being prepared is part of who I am.
Though knife carry was previously regulated, after September 11th all knives were banned from carry-on luggage on all airplanes. This prohibition was not without warrant, given that the despicable hijackers used simple box cutters to cause the tragedy on that day.
Since the United States felt the bite of terror, many things changed. Locked doors were added to airplane cockpits and long security check points became the norm. The myriad of banned items stretched from hockey sticks to shampoo. We did what we had to, but now nearly twelve years later, things have changed.
Faced with the reality of limited manpower and a desire to expedite the security process,TSA management looked at modifying carry-on item regulations. Deciding to concentrate on threats, like explosives that could bring down a plane, in early 2013 the administration announced its plans to modify its "Prohibited Items List" (PIL). Besides some previously banned sporting equipment like golf clubs, small knives would be allowed back into the airplane cabin.
Though for many knife users, the skies are a little friendlier, there has been significant push back amongst airline employees, law enforcement and concerned citizens. This debate has caused delay in implementing a modification in the PIL as TSA officials consider more options for training. Originally the change was to take place on April 25th, 2013; however, TSA's release date has been modified to "changes effective in the near future."
Check back on this page for when these regulations go into effect.
UPDATE JUNE 25, 2013
With increased pressure from the flight attendant union, politicians and citizens, the TSA decided not to change the PIL after all. It doesn't look like we'll be able to carry knives on planes for the foreseeable future.
Can You Carry this Knife on a Plane?
Characteristics of Approved Knives
According to TSA's "Changes to Prohibited Items List" (March 2013), knives in carry-on luggage must have the following characteristics.
- Must be folding.
- Knife must be non-locking.
- Blade length must be no longer than 2.36 inches (6 centimeters).
- Blade width must be no wider than one half inch at its widest point.
- Non-molded grip.
- Razor blades and box cutters are not allowed.
Why Do You Need to Carry a Knife on a Plane?
Read through forums on the issue and people ask, "why do you need to carry a knife on a plane in the first place?" Let us examine the many uses of a small pocket knife in daily use:
- Opening letters and boxes
- Cutting security tags and zip ties
- Removing slivers and stingers
- Shortening rope and string
- First aid and minor surgery
- Sharpening pencils
- Facilitating emergency release from seat belts
- Cutting stubborn pieces of broccoli
- Opening packages
- Swiss Army-style knives with can openers, scissors and screwdrivers have a myriad of uses.
- Just in case you find yourself in an unlikely Cast Away situation, a knife is a valuable survival tool (much better than an ice skate.)
Outdoor addicts that hit the trails where ever they travel know the necessity of carrying a knife. Those of you who have read my work on The Ten Essentials, know that I don't venture outdoors without a trusty blade. For flyers without checked bags, or for those not relying on the efficiency of the baggage handling system, a knife in carry-on is essential.
Efficient travelers who fly without checked baggage (and hopefully without unmanageable carry-on luggage that they can't shlep down the aisle) haven't had the ability to carry such a simple and useful tool as the knife. As one of these travelers myself, I'd duck into a hardware store once I reached my destination and buy an inexpensive utility knife. After visiting the area for a few days, I'd have to ditch this knife before reaching the metal detectors at airport security.
I guess you could just keep the knife in the vast underbelly of the plane in checked baggage and get it out once you arrived. It isn't like the airport has ever lost anyone's luggage before.
Tips on Carrying a Knife on a Plane
- If the knife is or looks "tactical," with blackened blades and a swing hilt for example, leave it at home.
- Never travel with an heirloom or expensive knife. You never know how a TSA agent will interpret the law.
- Even though they may not have traditional locks, the blades on many Leatherman-type tools can be locked open while the handle is closed. You may want to leave it at home.
- If you have doubts whether the knife is allowed, don't bring it at all or pack it in your checked baggage.
- Leave the knife in your pocket or carry-on luggage; avoid using it on the plane as it may make some people nervous.
The Victorinox Classic is a handy tool with multiple functions.
CRKT lists their Classic Congress as TSA compliant - best of all it has four blades.
What Would Be a Good Knife to Carry on a Plane?
Looking at the knife market today, you'll find countless variations of man's oldest tool. As one peruses the online catalogs of dozens of makers, you may find yourself overwhelmed at the variety. So what is a good knife for an airline traveler to carry?
- First, make sure that the knife fits all of TSA's criteria - this easily eliminates 75% of the knife market.
- Second, look through the tips listed above for advice on what types of knives not to carry.
- Third, consider your own needs and how the knife will met them.
If you are looking for a TSA compliant knife with lots of tools, consider carrying a Swiss Army Knife. Just be sure that the blade length is under six centimeters and does not lock.
For example, the one-handed series from Victorinox Swiss Army would be prohibited, given it's blade that is too long and too wide, molded handles, and locking mechanism.
An excellent choice would be a Victorinox Swiss Army Classic-series knife. At less than one ounce, this lightweight knife has been in backpackers' arsenals for years. Besides a quality blade, this handy tool boasts the following items: nail file, screwdriver, scissors, toothpick, tweezers, and keyring.
The traditional pocket knife, kind of like your grandfather carried, is another excellent option for carry while flying. Modern traditional knives mimic the simple styling and utilitarian nature of their predecessors; however, modern steel and precision craftsmanship make these knives better than ever. Within the traditional market look at popular brands like Case, Buck and CRKT for quality knives.
Here are a few models you may wish to consider:
- Case Peanut
- Buck Solo
- Shrade Old Timer Minute Man
- CRKT Classic Congress
My Favorite TSA Compliant Knife
Going through my knife collection, I found a couple dozen knives which meet TSA's standard for carry in an aircraft cabin. Which one is my favorite? For now, I'll give that honor to the Leatherman Style CS mini-multitool.
The Style CS is the close relative of the bladeless Style PS, which was designed specifically for air travel. The PS lacks a blade, but does add spring-action needlenose pliers with wire cutters.
So what tools does the Style CS have?
- 1.6-inch 420HC knife blade
- Spring-action sissors
- Phillips/ flathead screwdriver
- Nail file
- Carabiner/bottle opener
At only 1.4 ounces, this tool boasts quite a few features at under 3-inches long. This multiple uses of this tool are why it ended up in my favorites list. I like handy things, and the Style is very handy.
One feature that is great, is that the knife blade and screwdriver are accessible while the tool is closed. This is unlike the popular Leatherman Micra, which must be opened to expose any of the tools. (As a side note, the Micra's blade stays in an open position when you close the handles; therefore, I don't believe that it is TSA compliant.)
Another great feature is the carabiner which also makes a great bottle opener. The biner makes it easy to attach the knife to a set of keys for inconspicuous carry. Plus, if you are a hiker, the little clip makes it easy to find your tool in a pinch.
Yet another great aspect to this tool, is that it costs under twenty dollars. Yes, you get a quality knife with a twenty-five year warranty for a mere mini portrait of Jefferson and you'll still have enough for a cup of coffee left over. Just not a cup of coffee at the airport, that will run you at least six bucks.
All information regarding the new permitted items rule was gathered from the Transportation Security Administration's document, "Changes to Prohibited Item List (PIL)" dated March 2013.
Since the decision was reversed to not allow knives on planes, this document has been taken off line.
How Do You Feel About Knives Being Allowed on Planes?
Since the TSA has announced this change in their prohibited items list, numerous opponents have roared in disapproval. So, what do you think? Leave your opinion in the comment box below, just be respectful of everyone else's opinion.
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