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How Michigan and hockeysticks could throw a wrench in TSA's new pocketknife rules

March 8, 2013 at 11:57 AM ET

Pocketknives might not be able to take down a plane, but hockeysticks and a Michigan state law do pose a bit of a threat to the new relaxed TSA carry-on rules.

Enacted after 9/11, Michigan Aeronautics Code section 259.80f made it a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one-year imprisonment or a $1,000 fine, to "possess, carry, or attempt to possess or carry" any of a series of prohibited items "in a sterile area of a commercial airport." The list numbers firearms, explosives, and a "knife with a blade of any length."

That would include a pocketknife. So does Michigan's law trump the TSA rule change?

"That's the attorney general's position," said Joy Yearout, spokeswoman for Michigan attorney general Bill Schuette. "The state law remains in effect."

The TSA also confirmed Michigan law still applies. “It remains the responsibility of passengers to comply with state and local laws for each point of travel and be aware that origination and destination cities may have local laws prohibiting the possession of these items,” said TSA spokesperson David Castelveter.

Detroit Metropolitan Airport spokesperson Scott Wintner says Airport Authority Police officers will enforce the Michigan law "when violations come to their attention."

The Michigan wrinkle comes from a carve out in the TSA rules that defers to the states when it comes to defining their individual list of prohibited items.

“The courts may eventually decide that TSA rules pre-empt state rules on these matters,” said Adam Wasch, aviation attorney with Wicker Smith in Fort Lauderdale, “but allowing two sets of conflicting policies on whether pocket knives are prohibited muddies the water for passengers and creates a logistical nightmare for TSA workers."

As for the hockey sticks, while the TSA has decided sports equipment such as hockey and lacrosse sticks, billiard cues, ski poles, souvenir-sized bats and up to two golf clubs per person “are unlikely to result in catastrophic destruction of an aircraft,” some larger items, such as hockey sticks, may still not make it onto airplanes. That's because “airline policy dictates what can or cannot be stored in the overhead bins and under the seats,” said TSA's Castelveter.

United Airlines spokeswoman Christen David said their current carry-on policies will apply after April 25th, when the rule change goes into effect. American Airlines spokesperson Matt Miller said they're reviewing their policies and will update them needed before April 25th. Industry group Airlines for America cautioned that individual carriers might apply special rules for hockey sticks and other sports equipment, just like they do with items like musical instruments and surfboards.

Other potential obstacles to the new TSA rules are flight attendants, unions, and law enforcement officers who are starting petitions to get the rule reversed and releasing opposition statements. The Flight Attendants Union Coalition has a White House petition with 11,400 signatures. The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association has called the policy "reckless." And a 29-year old flight attendant named Ian Funderburg has 7,800 signatures on his Change.org petition.

“It’s not just a fear for flight attendants. The rules will probably renew fear in passengers,” said Funderburg. “We have to stop it.”

Bottom line: after April 25, check your airline’s carry-on rules before you fly with any long objects. And don't try to board a plane in Detroit with a Swiss Army Knife.

Find more by Harriet Baskas on StuckatTheAirport.com and follow her on Twitter at @hbaskas.

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