March 5, 2013 at 2:34 PM ET
For the first time since the 9/11 terror attacks, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will allow small knives and some previously prohibited sports equipment onto airplanes as carry-on items.
According to the TSA, passengers will be able to carry-on knives that are less than 2.36 inches long and less than one-half inch wide. Larger knives, and those with locking blades and molding handles, will continue to be prohibited, as will razor blades and box cutters.
TSA will also permit sports equipment such as billiard cues, ski poles, hockey sticks, lacrosse sticks and two golf clubs. Souvenir, novelty and toy baseball bats -- such as wiffle-ball bats -- will also be allowed.
The relaxed rules take effect April 25.
TSA said the new regulations will allow its officers to better focus efforts on finding "higher threat items such as explosives," and was made as part of the agency's overall risk-based security approach.
TSA believes the items are “unlikely to result in catastrophic destruction of an aircraft,” and policies already put in place -- hardened cockpit doors, federal air marshals, crewmembers with self-defense training -- reduce the likelihood of passengers breaching the cockpit.
“All TSA is doing is catching up with the rest of the world,” said Douglas R. Laird, president of aviation consulting firm Laird & Associates and former head of security for Northwest Airlines. After 9/11 the TSA “overreacted,” said Laird, and put restrictions in place “in the heat of the moment” that exceeded those in other countries.
Removing small knives and some sports equipment from the list prohibited items “will help align TSA’s list with international standards and help decrease the time spent rescreening or searching bags for these once prohibited items,” said TSA spokesperson Nico Melendez. The changes also enable officers to focus on “the greatest threats ... which increase security for passengers and improves efficiency, improving the checkpoint screening experience.”
Lethal weaponry still not permitted
While small knives are permitted, pitchforks, grenades, swords, nunchucks, stun guns, ammo and spears remain on the no-fly list.
However, TSA agents confiscate such pieces of lethal weaponry at security checkpoints on a regular basis.
NBC News' Tom Costello went behind the security lines at Dulles International to see the heat Americans are trying to pack into their carry-ons.
"You can't make up some of the things that people bring to checkpoints and say, 'what were you thinking?' in terms of trying to get this on a plane given this post-9/11 world that we live in," said TSA chief John Pistole.
Each day, TSA processes 1.7 million passengers at 455 airports across the country. Some of them are carrying guns, and not in the checked, registered, and locked travel case as required by law. Instead the guns, at least four times a day, turn up in the X-ray machines or stashed inside hollow books, carved-out DVD players and hidden luggage compartments. Last year the TSA confiscated a record 1,549 guns.
"We think most of them are honest but you never know when people are trying to probe us and see what they can get behind," said TSA Federal Security Director Eddie Mayenschein.