TSA to Allow Small Knives on Airplanes Starting April 25th 2013 - ITS Tactical

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TSA to Allow Small Knives on Airplanes Starting April 25th 2013

By Bryan Black

This recent news of  the TSA allowing small knives onboard aircraft, has flooded the internet with misconceptions and question as to what constitutes a “small knife.” Today, with the help of a great email I received from KnifeRights.org, I’ll attempt to set the record straight.

John Pistole, a TSA administrator, recently announced the lift on their ban of small knives at an aviation conference in New York. He stated that these small knives would be limited to “retractable blades shorter than 6 centimeters (2.4 inches) and narrower than 1/2 inch at the widest point.” There would still, however, be a ban on “knives with locking blades or molded handles” and that “fixed blades are still prohibited.”

As you can see with the quotes above, this leaves a lot up to interpretation, so I was grateful when I received the recent email from Knife Rights that had images from the online TSA PDF, showing exactly what these new guidelines allow.



From the images, you can see that by “retractable,” Pistole means “folding.” If you’ve ever owned a Swiss Army Knife, you’ll know that the blades don’t lock in the open position, but are foldable. This can be dangerous when cutting, as the blade can fold back into your fingers if you’re not careful.

Obviously the TSA doesn’t believe these are just as capable of inflicting damage as a locking blade and are also still banning box cutters and razor blades. Pistole said  “there is just too much emotion involved with those.”

Knife Rights suggests that whatever knife you’re carrying through the airport, (after April 25th, 2013) be sure to measure the blade length from handle to tip, not just the sharp edge. They also mention that Leatherman “Squirt” or “Style” multi-tools are allowed.

The term “molded grip” has apparently been invented by the TSA and Knife Rights suggests that it means any handle that is ergonomic and excludes anything but slab-sided Swiss Army Knives or multi-tools.

Shortly after the announcement yesterday, one of my favorite knife companies, Emerson Knives, released an image on their Facebook page of the new “TSA Compliant”  knife, the Hummingbird. As you can see from the photo below, it’s questionable whether the TSA is going to allow this to get through. There’s no production timeline posted on the Hummingbird yet, but I’ll be waiting with baited breath for feedback on whether someone gets one through.


Just remember that the final decision on these allowable knives rests with the TSA, however “rational” their decision appears to be in this situation. I am glad to see this get through though, hopefully our Knife Rights organizations like kniferights.org and the American Knife and Tool Institute can help at getting the TSA to further relax their guidelines. It’s important to support these organizations, so please head on over to their Websites for more information and do what you can.

I assume it’s going to take quite awhile after April 25th for everyone working for the TSA to be brought up to speed, so be prepared to lose a few Swiss Army Knives until they get the memo. Kelly used to travel with small scissors for her crochet projects and got through just fine at multiple TSA checkpoints, only to have them taken by a misinformed TSA agent in Albuquerque, NM. Please  remember the changes don’t go into effect until April 25, 2013, so don’t try to bring your small knife on board until then!

What does everyone think of the new guidelines? Does the Emerson Hummingbird stand a chance?

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  • Danny

    That looks like a “molded handle” on the Emerson Hummingbird to me.

    Hopefully they relax that part of the requirements sometime soon… what do ergonomics have to do with how usable a knife is as a weapon? Also, realistically, if someone knows what they’re doing, it doesn’t matter what knife they have.

    Even if I disagree with it, I can understand the rationale behind not allowing locking or fixed blades, and limiting it to small knives makes some sense, but banning molded handles is just silly.

    • Riceball

      “Hopefully they relax that part of the requirements sometime soon… what do ergonomics have to do with how usable a knife is as a weapon? Also, realistically, if someone knows what they’re doing, it doesn’t matter what knife they have.”

      It’s the same logic that they apply to so-called assault rifles, they declare a bunch of (mostly) cosmetic parts on a rifle to make up an “assault rifle”. Things like pistol grips, flash suppressors, and folding or collapsible stocks all, according the antis, make a rile so much more deadlier when on a semi-auto.

      Basically, it comes down to idiots who don’t know the first thing about what they’re talking making the rules, regs, and laws in this country. Like the AW ban laws, it’s probably a suit who doesn’t know jack squat about knives outside of what he/she uses to spread their butter and cut their steaks making the regs based solely on cosmetic features because in their minds these things make the knife look more dangerous so therefore it must be more dangerous.

  • Marine FO

    The big question is can I start wearing my shoes and keep my water bottle?

  • Ditto on the molded handles, who in TSA thinks up this nonsense? It’ shard to tell from the photo of the Emerson Hummingbird you’ve shared (and I couldn’t find it on their website), but it looks like it has a liner lock which would make it a banned knife. Could be wrong but that jimped section underneath the scales looks like a liner lock to me.

    Spyderco has had a series of UK compliant carry knives for a long time. All had to be non-locking and have a short blade too, but none of these would pass the blade width test – I guess it really is about width and not length huh?

    Are we going to see a rush of TSA compliant knives now? And if so, does TSA have the resources to administer that service to manufacturers? This whole things is FUBAR. I’m going to wait and watch, the last thing I want to happen is for some TSA jobsworth to confiscate a knife that is “approved” just because they don’t agree. Ugg, it’s going to be interesting to watch this…

    • Riceball

      “This whole things is FUBAR. I’m going to wait and watch, the last thing I want to happen is for some TSA jobsworth to confiscate a knife that is “approved” just because they don’t agree. ”

      More like some TSA jobsworth “confiscating your knife because they like it and can’t afford or don’t want to pay for one themselves. Sort of like how some cops are purported to have confiscated people’s guns so that they can turn around, sell them and pocket the cash.

  • Waykno

    Yeah, I suppose molded handles are at the forefront of the knife injuries/fatalities in the world. Only one reason why some of these “decision makers” are a bit out of touch.

    • Danny

      Molded handles are clearly the knife equivalent of the “shoulder thingy that goes up.”

  • Mike Russo

    the hummingbird looks like it has an underside lock. I used to fly with a knife until the TSA put an end to that. 2003? It was a while after 9/11. I may have done so quite a few times after the rule change too, but I cant remember 😉 To say that there is too much emotion over razor blades, is saying exactly what the problem is. Emotion.

    The restrictions appear to be well thought out. At the same time, I feel they are a complete waste of time. Never again will Americans allow a plane to be hijacked. Security at the airports is really just a show in my opinion. There are many gaping holes in security that would be easy to exploit for the determined. I think the next big terrorist attack, if there will ever be another, would be to the security line itself. You have more targets, tightly packed, no security. It is a recipe for disaster.

    • Jared Keenan

      Lets just hope that never happens though.

  • bloke_from_Ohio

    European states have been banning locking blades for a while. You would think the powers that be would want all blades to lock to prevent injuries to users. Governments tend to be in love with safety. I guess in the mind of a policy maker a locking blade is a more”stabby” blade, even if in the real world a locking blade is a less “finger slicy” blade.

    The ban on molded handles is nothing more than a ban on cosmetic grounds. Its dumb, but I can see why they did it. For perspective I present my favorite fear of “scary looking stuff” story.

    This past winter a DoD civilian lost her mind over checkpoint guards wearing “ski masks” and having guns. She held up the ID check and started crying. “Are you going to shoot me with your AK assault guns?” She frantically asked. It took quite a long time for the security police to calm her down enough to clear the bottle neck. Its rumored that after getting through the check point she made a complaint directly to the base commander, jumping all kinds of chains.

    In the above story, it is important to note the gate guards at this base have been very obviously armed with at least M9’s since at the 90’s (at a minimum). This was true even when the force was all contractors and mostly made up of older retirees. The lady in question had to have been through the check point before as she works on the base. The Airmen were in complete uniforms and look not so different from the rest of the base’s military population. Aside from, some additional web gear, a different hat and more cold weather gear, they look like anyone else. They do not have an aggressive looking or high speed special uniform. Most of the time they have to wear a bright reflective vest that says police in big letters to avoid being run over. The temperature was in the single digits prompting the balaclavas and thick gloves. The installation is an active duty military base that does, among other things, weapons research and procurement.

    And reactions like that my friends is why we can’t have “aggressive looking” things.

  • Raven

    Hey TSA, when are you going to stop molesting women and peeking at my hoo-hoo? That’s what I wanna know… When’s the ban lift on friggin decency?
    Anyways, I think the hummingbird has a chance of being allowed but its early in the game and there will be Some problems making the transition, I’m sure: 12 years of no knives means a rocky transition into the grey area of dinky ass knives they’re “allowing.” Thanks TSA: we feel so much safer.

  • David

    Looks like some of the classic Bucks would also qualify, at a quick glance. Any of the cadet or chairman series appear to match the dimensions, and I doubt you get a “molded handle” question, as ridiculous as it is.

  • kiltman

    So, does a knife with a molded handle mean it’s an assault knife.

  • Nathan Frith

    I am still confused by TSA allowing this, and banning so many other things, just doesn’t make sense. At least I will be able to carry my Victorinox Minichamp now though!

  • Keep in mind it is still overridden by state regulations. Michigan for example has a law on record from just a couple days after 9-1-1 that essentially keeps the same restrictions we had before this latest TSA announcement. You cannot use this guide while boarding a plane in Michigan currently.

    • Bergman

      Actually, the state laws don’t apply to the federal side of the airport. Outside the security zone (and checkpoint) is state jurisdiction, inside it is federal. The knife might be illegal in the state areas, but once you’re inside the secure area, those laws don’t apply to you carrying it onto an airplane.

  • Greg Natsch

    Nov 2001, I got a good search in Phoenix for my handcuffs in my tactical vest. My shoes got a good going over, and this was before the shoe bomber This will go on for years.

  • Martin

    I love: “Pistole said ”there is just too much emotion involved with those.””
    Who needs logic? Everyone knows it is faaaar better to make decisions based on emotions.

  • Tim

    I wonder if a Benchmade Osborn would be excepted. That’s a great small knife

  • Charles Miller

    The real crux of this is the latitude that the individual TSA agent will exercise. I really think this is about allowing wine openers and reducing the number of bag searches of people carrying corkscrews. Outside of your corkscrew, the TSA guy will be just as likely to keep your “TSA Compliant” knife as let you through. Heck, my Boy Scout knife has a molded handle. What a typical example of the disconnectedness of our governmental overseers.

  • Brandon D

    I suppose the upshot is that the TSA is finally allowing for more freedom. Maybe this could be a small step in the right direction.

    My question is, what was security like before the TSA. I didn’t fly too many times before the TSA was established, and I was a child then. Does anyone remember what it was like?

  • Josh

    Though the silly restrictive guidelines are rediculous, hopefully it is a step in the right direction. Maybe we can get TSA compliant knives that have the little symbol like the luggage locks do. And maybe someone will design a non-locking knife that has a lanyard hole conveniently placed so that a paperclip can be inserted, causing the blade to be stuck open and it would be an improvised fixed blade.

    Someone should build some ludicrous contraption of a knife that looks scary as hell, but completely meets the criteria. Like a tennis ball shaped handle with fourteen 2″ blades that fold out from all angles. Just to show how meaningless the new “lighter restrictions” really are. Of course the windbags in DC wouldn’t get the joke and instead would ban tennis balls.

    We’ve all seen those threads discussing “improvised weapons that you can make with airplane legal items”. I’d rather face a 3″ knife than some of those contraptions. On today’s airplanes, if a person were to stand up to say “hi” to their friend Jack a few rows up, six passengers would have that person on the ground half beaten to death with 4 rolled up SKYMALL magazines and two padlocks tied to handkerchiefs before Jack even turned around to see who called his name.

  • Bergman

    You might be waiting for a very long time for awareness of the new rules on knives to trickle down through the ranks…and lose a lot of knives in the process to boot.

    Photography/videography has always been legal when going through a TSA checkpoint (they ask you not to photograph display screens though) and yet, there’s tons of stories every year about people getting told by TSA screeners that photography is against the law. Since photography was never against the law or against TSA regulations, the fact that TSA personnel STILL don’t know it’s legal makes me highly doubtful they’ll get the word about knives any time in the next decade or two.

  • curt

    The Tinker Swiss Army knife is pictured as having only a 6cm blade, it in fact has a 6.9cm blade and would not be allowed. This is the same blade on many of the “Swiss Army Knives”. The TSA can not even print a correct bulletin to go by.

  • Tony

    The truth of the matter is, it’s not an issue of giving us more rights. It’s a matter of TSA and DOHS thinking they have “bigger fish to fry”, which they do. I work on a plane for a major U.S. carrier. I do an average of 3-6 flights a day, 3-6 days a week. I can tell you that the majority of intelligent flight and cabin crews aren’t worried about grandpa cleaning his nails with a pen knife. We are more worried about the undercover Federal Air Marshal who got a fake IED through security TWICE! That being said, many major Flight Attendant unions have petitions out to revoke the right. So don’t hold your breath boys. For me, I say let me bring the knives… Kitting needles can do a lot of damage too.

  • a$$raped-by-tsa-again

    Just had my tiny Gerber multi-tool (announced as approved) taken away. TSA “gentleman” said the ‘tiny knife rule” got rescinded due to flight attendant union protest.

    ARGGGGGGG…make up your mind!

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