The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

March 7, 2013

Fly the friendly skies, with your hockey stick

By Jeff Mullin, columnist
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — The world changed on Sept. 11, 2001.

Many Americans lost their lives that day, of course, and our sense of invulnerability was shattered after our nation was attacked by terrorists.

And the mode of that attack changed the nature of air travel forever.

Flying was a bit of an ordeal prior to Sept. 11, but after that day it became a downright pain.

All fliers know the drill. Pockets empty, shoes off, jackets off, laptops out, cell phones in the bin, no more than 3 ounces of liquids, step on the footprints, raise your arms (or, if you prefer, you can be patted down by a friendly TSA agent).

And of course there is a laundry list of things you can’t carry aboard aircraft — guns, knives, golf clubs, hockey sticks, brass knuckles, meat cleavers, swords, ice axes, bows and arrows, cattle prods, crowbars, billy clubs, dynamite, gasoline and tear gas.

Don’t laugh, all of those items are on the TSA’s official list of prohibited items. But that’s about to change.

After April 25 it will be permissible to carry small pocket knives, small novelty baseball bats, ski poles, hockey sticks, lacrosse sticks, billiard cues and up to two golf clubs with you on your flight to wherever.

This change, announced this week by the TSA, has upset many people, in particular flight attendants who could find themselves being assaulted with one or more of these items.

We flew to Chicago, then to Vancouver, just 10 days post-9/11.

Airports were like armed camps then, with uniformed National Guardsmen watching anybody and everybody.

And everything that could possibly be conceived of as a weapon was being confiscated. My bride was incensed after being relieved of the tweezers she had used to pluck her eyebrows since her high school days.

It seemed absurd to imagine some potential terrorist threatening to pluck someone into submission, but I kept still. Nobody was in a joking mood in those days.

On a subsequent trip, I realized too late I had forgotten to take my Swiss army knife out of my pocket. It had a small blade, a nail file that doubled as a screwdriver, a pair of tweezers and a toothpick.

I tried to slip it through in my carry-on, to no avail.

The TSA agent who discovered it waved it around and loudly announced I had two choices, forfeit my contraband or mail it back to myself, at a cost of $18 or so. The thing didn’t cost that much, so I let it go.

But if the TSA gets its way, come April 25 my Swiss army knife and I can again be traveling companions.

I question the wisdom of that decision. It is unlikely someone would use a small pocket knife to try and overpower a flight crew, but a disgruntled or disturbed passenger could inflict no small measure of harm on those around them with any type of blade.

Likewise, it seems to make little sense to allow someone to carry a hockey stick onto an aircraft. Where are they going to put it? It certainly won’t fit in the overhead or under the seat in front of them. I suppose they just want to be prepared in case a hockey game breaks out at 35,000 feet.

Now a lacrosse stick I could understand. They have those little basket thingies on one end. That could come in handy, especially if you are in the window seat and have to reach across two people to get your drink and your little bag of stale airline peanuts.

I don’t like paying bag fees any more than the next guy, so I can see the value of carrying on your golf clubs. But what are you going to do with just two?

I suppose you could recruit six other people to tote two apiece, then you’d have a full regulation 14 clubs with you on your golf vacation.

Let’s be clear, airline safety is no joke.

Somewhere in the world someone is trying to develop an undetectable weapon to smuggle aboard an airliner with the goal of either commandeering it or bringing it down with the loss of all souls aboard.

I say keep the previous restrictions in place. I can live without my pocket knife on a trip and am comfortable with my golf clubs riding in the luggage bay.

Let’s not make it easier on those who would bring mayhem to the skies by giving them a wider choice of approved weapons.

And lest you think airport checkpoint restrictions are too stringent, just remember the guy who tried to blow up an airliner with an underwear bomb, and thank your lucky stars you’re still allowed to wear your unmentionables when you fly.



Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at jmullin@enidnews.com.