Confusing rules mar flying with small knives, turkey legs and golf clubs

Just when I got ready to put my miniature Swiss Army knife back in my purse, the Transportation Security Administration did what government agencies sometimes do. The agency early last week reversed its recent decision to allow small pocketknives and golf clubs, among other articles, to be carried aboard planes by passengers.

I have a miniature Swiss Army knife, a memento from a long-ago men’s golf club tournament, at which I helped with the desk work. There were some extra knives, and I received one.

It isn’t much of a knife. Closed, it measures about two inches long. The blade is one and three-eighths by one-fourth of an inch. There are also a small scissors, with half-inch blades, and a couple of unidentifiable metal objects which may be a nail file and a toothpick.

I used to keep the knife in my purse because it was cute and the scissors could be used to slit open ketchup and mustard packets at fast-food restaurants. The scissors also served as an emergency shaping tool for a broken fingernail. The knife is pretty good at slicing a ripe banana, but requires considerable sawing if I want to cut the skin.

However, soon after 9/11 occurred, I found that this small excuse for a knife was banned from my carry-on luggage because of its implied threat. I didn’t want to lose it, so I banished it to my stowed suitcase.

As I pored over TSA’s reversal of its earlier edict, I couldn’t help but recall the several times I have starred as the suspect in some dire plot to harm an airline.

In the early 1970s, when I was commuting from my job as The Daily Sentinel’s legislative reporter to Grand Junction for the weekend, I decided to include in my carry-on garment bag a turkey leg and thigh from the dinner I had hosted two days earlier. It was winter, the leg was frozen solid and I figured the icy outside temperature would protect the meat from contamination. In addition, the plane trip from the old Stapleton Airport in north Denver took just 35 minutes.

Although it was before the days of airport X-rays, gate attendants were alert about anything they thought unusual. So, I guess it was no surprise that the attendant demanded that I open the garment bag and show him what I carried. When I thought about it later, I realized that the joined leg and thigh formed an outline resembling that of a rather large handgun.

For food purists, I must mention that the turkey survived nicely, was still solidly frozen when I got to Grand Junction and was eaten over the weekend with no ill effects.

Now about the ban on golf clubs. Again before the age of airport X-rays, I received a five-wood on a Christmas trip to San Francisco. I could find no proscription then against golf clubs, so I padded the head with paper, carried it aboard at the San Francisco airport, and walked through the gate without challenge.

However, I had to go through Salt Lake City on what was then a weekly ski flight and made the mistake of going into the main terminal because there was a somewhat lengthy layover. When I tried to reboard, I was told that I couldn’t take the club with me.

Although I argued that it had been accepted in San Francisco, I was told that didn’t matter. I asked what would have happened had I stayed inside the gate and was told that everything would have been all right, but that made no difference in my current situation.

We finally compromised by allowing the attendant to take the club and store it with the hold baggage, while I mused that, had I wanted a weapon, I would have carried a considerably heavier driver instead of the slender, lightweight five.

My latest brush with airport regulations came following a Grand Junction visit a few years after 9/11. I had bought some German-made shoes from Bruce Benge after he pointed out their excellent construction and comfort. I found that wearing them on long plane trips was a pleasure.

So, over a couple of years, I wore them on several planes, leaving from San Francisco, Grand Junction and Seattle with no difficulty until the last trip.

It was before passengers were mandated to remove their shoes before boarding but were required to go through X-ray machines. I was boarding at SEA-TAC, the Seattle airport, when a gate attendant pulled me aside and demanded that I remove my shoes. I was mystified until he told me that the machine showed metal shafts and he was required to examine them. It took him several minutes until he was finally satisfied that there was no way I could extract the shafts from the shoes and take over the plane.

So, I am left about where I was before all this brouhaha happened. Since I no longer play golf, carrying a club aboard a plane isn’t relevant. However, the new edict leaves me without my trusted miniature Swiss Army knife, along with about 2,000 estimated other daily airline passengers.

And who knows when I might need the knife to slice a ripe banana, open a ketchup packet or trim a fingernail as I am soaring through the air en route to a vacation destination.

Mary Louise Giblin Henderson is a former political reporter for The Daily Sentinel. She now lives in California.


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