Steve Chapman

But none of these facts was enough to prevent vehement objections to the proposal. Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., advised that "in the confined environment of an airplane, even a small blade in the hands of a terrorist can lead to disaster." Sara Nelson, international vice president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, warned of "mayhem in the cabin caused by an out-of-control passenger with a knife."

But terrorists have little to gain from airborne slashing sprees. If they had, they could be wreaking havoc with scissors and screwdrivers. In fact, they have been more intent on trying to bring down jets with explosives. If terrorists were content with cutting a few throats, there are plenty of places where they could do it on the ground.

The flight attendants' union gives the impression that relaxing the knife ban would be a radical step into the unknown, with consequences that can only be imagined. In reality, it would merely be a return to something resembling the pre-9/11 status quo. Back then, small knives were not banned -- but there was no epidemic of passengers erupting in homicidal rage upon being asked to return their seats to the upright position.

Nor has there been a spate of horror stories from the other side of the Atlantic, where the policy doesn't apply. As TSA noted, "Small knives have been permitted in Europe for some time now, with no incidents that we are aware of."

Small knives are also useful tools that many people find indispensable in the course of daily life, including the part that takes place on airplanes. But making life slightly better for travelers may not be enough to overcome the bureaucratic imperative: When in doubt, do nothing.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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