Air travelers can once again pack small scissors and compact tools in their carry-on luggage, but there's a greater chance they'll be pulled aside for a secondary security check under a new set of federal airport security rules that went into effect Thursday.
As it focuses more attention on explosives detection, the Transportation Security Administration has loosened restrictions on small, sharp objects such as scissors, screw drivers, wrenches and pliers.
"The TSA has taken steps since 9/1 1 to reduce the threat that is posed to an airliner by blades and small tools," said local TSA spokesman Brett O'Neill. "So now we're going to concentrate on the much bigger threat of explosives."
Under the revised carry-on rules, scissors with blades less than 4 inches and tools smaller than 7 inches can be tucked into purses and briefcases. The rule change does not apply to such tools as crowbars, hammers, drills and saws, which will continue to be barred from airliner cabins.
Lighters also remain banned from carry-on and checked baggage, with the exception of never-filled, souvenir lighters, which can be packed in checked suitcases.
O'Neill said this means TSA staffers will be pulling more travelers aside for a more comprehensive examination of their carry-on items, their clothing and their bodies. Pat-down searches and "wanding" will be part of the stepped-
up inspection effort.
"It will be totally random;, any traveler could be selected at any time," O'Neill said. "They will have to remove their shoes, all their carry-ons will be manually inspected, they will be hand-wanded and patted down."
The TSA anticipates the secondary screening will take about three minutes and should cause only minor delays for passengers. Same-gender TSA staffers will conduct the physical examinations, and travelers who feel uncomfortable being patted down in front of other passengers can ask to be taken to a private screening area.
The security rule change comes at the start of the Christmas/New Year's travel period, during which some 8.75 million Americans are expected to fly to their holiday destinations.
C. Douglas Hartmayer, spokesman for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, said he has his fingers crossed there is no repeat of the wild weather that disrupted flights last year and flooded the Buffalo airport with a sea of unclaimed luggage.
A confluence of winter storms in the South and Northeast and airline labor problems grounded dozens of flights. More than 500 pieces of luggage, mostly separated from passengers who missed their connecting flights to Buffalo, spent days at the airport as airlines worked to reunite suitcases with their owners.
"The long-range weather models don't show anything too bad at this point. Hopefully, that was a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence," Hartmayer said.
The NFTA and the TSA are reminding travelers to plan ahead to make their trip through airport security as hassle-free as possible:
Double-check purses and pockets for prohibited items such as knives and lighters before leaving home.
Carry only unwrapped gifts.
Put undeveloped film in carry-on luggage.
Remove overcoats and jackets before entering the screening area.
Get to the airport at least 90 minutes ahead of your flight departure time.