WASHINGTON -- Airline passengers will be able to carry small knives, souvenir baseball bats, golf clubs and other sports equipment onto planes beginning next month under a policy change announced Tuesday by the head of the Transportation Security Administration.

The new policy conforms U.S. security standards to international standards, and allows TSA to concentrate its energies on more serious safety threats, the agency said in a statement.

The announcement, made by TSA Administrator John Pistole at an airline industry gathering in New York, drew an immediate outcry from unions representing flight attendants and other airline workers, who said the items are still dangerous in the hands of the wrong passengers.

Transport Workers Union Local 556, which represents more than 10,000 flight attendants at Southwest Airlines, called the new policy dangerous and shortsighted, saying it was designed to make the lives of TSA staff easier, but not make flights safer.

While we agree that a passenger wielding a small knife or swinging a golf club or hockey stick poses less of a threat to the pilot locked in the cockpit, these are real threats to passengers and flight attendants in the passenger cabin, the union said in a statement.

The policy change was based on a recommendation from an internal TSA working group, which decided the items represented no real danger, David Castelveter, a spokesman for the agency, said.

The presence on flights of gun-carrying pilots traveling as passengers, federal air marshals and airline crew members trained in self-defense provide additional layers of security to protect against misuse of the items, he said.

Most of the passengers we spoke to at Sea-Tac were stunned to hear about the change. Many called it a dangerous decision.

I would go thumbs down to knives on planes! said passenger Michael Braun.

They say of all the security restrictions now in place, it doesn't make sense that this is the one the TSA would choose to relax.

You have to stand in line for ten minutes without shoes, what are you going to put in your shoes, they x-ray your whole body anyway, said passenger Mike Dixson. And then they let knives inside planes. It's just putting people in danger. It doesn't make sense.

The changes regarding sporting equipment like golf clubs was a bit more well-received.

Well they're only a weapon for me when I'm out on the golf course, I might hit someone with a ball, said Doug Donnelly. But Iprobably wouldn't want to see knives on a plane, that would be my first gut reaction.

There has been a gradual easing of some of the security measures applied to airline passengers after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In 2005, the TSA changed its policies to allow passengers to carry on airplanes small scissors, knitting needles, tweezers, nail clippers and up to four books of matches. The move came as the agency turned its focus toward keeping explosives off planes, because intelligence officials believed that was the greatest threat to commercial aviation.

And in September 2011, the TSA no longer required children 12 years old and under to remove their shoes at airport checkpoints. The agency recently issued new guidelines for travelers 75 and older so they can avoid removing shoes and light jackets

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