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Consumer Reports

Some security policies relaxed on airlines | (KRT) Metal butter knives are making a comeback aboard U.S. airliners, travelers are no longer forced to remove their shoes, and passengers are once again free to carry corkscrews.

Passengers are seeing some air-travel inconveniences disappear as the Transportation Security Administration clarifies security policies developed after Sept. 11.

"As the agency has grown, we've learned lots of lessons to make things easier, faster," TSA spokeswoman Andrea Munzer McCauley said.

To be sure, security is still tighter than before Sept. 11.

The TSA, which was created immediately after the attacks, now supervises 56,000 security screeners. It has overseen the fortification of cockpit doors on most of the 5,700-plus commercial aircraft in service with domestic carriers and the installation of explosive-detection devices at 429 airports.

But it's now debating whether some post-Sept. 11 restrictions can be loosened or lifted to make air travel more enjoyable.

"Our main mission is to provide the security, but very closely following that is customer service," Munzer McCauley said. "We're working with the airlines and airports and making things faster and convenient."

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Last month, the TSA told airlines that they could again use metal butter knives as part of meal service.

Northwest Airlines Inc. quickly returned them to first-class meal trays, and Continental Airlines Inc. plans to add them Nov. 1.

Other airlines don't see the need. After Sept. 11, many airlines adopted menus with entrees that didn't require knives. Others eliminated meal service on many flights to cut costs.

One carrier, American Airlines Inc., is on the fence about whether to use stainless-steel cutlery again.

"Currently, our policy on plastic cutlery remains as it is, but we continue to evaluate the situation," said American spokesman Tim Wagner.

Travelers will notice other TSA changes before they get to the gate. The agency, for example, no longer requires passengers to remove their shoes while going through security checkpoints - unless they set off the metal detectors.

The shoes-off rule was intended to save time because so many people's footwear triggered metal detector alarms.

"But there was such a public outcry," said Munzer McCauley. "Still, if they (set off the alarm) with their shoes on, they'll be subject to further inspections."

Passengers also have learned which shoes metal detectors object to and are dressing accordingly. And many stores now tout shoes that are "airport friendly."

The TSA also has changed the list of what passengers can bring on board. Corkscrews and nail clippers are back in. So are knitting needles, cigar cutters and blunt scissors. Pool cues and golf clubs are still banned.

David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association, said some of the rules have been relaxed because security has been fortified elsewhere.

"I think they (TSA officials) feel the layers have been strengthened enough to let these things go forward," Stempler said. "Now that we have strengthened doors and added air marshals, I think they believe there is enough protection.

"On the other side of the equation, what terrorists and hijackers like to look for is the element of surprise, but also complacency, so we always have to guard against complacency," he said. "You can't depend on any one layer of security to protect us. One layer might be easily foiled."

That's why the TSA reserves the right to change its rules as it sees fit, Munzer McCauley said.

"Things are so fluid," she said. "We gather so much information, and we constantly update our policies."

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© 2003, The Dallas Morning News Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services