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TSA: No card-shaped shanks on a plane

Jay MacDonald

It was bound to happen: Once the credit card form factor was adapted to house the ultra-thin, 21st century version of the Swiss Army Knife, its days as an unrestricted carry-on for domestic and international air travel were numbered.

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As handy as it is to have a card-sized utility tool tucked away in your wallet, the Transportation Safety Administration has been confiscating them like crazy lately because they qualify as a potential hijacking threat.

That’s right: TSA won’t allow shanks on a plane. The agency recently posted a credit card knives travel tip on its blog warning that “more and more credit card knives are being discovered at airport checkpoints,” and reminding people that they’re banned.

It’s not that people are suddenly wanting to surreptitiously arm themselves, the agency said. It’s just the nature of the devices — small, sometimes foldable and easily tucked away — makes them easy to forget.

If you haven’t seen these must-haves for the annoyingly prepared, you’re missing out on an engineering marvel. The SwissCard from Victorinox manages to squeeze a letter opener (or shank, if you prefer), scissors, nail file, toothpick, tweezers, two rulers (inches and centimeters), stainless steel pin (ouch!) and pressurized ballpoint pen into a case that fits into the credit card slot in your wallet.

It even comes with a clever marketing pitch: “A card that won’t have creditors calling you nonstop.”

But should you want to fly non-stop, you’ll need to remember to stow your tool card in checked baggage instead of carry-on because, well, TSA can only sell so many on eBay. I’m just kidding. They can sell lots.

We’ve seen some shape shifting of credit cards over the years, including the mini-me and the “brain on a chain” RFID fob, neither of which is likely to strike fear in the hearts of a Jet Blue flight crew. We’ve also explored some unconventional uses for the conventional card, including ice scrapper, Italian cheese grater, finger split, cake knife, and even “upcycled” jewelry.

While I suppose it’s technically possible to seize an airliner with a SwissCard, perish the thought, it rather pales in comparison to the other TSA-prohibited “sharp object” carry-ons, including ice picks, ice axes, meat cleavers, swords and sabers, all of which are perfectly welcome if checked.

But as the TSA knows all too well, looks can be deceiving. The hodgepodge of unusual threats they’ve confiscated over the years includes a stun gun disguised as a lipstick tube, Chanel stilettos with authentic-looking pistols for heels, a hand grenade paper weight and an Electronic Drum Vest that bears a striking resemblance to suicide bomber couture.

Fortunately, having your tool card discovered while passing through security doesn’t have to end like an episode of “The Blacklist.”

“If detected, travelers will be given the option to voluntarily abandon the property, take it out of the checkpoint and mail it, check it, hand it off to a friend, or dispose of it in some other manner,” writes TSA blogger Bob Burns. “As these items by nature are weapons, please be mindful that having one in your possession at the checkpoint could result in a civil penalty.”

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