TSA’s 2015 gun tally

For the Runway Girl Network, I put together a year-end review of the guns, weapons and assorted odd items discovered by TSA at airport checkpoints during 2015.


In 2014, the TSA reported that it had discovered 2,122 firearms in the carry-on bags of passengers. That was an average of six firearms per day and was a 22 percent increase over the number of firearms (1,813) found in 2013.

TSA’s official 2015 Year in Review is due out any minute, but my unofficial tally taken from the weekly reports on the TSA Blog adds up to 2,495 firearms found at airport checkpoints this past year – which is yet another new record.

Of course, prohibited items found by Transportation Security Officers in carry-on bags and on passengers passing through security checkpoints aren’t limited to firearms.

Last year TSA found, 40 pounds of marijuana in one man’s bag at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, a meat slicer at Southwest Florida International Airport and a knife concealed inside a souvenir replica of the Eiffel Tower, found at Oakland International Airport.

Meat Slicer found in a carry-on bag at Southwest Florida International Airiport_edited

And, in the same week in March that the TSA found 55 firearms (51 loaded; 13 with a round chambered) and 13 stun guns, a Chihuahua was discovered inside a checked bag at New York’s LaGuardia Airport.

How did that happen?

“Apparently, the dog climbed in while its owner was packing her suitcase. TSA worked with the airline to identify the owner, and the two were happily reunited,” the TSA reported.

Knife concealed in an Eiffel Tower replica - found at Oakland Airport_edited

Chihauhua found in carry-on bag at LaGuardia Airport_edited

Stop worrying: TSA will accept your driver’s license

Sea-Tac security line

Rumors – and plenty of misinformation – have been flying around about the REAL ID Act – passed by Congress in attempt to prevent the fraudulent issuance and use of driver’s licenses and identification cards – and whether or not the TSA would soon stop accepting driver’s licenses as an acceptable form of identification at airports.

Part of the problem was that the Department of Homelands Security was dragging its heels about setting up a definite timetable for implementing the air travel part of the act.

But the agency finally issued a statement with some set dates.

On its website DHS now says that driver’s licenses issued by all states will be accepted as valid forms of ID until January 22, 2018.

So relax. You – and the states where driver’s licenses don’t yet comply with the national standards – have two years to work this out.

After January 22, 2018, DHS says:

Passengers with a driver’s license issued by a state that is still not compliant with the REAL ID Act (and has not been granted an extension) will need to show an alternative form of acceptable identification for domestic air travel to board their flight.

Passengers with driver’s licenses issued by a state that is compliant with REAL ID (or a state that has been issued an extension) will still be able to use their driver’s licenses or identification cards.

And, starting October 1, 2020, every air traveler will need a REAL ID-compliant license, or another acceptable form of identification, for domestic air travel.

“Right now, no individual needs to adjust travel plans, or rush out to get a new driver’s license or a passport for domestic air travel,” said secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson in announcing the timetable.

What will the new TSA chief change at airports?


What is the new head of the Transportation Security Administration going to do now that he’s been on the job for four weeks?

Withing 60 days he’s going to make sure all airport screeners are retrained so they can better detect explosives and spot weapons. And he’s going to try to get more passengers to enroll in the agency’s expedited security checkpoint program, called pre-check.

He’d also like to get rid of boarding passes and someday replace them with biometric technology.

Peter Neffenger, the new TSA administrator, went before the House Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday and said it was a “huge concern” that the agency’s officers failed to identify bombs, weapons and other security threats 96 percent of the time during recent undercover testing.

“It greatly disturbs me to know that we had that failure rate at the checkpoint,” he said, and to fix that, the agency will “train out those failures.”

Neffenger also told the panel he wants to increase the use of explosive-detection dogs for passenger screening, expand enrollments in the Pre-check program and phase out “managed inclusion.”

TSA PreCheck Enrollment Center at IND Airport - courtesy TSA

Neffenger said that likes the idea that biometrics – individual characteristics such as fingerprints or facial characteristics for personal identification – might someday mean that “you are your boarding pass.”

What to do with spare change at airports

pan am coin purse

Heading to the airport with loose change in your pockets?

You may not mean to, but there’s a good chance you’re leaving cash tips for the Transportation Security Administration at the airport.

During FY 2014, passengers left behind $674,841.06 in coins and currency in the bowls and bins at airport security checkpoints.

During 2013 travelers left $638,142.64.

That was almost $107,000 more than passengers left behind in fiscal year 2012 and more than $150,000 than what was left behind in 2011.

What happens to all that money?

According to federal law, TSA gets to keep it and spend it on anything it decides helps provide civil aviation security.

If you’re not interested in donating to the TSA coffers you can make sure to put all your loose change in your purse or carry-on before getting to the checkpoint.


Or consider donating to good causes at airports in Denver, Phoenix and Columbus, Ohio, where there are pre-security collection boxes by the checkpoints where you can donate spare change to local non-profits.

Denver International Airport started the trend in early 2013 with change collection containers placed before several checkpoints and in two years has collected over $170,000 in spare change to support homeless programs in Denver through Denver’s Road Home.

Last spring, Fifth Third Bank set up three “Empty Pockets, Full Plates” collection stations near checkpoint entrances at Ohio’s Port Columbus International Airport and in the first six months raised about $1,000 to support the Mid-Ohio Foodbank.

Travelers can support the USO at PHX airport by donated spare change. Courtesy Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport

Just before all those Super Bowl fans came to town, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport kicked off its spare change collection program with boxes set up in front of several security checkpoints.

During February, 2015 $1,113.09 was collected to help fund USO operations at the PHX airport.

And in Sweden, travelers with spare change can donate to the Swedish Red Cross by playing video games at the airport.

Custom-made consoles recently installed at Stockholm Arlanda Airport and Göteborg Landvetter Airport offer travelers the opportunity to pay the classic arcade games Ms. Pac-Man, Space Invaders and Galaga in exchange for coins in any currency.

(My story about spare change at airports first appeared on CNBC in a slightly different version.)


Check your suitcase for Chihuahuas

On the TSA Blog each Friday you’ll find a report on the firearms, weapons and other prohibited – and often really strange – things found at airport checkpoints and in checked bags.


This week, for example, the TSA found 55 firearms at airport checkpoints. 51 of those firearms were loaded and 13 had rounds chambered.

The fact that so many people just ‘forget’ they’ve got a gun, especially a loaded gun, in their carry-on is always alarming. But Friday’s report that TSA officers at New York’s LaGuardia Airport found a chihuahua inside a checked bag is mostly amusing.

According to the TSA, officers found the dog inside the suitcase while they were resolving a checked baggage alarm. TSA had the airline track down the suitcase owner, who said she had no idea the dog was in there and that the dog – a 7 year old chihuahua – must have climbed into the suitcase as it was being packed.