Security

TSA takes on Star Wars, pups and checkpoint firearms.

Today’s tidbits come from some of the social media notices shared by the folks at Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

First: On its @askTSA site, TSA is answering questions from Star Wars fans heading to a Disney park to visit the Galaxy’s Edge attraction.

People are curious about how TSA will deal wtih some of the out-of-this-world souvenirs, like “thermal detonator” coke bottle souvenirs.

TSA says don’t try putting these ‘thermal detonator’ soda bottle souvenirs in carry-on luggage. Athough they’re filled with soda, they look like something else.

And that’s why they say those items should be put in checked bags.

TSA also shared the winner of its National Dog Day Cutest K9 contest. Congrats to Alfie!

And, as it does most every week, TSA reported the number of firearms found in carry-on bags at airport checkpoints in the previous week.

Between August 19 and 25, TSA officers found 69 firearms in carry-on bags.

That tally is actually on the low end.

But, of the 69 firearms discovered in carry-on bags last week, 59 were loaded and 23 had a round chambered.

Travel Tune-up: “Ask TSA” offers answers.

Want to avoid the TSA tangle? Just ask.

Bowling balls? Yes, you can take them as carry-on

Our column this week for CNBC tackled the TSA experience and offered tips on what you may – and may not – pack in your carry-on. Here’s the story.

Last week, the Transportation Security Administration shared a photo on social media of a missile launcher found in a passenger’s checked bag.

“Man said he was bringing it back from Kuwait as a souvenir,” said TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein on Twitter, “Perhaps he should have picked up a keychain instead!”

As a division of the Department of Homeland Security, TSA is responsible for overseeing security at the nation’s airports. But weighing in on the pros and cons of travel souvenirs and answering questions about what items are permitted on airplanes has become part of the job.

“We get a lot of questions about what people can take through the checkpoints,” said Janis Burl, the @AskTSA manager. “A lot are about food – i.e. ‘Can I take a sandwich?’ [Answer: yes] And over the past few months we’ve gotten a lot of questions about that’s kid toy slime.” [Also yes, but only if the slime is 3.4 ounces or less and is carried with a travelers’ liquids and lotions in the allowed one-quart zip bag.]

On its website – under the header “What Can I Bring?”, and on its app, TSA has an extensive catalog of things travelers may or may not pack in their carry-on or checked bags. Items are listed alphabetically and by category and the list can be searched.

Under “Toys” there are seven examples and TSA notes that while fidget spinners and remote controlled cars are allowed in carry-on luggage, realistic replicas of firearms and explosives are not. The TSA directory also has a helpful note about adult toys (ahem), which are allowed in both carry-on and check bags.

What about toy lightsabers, including those purchased or custom built (to the tune of $200) at Disney’s new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge attraction?

TSA’s “What Can I Bring?” database says “Sadly the technology doesn’t currently exist to create a real lightsaber. However, you can pack a toy lightsaber in your carry-on or checked bag,” and adds, “May the force be with you.”

With summer travel in full-swing, it’s good to know ahead of time that tent spikes or poles, strike anywhere matches, spear guns, pool cues, Magic 8 Balls, firecrackers, bear spray, baseball bats and bowling pins are not allowed as carry-on items, but that bowling balls are allowed. 

Also allowed as carry-on: compasses, amethyst crystals, fresh fruit, fishing rods, live lobsters (in a clear, plastic, spill proof container), seashells, fruit gummies, cooked lasagna, jelly beans, electronic bathroom scales and frozen water bottles, as long as the water is completely frozen when presented for screening.

And while the Federal Aviation Administration is emphatic that drones not be flown near airports, TSA allows drones in carry-on bags. However, the agency encourages travelers to check with their airline about specific rules for taking drones on board.

For items not found in TSA’s database, and for travelers who want to make sure a specific item will fly, there is a team of ten full-time TSA employees who monitor and respond to questions sent in via Twitter (@AskTSA) and Facebook Messenger.

Team members are on duty 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. (ET) weekdays, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekends and holidays, (including Christmas) and are quick to respond to all manner of “Can I bring?” questions sent in.

One passenger recently asked about traveling with jars of pickles. They were advised that pickles without liquid in a zip bag were good to go as carry-on, but that pickles with pickle juice were only allowed in a carry-on bag if packed in a container of 3.4 oz. or less.

Another passenger wrote to @AskTSA inquiring about traveling with a whole cantaloupe she’d grown in her garden.

“I want to take it to my mom,” the traveler tweeted to TSA. “You can,” TSA responded, adding “We hope your mom enjoys the treat!”

Other recent questions have covered verything from quesadillas to roach bait. And Burl says, when in doubt, sending along a photo is always helpful.

It may seem as if the “AskTSA” team has likely seen it all by now, but Burl says they sometimes gets stumped.

“If you send in a photo and we don’t know what it is, we’ll go to Google to figure it out.”

And while the @AskTSA team uses its knowledge, TSA’s database and, sometimes, a bit of Googling, to give travelers a thumbs up or down on traveling with certain items in carry-on or checked bags, Burl says the final say-so on any whether an items is a ‘go’ rests with the Transportation Security Officer (TSO) on duty at the checkpoint.

“If they’re looking at something that doesn’t look right, they can make that decision,” said Burl.

In addition to its website, Twitter and Facebook accounts, TSA also has a very popular and informative Instagram account that can help travelers learn about what can fly.

A recent post, in honor of National Kitten Day, for example, noted that kittens, catnip and balls of yarn are good to go through security checkpoints, but warned that cats (and other pets) must be removed from their carrier while the carrier goes on the X-ray belt for screening.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

TSA also produces occasional quirky-but-entertaining and educational “They brought what? videos.

More TSA no shows; but more support for TSA workers

The Transportation Security Administration is sending out daily reports on the number of officers who are not showing up for work and wait times at the nation’s largest airports.

No surprise, the numbers of ‘no shows’ has been rising as the shutdown drags on.

On Sunday, TSA reported, 10 percent of its workforce had “unscheduled absences” compared to a 3.1 percent rate one year ago on the same day.

“Many employees are reporting that they are not able to report to work due to financial limitations,” says TSA.

On Sunday, the average security checkpiont wait times at most of the busiest airports were well within TSA’s ‘normal’ range of 30 minutes. But keep in mind hundreds of flights were canceled on Sunday due to weather, so lines may have been light anyway.

Still there were some ‘wowsers’: On Sunday, travelers waited an average of 28 minutes on line at Tampa International Airport, an average of 35 minutes at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and an average of 45 minutes at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.

The outpouring of support for TSA workers, air traffic contollers and other federal employees who are showing up for work continues.

This week, TheFruitGuys will be delivering boxes of fresh fruit (and, in some cases, take-home veggies) to TSA workers at airports in Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, Dallas Fort Worth International Airport.

At Your Gate has expanded its offer of free meals ($10 off, plus free delivery) to TSA workers at airports in San Diego, Newark, New York (LaGuardia and JFK) and Minneapolis.

And SFO Airport is asking onsite shops and restaurants to offer 50 percent discounts to federal employees who continue to work without a paycheck.

To help out, “SFO will adjust its fee structure to protect voluntarily participating concession operators from any financial impact of this discount program,” the airport said in a statement.

SFO is also providing resource sheets to help affected workers access assistance services, and the Airport’s Business and Career Center is offering “Shutdown Support” drop-in hours where affected workers can meet with specialists on managing unexpected financial challenges.

TSA getting love + shutting checkpoints

As the partial government shutdown slogs on, the Transportation Security Administration says an increasing number of its officers are facing financial difficulties and not showing up for work.

That’s causing longer wait times at some major airports around the country. It’s also forcing some airports to close some checkpoints.

Checkpoint A was closed at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

And the security checkpoint in Terminal B continues to be shut down at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston.

TSA officers, air traffic controllers and other federal workers who have been showing up for work at airport may not be getting paychecks, but across the country, they are getting lots of love, food and assistance from airlines, airports, restaurants, community groups and the general public. Here’s a slightly updated version of the story I filed this weekend for CNBC.

At Bellingham International Airport in Washington, about 20 miles from the Canadian border, budget airline Allegiant Air provided pizza for TSA workers on Thursday.

In Las Vegas, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak not only visited with TSA workers at McCarran International Airport to express his appreciation for their service and commitment to the airport and to the community, he followed up by having hot pizzas delivered.

These, and many other pizza thank-yous, are coming on the heels of last week’s gesture of goodwill from Canadian air traffic controllers who sent more than 300 pizzas to their counterparts in more than 40 airports in the United States. Air traffic controllers in the Canadian city of Edmonton got the (dough) ball rolling.

Of course, TSA and FAA employees working without paychecks can’t live by pizza alone.

At Seattle Tacoma International Airport, donations of non-perishable food and gifts cards are being collected and distributed daily.

Seattle-based Washington Federal is offering interest-free, 90-day loans, with no loan fees or application fees, to TSA, FAA and other federal workers waiting for paychecks in eight western states, including Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, Texas and New Mexico.

“We are proud to step in and help our hard-working neighbors get through this uncertain time and support their financial needs,” said Washington Federal President and Chief Executive Officer Brent J. Beardall in a statement, “We hope other financial institutions will do the same.”

And in San Jose, California, the City Council this week endorsed Mayor Sam Liccardo’s proposal to set up a no-interest short-term loan program for many of the 500 federal employees who have been working at Mineta San Jose International Airport without pay.

The program, which may be funded through airport revenues and administered in partnership with one or more financial institutions, proposes loans equal to monthly take-home pay for FAA air traffic controllers, TSA workers and officers working for Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

“We are going to do everything in our power to keep political dysfunction in Washington from creating service disruptions or safety issues here in San Jose,” said Liccardo. “Mineta San Jose International Airport is vital to our local economy and we need our highly-skilled and trained federal workers there to keep it running smoothly. That’s why we are exploring tools, like these local bridge loans, to help keep these essential workers on the job.”

Meanwhile, across the country, airports continue to gather and distribute donations for federal employees affected by the partial government shutdown.

At Orlando International Airport, there has been overwhelming response to a donation drive headed up by the Airline Management Council. On Thursday the airline tweeted a short video of a room with tables piled high with everything from donated diapers to toilet paper and canned goods.

As the shutdown continues, airlines, airport concessionaires and other groups are stepping up with donations, discounts and support.

“Today we were able to help surprise the Sunport’s @TSA with gift cards to local grocery stores and lots of goodies to fill their break room for a few days – all thanks to the wonderful folks with Indivisible Nob Hill and Resist Tyranny Tuesdays,” Albuquerque International Sunport tweeted, along with photos.

And on Thursday, “It was our turn,” St. Louis Lambert International Airport, said in a tweet, “The #stlairport and @HMSHost provided lunches to all @TSA officers this morning and afternoon. We appreciate your huSTLe and dedication. #ThankyouTSA.”https://twitter.com/flystl/status/1086018922267193344

TSA officer dance-off with tiny traveler

Check out this fun dance-off between a young traver and a TSA officer at Newark Liberty International Airport. Thev video was posted on the TSA’s Instagram account and has gone viral.

Take a look.

This isn’t the first time a TSA officer with a sense of fun was caught on tape.

Here’s a video posted a while back of an officer matching the moves of a young traveler at Orlando International Airport.

TSA’s Instagram account is surprisingly well-followed, sometimes alarming and often entertaining ( if corny) feed. Here are few examples:

Did you know that sawblades are prohibited in carry-on bags. Yep. This one was discovered in a carry-on bag at the Atlanta airport. … Speaking of saw blades, we think we “saw” a pussycat. Probably because it’s #InternationalCatDay! Sorry about that horrible segue, but we had to cut to the chase somehow. … Have you always wanted to travel with your cat, but you’ve been afraid to ask how? Has your cat got your tongue? Even if you’re too much of a scaredy-cat to ask, we’re going to give you the rundown right meow. … Checkpoint Screening: … Check with your airline first to inquire about any fees and policies. … Your cat will need to be screened via checkpoint screening if it’s traveling with you in the cabin of the plane. … We do not X-ray cats or any other pets. However, there have been many occasions where passengers have assumed their cat needed to go through the X-ray. You can imagine the surprise of the X-ray operator when they saw Felix’s skeleton roll across their monitor. It is not an unusual occurrence. In this case, it’s not frowned upon to let the cat out of the bag. Your cat will need to come out of its carrier, so it’s a good idea to know how your cat will react. Many a cat has gone into a feline frenzy after being removed from its carrier. An angry cat is never a good thing. Especially when you’re in a confined area where there isn’t enough room to swing a cat. … The checkpoint is a noisy environment that can cause your cat to flee at its first opportunity. This happens with humans occasionally as well. Your cat can be carried through the walk through metal detector or walked through on leash if your cat isn’t too stubborn to do that. If your cat triggers an alarm, one of our officers will have to take a closer look. Cats are not screened with the body scanners, in case you were wondering. … Checked Baggage: … If your cat is traveling in a kennel, your airline will arrange for a TSA Officer to screen the kennel. Officers will need to inspect your kennel/carrier for prohibited items with you present. Sometimes this can be done visually, but occasionally, the TSA officer will ask you to remove your pet from the carrier.

A post shared by TSA (@tsa) on

Sometimes, air travel can make you a little crabby. … #ThrowbackThursday to July 27, 2017 at the Boston Logan International Airport (BOS). … There’s no sidestepping it. This crusty critter was in a pinch. Nothing is known as to how or why he was there, but there he was. Alone. In a bowl. In Boston. He had been scuttled by his human. There is no “rest of the story” here. We don’t have any records of the event other than this photo. … Now we imagine you’re wondering if you can travel with crabs. You can! Crabs are allowed in carry-on and checked bags. We’ll screen them, but it’s strongly recommended that you contact your airline for any specific guidelines or packaging requirements. … #RandomFact – Abandoned crabs can end up in hot water.

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