Security

Don’t take your gun to the airport

It’s been a while since we took a look at the count of guns and other dangerous items travelers try to take through airport security checkpoints.

For the record, firearms, grenades and a long list of other dangerous – or dangerous-looking items – aren’t permitted airside in airports.

Yet each week passengers do show up at airport checkpoints with guns, live ammunition and other prohibited items in carry-on bags.

During the peak Thanksgiving holiday period, between November 18 and December 1, TSA officers found 153 firearms in carry-on bags.

Of those 153 firearms discovered, 127 were loaded. And 47 of those firearms had a round chambered.

In addition to firearms, TSA officers also found this novelty item at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on November 25. Grenades and inert grenades, no matter how cute, are on the list of items to leave home.

These grenades also showed up recently at airport checkpoints.

In this picture:

An empty grenade discovered by TSA officers at Louisiana’s Monroe Regional Airport on December 1.

An empty grenade discovered during X-ray screening at Raleigh-Durham International Airport on November 24. 

A novelty belt buckle grenade discovered at Louisville International Airport on November 28.

According to TSA, the most common reason travelers give when firearms and other dangerous items are discovered in their carry-ons is “Oops, I forgot that was in there.”

What happens to people who get caught with these items at the airport?

Some get fines up to $13,333. Some get arrested. And TSA Pre-check members run the risk of losing their status.

Now 3 airports offer gate passes to non-ticketed passengers

Another airport invites non-ticketed passengers to hang and visit

You can do it a Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) and you can do it at Tampa International Airport (TPA)

Now Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW) will let you do it too.

Detroit Metro Airport now allows non-ticketed passengers to spend time on the post-security side of both the McNamara and North terminals.

The “DTW Destination Pass” program allows non-flying ing guests to come to the airport to shop, eat, check out the art, planes pot, people watch, escort a friend or family to their gate or be there when a loved deplanes. 

“The new regulations allow us to expand our gate pass program that already exists for our Westin hotel guests,” said Wayne County Airport Authority CEO Chad Newton in a statement, “Now we can welcome more community members into our home to create memorable moments—from watching planes to greeting family and friends.”

DTW’s Destination Pass program isn’t permanent (yet) but is being piloted through the holidays with an end date of January 5, 2020.

Here’s how it works:

From Tuesday through Sunday, up to 75 non-ticketed passengers will be able to enter the secure side of both DTW terminals from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Visitors will need to apply for a pass through the DTW website the day before their planned visit. Applicants will get an email notification letting them know if the application has been approved. If approved, detailed instructions will be sent electronically.  

Pass holders will need to go through the same security screening as all other passengers going through the security checkpoints. During peak checkpoint times, passengers heading to flights will get priority over pass holders at the checkpoints.  

After their visit, pass holders will be asked to fill out a survey.

When the pilot program is done, “Wayne County Airport Authority will be evaluating the use of the program, along with the airport’s cost to provide this service. We will also be reviewing the completed participant surveys,” said airport spokeswoman Lisa Gass.

Other airports invite non-ticketed visitors as well

While DTW’s Destination Pass is being piloted, the gate-pass programs at Pittsburgh International Airport and Tampa International Airport are permanent.

Pittsburgh International Airport kicked off the trend with the “myPIT Pass” program in August 2017. The program operates Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Non-ticketed passengers may apply for a pass by showing a U.S. government-issued photo ID at a special counter in the terminal.

Tampa International Airport (TPA) introduced its TPA All Access Pass in April 2019. TPA’s pass allows non-ticketed guests who apply at least 24 hours in advance to visit one of four airside areas of the airport each Saturday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. There is a limit of 25 people per airside.

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) tested a gate-pass program for a few weeks during the 2018 holiday season and had 1,1650 people take advantage of the program. The decision to bring back the program on a temporary or permanent basis is still under review.

According to Transportation Security Administration spokesperson Lorie Dankers, before any airport can offer a gate-pass program to non-ticketed fliers, the airport must submit a formal proposal to the TSA to amend the local airport security plan. If TSA approves the plan, an airport is permitted to invite non-ticketed passengers past security.

So perhaps we’re seeing the beginning of a trend.

(My story about airport gate passes first appeared on USA TODAY in a slightly differing form.)

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.