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
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
brought what? videos.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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