TSA

TSA’s Top 10 Finds of 2020

It has become a tradition for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to release an annual “Top 10” list of the ‘best’ things the agency’s officers find travelers’ checked and carry-on bags.

The list for 2020 has just been issued in video form (below).

What made the TSA list?

#10 was a sling shot.

#9: Knives hidden in a hollowed out book.

#8 was a stash of 107 Roman candles found New York’s LaGuardia Airport in early November 2020.

#7: A smoke grenade found at Dulles International Airport

#6 A shark in a jar, found at Syracuse Hancock International Airport (SYR) in November.

#5 Again at LaGuardia in November, 2020. TSA officers spotted what looked like a pipe bomb in a carry-on bag. “When one of the end caps was removed, a partially smoked cigar was found inside,” TSA reports, “It turned out that the item was a homemade humidor for a traveler’s cigars.”

#4 Marijuana concealed inside checked bags, discovered at Boston Logan International Airport (BOS).

#3 In July, while scanning checked baggage at Newark-Liberty International Airport, TSA officers found an assault rifle, a high-capacity magazine, four boxes of hollow-point bullets, three magazines, one of which was fully loaded, and two additional boxes of rifle ammunition “artfully concealed” (as TSA says) in the lining of a checked bag.

#2 In September at John F. Kennedy International Airport TSA officers spotted two large electronic items wired to what appeared to be a tampered power source. It looked like an improvised explosive device but was later identified as a solar panel wired to the batteries to power the electronic item.

#1 Here TSA’s list of great ‘catches’ veers into the “aw, that’s romantic.”

These two lovebirds are TSA canine handlers at Newark Liberty International Airport. They got married in June and, of course, Obelix and Proto were on hand to help celebrate.

Here’s the full TSA video of the Top 10 Catches of 2020.

For your entertainment, we’ve include a few Top 10 lists from past years too.

And here’s why we still really miss TSA’s Bob Burns.

TSA found 3,257 firearms in carry-on bags in 2020

Travel was way down in 2020. But that didn’t stop those who were getting on airplanes from having firearms in their carry-on bags.

In a report released today, TSA says its officers found 3,257 firearms on passengers or in their carry-on bags at checkpoints. Of those firearms caught, about 83 percent were loaded.

In 2019, TSA officers stopped a record 4,432 firearms, of which 87 percent were loaded.

Firearems were found at 234 airports.

Here are Top 10 Airports where TSA found firearms at the checkpoints

AIRPORT (CODE)TOTAL
1Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)220
2Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)176
3Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH)126
4Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX)124
5Denver International Airport (DEN)104
6Nashville International Airport (BNA)94
7Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL)87
8Orlando International Airport (MCO)79
9Las Vegas McCarran International Airport (LAS)72
10Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC)71

While firearms aren’t allowed in carry-on bags (for obvious reasons…) airline passengers may fly with firearms if they are properly packed as checked baggage. There are state and local firearms laws that passengers must be sure to comply with.

What happens if you’re found with a firearm in your carry-on?

In some cities, local police are called over and may file criminal charges.

TSA says it can assess civil penalties that vary by the number of previous offenses and whether the firearm was loaded at the time. Fines can exceed more than $10,000. range.

Travelers tip TSA a whopping $926,000

Rushed, distracted travelers unwittingly gave the Transportation Security Administration a cash tip of more than $926,000 last year.

TSA gets to keep the cash and currency travelers forget to pick up when they empty their pockets into the bins at the airport security checkpoints.

And that cash adds up.

During Fiscal Year 2019, which ended in September 30, 2019, TSA collected $926,030.44 in unclaimed money. That included $18,899.09 in foreign currency.

The amount of unclaimed money TSA collects has been increasing each year. But for the first time, the total collected actually decreased year over year. In FY 2018, travelers left behind $960,105.49.

For 2019, here the Top 5 airports where travelers left behind the most cash:

  1. John F. Kennedy International Airport – $98,110
  2. San Francisco International Airport – $52,668.70
  3. Miami International Airport – $47,694.03
  4. McCarran International Airport – $44,401.76
  5. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport – $40,218.19

And here are the totals from previous years:

FY 2013 – $638,142.64

FY 2014 – $674,841.06

FY 2015 – $765,759.15

FY 2016 – $867,812.39

FY 2017 – $866,839.56

FY 2018 – $960,105.49

Hold onto your cash

Don’t want to unwittingly leave a tip for TSA at the checkpoint?

Take a moment to organize your stuff before you get to the airport and again before you get on the TSA checkpoint line.

Instead of emptying your pockets into the bin, put loose change, bills and anything in your pocket into a small bag or pouch that you put inside your carry-on bag or purse.

TSA’s new rules for security checkpoints

As we head into the Memorial Day holiday and a slight uptick in air travel, the Transportation Security Administration rolling out some new rules for the security checkpoint screen area in response to COVID-19.

Some of these strategies are already in place. Others will show up at checkpoints by mid-June.

Scan you own boarding pass

Still no word about TSA taking passenger temperatures, but TSA officers will now ask passengers to place their paper or electronic boarding pass on the ticket readers themselves. TSOs will still examine your document, but they won’t touch it.

Clear bags for food

TSA also now asks passengers to put any carry-on food items in a clear plastic bag and place that bag in a bin at the checkpoints.

“Food items often trigger an alarm during the screening process; separating the food from the carry-on bag lessens the likelihood that a TSA officer will need to open the carry-on bag and remove the food items for a closer inspection,” TSA says in a statement.

“This allows social distancing, reduces the TSA officer’s need to touch a person’s container of food, and reduces the potential for cross-contamination. TSA Precheck members do not need to remove items from their bags,” TSA adds.

If you haven’t flown since the pandemic arrived, you’ll see TSA checkpoint officers wearing facial protection and gloves. Passengers are also asked to wear masks at checkpoints as well and be prepared to lower their masks if requested. At many airports, masks are now required throughout the terminals and on the planes.

TSA officers buy meals, stock pantries for airport co-workers affected by COVID-19

Courtesy TSA

(Our story about TSA workers helping airport workers during the pandemic first appeared on CNBC in a slightly different version.)

The steep decline in air travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered layoffs, furloughs and shortened work hours for many airport employees, including wheelchair attendants, baggage handlers, janitorial crews and concessions staff.

But in a growing number of cities their co-workers from the Transportation Security Administration, who continue to receive paychecks, are stepping up to help. They’re hosting temporary food pantries in airports around the nation and providing free lunches and dinners to their struggling colleagues. They’re also donating their time to make masks and other essential items for communities in need.

Unite Here, a union representing hospitality workers, estimates that 42,000 of its members in the airport industry are currently out of work. Most of those lost jobs are in airport concessions and airline catering, where wages range from $9 to $16 an hour.

That’s just Unite Here members. The Airport Restaurant and Retail Association (ARRA) estimates 120,000 to 125,000 airport employees are currently out of work. 

Some of those workers may eventually get called back. But for now, their incomes are disrupted, and many could use some help.

Food pantries to the rescue

As a thank-you for the support they received while working without paychecks during the 2018/2019 partial government shutdown, TSA officers at Denver International Airport on April 30 hosted a food pantry in support of airport and air carrier colleagues working with reduced hours or partial paychecks.

“Our team rallied to collect thousands of non-perishable items for the pantry,” said Larry Nau, TSA Federal Security Director for Colorado, “133 airport employees shopped the pantry and took home items for a total of 538 family members fed.”

On April 24, Transportation Security Administration employees at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) opened a free food and toiletries pantry to assist airport employees laid off or working with reduced hours or paychecks.

TSA officers are donating cash, products and gift cards to keep the pantry stocked with items such as cereal, evaporated milk, soup, pasta, toothpaste, soap, laundry detergent, feminine products, diapers and deodorant.

And in early April, TSA employees at Dulles International Airport (IAD) opened a free pantry for affected airport community members that is stocked with everything from donated dried and canned goods and toiletries to toys for employees who have kids at home.

Elsewhere, TSA officers have also set up a food pantry at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG).

Feeding colleagues in need

Twice in early April, TSA officers at Rhode Island’s T.F. Green Airport (PVD) chipped in to buy and deliver pizza dinners for fellow airport workers, including airline employees, wheelchair attendants and housekeeping staff.

“Providence is a small airport and the employees who work here are like family,” Christopher Primiano, TSA stakeholder liaison at PVD Airport, told CNBC, “We know this could go on for some time so we’re looking into what else we can do, from donations and food drives to bake sales. We want to help and give back as much as we can.”

On April 10, TSA employees at PDX bought pre-made lunches for around 300 airport employees. They did it again on April 21, partnering with local employees from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to donate lunch and supplies to an equal number of airport workers.  

As part of its “TSA Gives Back” program, early last month TSA officers at Green Bay-Austin Straubel International Airport (GRB) in Wisconsin chipped in to buy and deliver pizza, dessert and balloons to airline and car rental employees at the airport who are experiencing shrinking paychecks.

And, at McGhee Tyson Airport (TYS) in Knoxville, Tennessee, TSOs are collecting donations and arranged for Second Harvest, the community food bank, to supply food boxes to about 300 airport employees.  

TSA officers offer other assistance

TSA employees are screening record low numbers of passengers and crew members at airports around the country, so at Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) TSA officers are finding a creative and helpful way to use their break time and downtime between screening duties.  

Following instructions from an online video, TSA officers at EWR made 200 face masks out of 100 pairs of brand-new socks purchased with funds donated by TSA employees. Each sock-mask was placed in a separate plastic zippered bag along with an instruction card and all 200 masks were delivered to two area homeless shelters.

TSOs at Newark Liberty Airport have also used their downtime at the checkpoints to make home-made get-well cards and write notes of support for health care workers and COVID-19 patients in isolation at a nearby medical center.