While there are still fewer passengers flying on commercial planes due to the pandemic, there is an uptick in the number of firearms people are bringing with them to U.S. airports.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced this week that so far this year its officers have found a record number of firearms at airport security checkpoints.
As of October 3rd, with three months yets to go in 2021, TSA officers had stopped 4,495 passengers with firearms. That already surpasses the previous year-long record of 4,432 firearms caught throughout all of 2019.
In 2019, TSA found 5 firearms per million passengers. So far this year, TSA discovered 11 firearms in carry-on bags at airport checkpoints per million passengers.
Here are Top 10 airports for firearms discoveries so far this year. Note that the most firearms have been found at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), and that three Texas airports (DFW, IAH, and DAL) are on this list.
That’s 28 percent more than the 2,653 firearms found in 2015.
According to TSA’s report, of the 3,391 firearms found during 2016, 83 percent were loaded and the most firearms – 198 – were found at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
Top 10 airports for firearms discoveries:
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL):198
Dallas/Fort Worth International (DFW): 192
George Bush Intercontinental Airport – Houston (IAH):128
Phoenix Sky Harbor International (PHX):101
Denver International (DEN): 98
Orlando International Airport (MCO):86
Nashville International (BNA):80
Tampa International (TPA):79
Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS):78
Salt Lake City International (SLC):75
Beyond firearms, TSA finds lots of other odd things in travelers’ bags.
In 2015, passengers in a rush to gather their belongings after going through airport checkpoints left behind more than three-quarters of a million dollars in the plastic buckets and bins at airport security checkpoints.
That $765,759.15 was mostly in the form of loose change. And thanks to a law passed by Congress in 2005, after collecting and tallying the cash, the TSA gets to keep it.
Here’s how much passengers left behind in the past:
Frazzled and forgetful passengers left more than a half million dollars in spare change in the plastic bowls and bins at airport security checkpoints last year.
That’s about $45,000 more than the amount left behind in 2011, according to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
What happens to all that money?
TSA makes “every effort to reunite passengers with items left at security checkpoints,” said agency spokesperson Nico Melendez. But all those nickels, dimes, quarters – and a smattering of poker chips and crumpled bills – usually end up getting counted, forwarded to the TSA financial office and then spent on general security operations.
Congress approved that TSA expenditure in 2005, but some lawmakers and passengers rights groups are unhappy TSA gets to keep the change.
In 2009, and again in 2011, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, introduced unsuccessful legislation that would require TSA to give the unclaimed cash to the United Service Organizations (USO), a private nonprofit that operates centers for military personnel at more than 40 U.S. airports. The lawmaker plans to reintroduce the bill soon, “as a stand alone measure and as part of the Homeland Security Appropriations bill,” Dan McFaul, a spokesman for Miller’s office, told NBC News.
Money left behind by passengers at airport checkpoints is “a windfall TSA does not deserve to keep,” said Paul Hudson, executive director FlyersRights.org, a non-profit consumer organization. But rather than give the money to the USO, he’d like the funds to go to nonprofit groups that look out for the rights of travelers. “Passengers pay a lot of taxes on airline tickets and there is currently no government funding in the United States for organizations that seek to help passengers,” he said.
“Common sense would dictate that the money is returned to the people who lost it … travelers,” said Brandon Macsata, executive director of the Association for Airline Passenger Rights. But he doubts TSA will ever be required by law to give the change left at airport checkpoints to passenger rights organizations.
If the TSA continues to be able to keep the left-behind money though, Macsata would like the agency to be directed to use it for staff training “to better educate them on how to appropriately handle and treat unique travelers, including travelers with medical conditions, children and travelers with disabilities.”
TSA’s Melendez doesn’t know why passengers leave money in the plastic bins at airports, but says “placing spare change or any other items in a purse or briefcase prior to going through security is the easiest and best way to maintain positive control of your belongings.”
Denver International Airport has another option for travelers approaching the checkpoints with change in their pockets. Earlier this month, the airport installed collection jars on the non secure-side of several checkpoints asking travelers to donate change to Denver’s Road Home, an organization that helps the homeless.
Souvenir hunters rejoice: Later this summer, you will able to pack snow globes in your carry-on luggage when you go to the airport.
Transportation Security Administration officers will permit the items as long as they are packed in a passenger’s plastic, quart-sized, resealable bag along with other gels and liquids.
TSA will permit snow globes “that appear to contain less than 3.4 ounces (of liquid), which is approximately the size of a tennis ball,” spokesperson David Castelveter said, “but only if the entire snow globe, including the base, is able to fit in the bag.
“And it has to be the same bag. You don’t get a 3-1-1 bag and a snow globe bag,” he added.
Tennis balls will not be used to determine the size and volume of snow globes. Instead, TSA officers will be aware of the size requirement and apply “some discretion in their evaluation of the item being transported,” Castelveter said. As a general rule, he said, if a snow globe is the size of an average fist, it should get through.
The move is part of TSA’s ongoing reassessment of its rules and is expected to be fully in place by mid-August — just in time for end-of summer trips to Disneyland, SeaWorld and Busch Gardens.