TSA

How many firearms did TSA find at airport checkpoints in 2019?

It’s a number we anxiously wait for each year.

And it’s a number that sadly keeps going up.

In its annual Year in Review, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) today shared the tally of the number of firearms its officers found at airport checkpoints around the country all last year.

The total: an alarming and record-setting 4,432 firearms were found at airport security checkpoints in 2019.

That’s an average of 85.2 firearms per week, or 12.1 firearms per day.

It’s also a 5% increase the 4,239 firearms discovered at airport checkpoints in 2018.

Here are some more stats from TSA’s 2019 firearm finds:

*Of the 4,432 firearms found, 3,863 were found loaded. And1,507 of those firearms had a round loaded.

*TSA found guns at 278 of the country’s 440 federalized airports, but firearms showed up more often at some airport than others.

Here are the Top Ten Airports where the most firearms were found:

  1. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL): 323. That’s 25 more firearms than were found at ATL in 2018
  2. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW): 217
  3. Denver International Airport (DEN): 140
  4. George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH): 138
  5. Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX): 132
  6. Dallas Love Field Airport (DAL): 103
  7. Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL): 100
  8. Nashville International Airport (BNA): 97
  9. Orlando International Airport (MCO): 96
  10. Tampa International Airport (TPA): 87

For the record, firearms aren’t allowed past airport security checkpoints. But TSA says many firearms owners say “Oops, I forgot that was in my bag,” when their weapons are found at the airport.

Being caught with a gun at the airport can get you arrested, fined more than $13,000 per violation and cause you to lose your TSA Precheck status, should you have that.

Don’t leave your stuff at the TSA checkpoint

Resolved to fly more in 2020? How to keep your stuff.  

In 2019, airline passengers tried to take hundreds of thousands of prohibited and banned items through airport security checkpoints in the United States.

Transportation Security Administration officers found hatchets, inert grenades, fireworks, firearms (most of them loaded) and so many knives that the TSA doesn’t even keep a count.

Instead, the agency boxes them up, weighs them and hands pallets of knives and other “voluntarily abandoned” property over to state agencies to be sold as surplus property.

TSA officials say passengers who don’t want to leave a banned item behind at the checkpoint have a few options:

If the item is approved for checked baggage, a passenger can put the item in a carry-on bag and go check it in or ask the airline to retrieve an already checked back and put the item in there.

Another option: Airport Mailers and some other companies have kiosks set up near security checkpoints at many airports where travelers may package up items and pay to mail them home.

But it’s not just items on TSA’s “no fly’ list that get left behind at airports.

Each month, TSA also collects and catalogs 90,000 to 100,000 other items that are perfectly legal to travel with, but which are inadvertently left behind at airport checkpoints by harried and distracted travelers.

Those items range from scarves and sunglasses to laptops, smartphones and some odd “How did they forget THAT?” items such as bowling balls, violins, gold teeth and urns and boxes filled with human cremains.

On a post-holiday tour of TSA’s Lost & Found room at Reagan National Airport, we spotted plenty of those items, as well as multiple bags filled with left behind IDs.

We also saw shelves lined with ballcaps, CPAP breathing machines, winter coats, car key fobs that will cost $200 or more to replace, car seats, canes and fully packed carry-on bags.

It’s easy to see how hats and scarves get left behind in the bins, but what about laptops, entire carry-on bags and other essential items?

Besides the “people are in a rush,” factor, TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein has some theories:

“When it comes to laptops, many brands are grey and the same color as the checkpoint bins, so it can be easy to overlook your laptop,” says Feinstein. “Also, if a bin has an advertisement in the bottom, travelers’ eyes may be drawn to the ad and cause them to miss the driver’s license and keys still in the bin.”

The number of bins people use may also contribute to the pile-up in the Lost & Found. If you’ve scattered your stuff across multiple bins (coats here, electronics there, a flat laptop and an ID in another bin), you may overlook items in the last bin as you rush to take your stuff out and stack up the used bins.

The pile of canes?

“It’s not that we have so many miraculous recoveries at TSA checkpoints,” says Farbstein, “I think attendants and family members helping wheelchair users who also have canes often forget to pick up the canes once they’re through the checkpoint.”

Keeping your stuff out of Lost & Found

TSA keeps items left behind at security checkpoints for a minimum of 30 days and posts phone numbers on its website where travelers can contact the Lost & Found department at each airport.

(Keep in mind that airports and airlines will have their own lost and found procedures for things left in the terminals and on airplanes.)

To improve your chances of getting your stuff back – or not losing it in the first place – Farbstein offers these tips:

  • Tape a business card or some other form of ID to your laptop or smartphone. “So many models are alike, so this can make all the difference in getting yours back,” said Farbstein.
  • Before you get to the checkpoint, or while you’re standing online, take time to consolidate all your miscellaneous items (i.e. scarves, hats, gloves) and take everything out of your pockets (keys, phones, wallets, etc.). Instead of putting small items in a bin, put them in your carry-on in an extra plastic bag you’ve packed just for that purpose. If you don’t put loose items in the bin to begin with, you eliminate the chance of leaving anything in the bin on the other side.
  • Pay attention to everything you put in the bins, including things that may have a high emotional value. “A laptop may cost thousands of dollars, but I can assure you that an old beat-up stuffed animal that a child has left behind is valuable to the parent who is now dealing with a crying child,” says Farbstein.

Help is on the way

Looking forward, as part of a $96.8 million contract awarded last year to Smiths Detection, in 2020 most large and major airports in the United States will be getting computed technology 3D X-ray scanners at the checkpoints. This new machinery will allow travelers to keep their electronics in their carry-on bags and reduce the chance of so many laptops and other gadgets getting left behind.

(My story: “How to avoid leaving stuff behind at the TSA checkpoint” first appeared on CNBC in a slightly different version)

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.

Passengers left TSA a ‘tip’ of almost $1 million in 2018

In 2018, travelers left TSA almost $1 million in inadvertent “tips”

Passengers in a rush to get through the airport security checkpoint often leave behind belts, mobile phones, laptops and other valuable items.

They also leave lots of coin and cash.

According to a report due out today from the Transportation Security Administration, during FY 2018 travelers left for than $960,000 – ($960, 105.49 to be exact) – in the plastic bins at airport checkpoints around the country.

That’s $90,265.93 more than the $869,839.56 travelers left behind as inadvertent ‘tips’ for TSA in FY 2017.

It is $92, 293.10 more than the $867, 812.39 passengers forgot to pick up in FY 2016.

And it’s a whopping, $194,346.34 more than passengers left behind in FY 2015.

By law, TSA is allowed to use these funds for projects it considers important for civil aviation security.

In past years some of the left-behind funds have been used to promote and improve the TSA Pre-Check program, for checkpoint maintenance, and for translation of checkpoint signage into different foreign languages.

Much of unclaimed money from the past few years remains in TSA’s coffers. In fact, as of March 15, 2019, when TSA actually completed its report, NO funds from 2017 had been expended.

And that funds are now included in the list of funds the Department of Homeland Security has its eyes on to help fund border operations, NBC recently reported. (Although the law specificially says the funds are to be used for civil aviation protection.)

Who are the biggest tippers?

As you might suspect, some of the county’s largest airports collect the most unclaimed coins and cash at the security checkpoints. 

TSA’s Unclaimed Money at Airports report for FY 2018 shows that passengers at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK) left behind the most money: $72, 392.74.

Next on the list: Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), where $71,748.83 was unclaimed in the bins.

Miami, Chicago O’Hare and Newark Liberty International are in the Top 5 of airports where passengers leave behind the most coins and cash.

Here’s the Top Ten list:

1.       JFK         72,392.74

2.       LAX        71,748.83

3.       MIA       50,504.49

4.       ORD       49,597.23

5.       EWR       41,026.07

6.       DFW      36,707.99

7.       SFO        33,264.80

8.       LAS         33,038.23

9.       MCO      32,687.10

10.     IAD         31,090.38

Why would travelers leave so much money behind at checkpoints? And why does the tally just keep going up? 

According to TSA spokesperson Jenny Burke, one reason may be that more people are traveling. Many airports are serving a record number of passengers and TSA is, therefore, screening a record number of passengers.

That makes the pool of possible inadvertent “tippers” much bigger.

Another reason: In this age of credit and debit card transactions, travelers find it more valuable to spend their time getting to their gate than stopping to scoop up a few pennies or dimes.

(A slightly different version of my story about TSA’s report on unclaimed money from FY 2018 first appeared on USA TODAY. )