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Heading to the Airport? Make Sure You Know What's in Your Bag

Michele Skalicky

The Transportation Safety Administration or TSA had an array of items laid out on a table adorned with a white table cloth recently at the Springfield-Branson National Airport.

The items, including a knife hidden in a key and another in a lipstick case, as well as a power drill, ammunition, a fake grenade, brass knuckles and mouthwash, had all been surrendered by passengers when they were found in their bags at the security checkpoint at the Springfield airport and at Kansas City’s airport.

Mark Howell, TSA regional spokesman, said they want to make sure people check their bags before they head for the airport.

"Most of the time they're saying, 'oops.  I forgot it was in my bag,' or 'oh, my husband/wife/my colleague packed my bag for me,'" he said.  "But you've got to remember, when you bring that bag or any item into the checkpoint, you are ultimately responsible for it because you're presenting it for screening before you get on your flight."

Guns are another item TSA scanners are seeing an increasing number of.  And Howell says, most of the time, they’re loaded when they enter the scanner.  While he said, in “99.9 percent of the cases” the owner had no criminal intent, it can cost them.  In all cases, local law enforcement is called in, and in most cases TSA assesses a civil penalty that can be as high as $13,000, "so a very costly mistake for just forgetting to take your gun out of your bag," Howell said.

Credit Michele Skalicky
TSA Regional Spokesman Mark Howell

According to Howell, the Springfield-Branson National Airport has seen five guns come through the checkpoint so far this year.  There were 14 guns at the airport in 2017 and 16 in 2016.

"So, to jump out already into two months into this year with five is a pretty quick start, especially since this is a slower time of the year," Howell said.

National stats are on the rise, too, he said.  A total of 3391 guns were taken through security checkpoints in the U.S. in 2016 and more than 3900 last year.  This year, through the first week of February, security scans have found more than 450 guns.  During the week of February 5-11 this year, TSA said a record was broken for most guns in a week:  104.  The previous record was 96 in July 2017.

He’s not sure why they’re seeing more guns coming through airport security checkpoints, but he says it may have to do with more people carrying the weapons as well as more people traveling.  Guns are allowed in checked baggage, but there are rules that must be followed, including packing them in a hard-sided case and declaring the item to the airline. 

Standing behind the table of items that had been abandoned, Howell said prohibited items taken through a checkpoint cause slowdowns, especially at an airport like Springfield’s with only one or two lanes. 

"If you think about each of these things that you see on the table as another passenger, because we're going to have to go through the options of them getting rid of the item and then put them through screening again," he said, "so, in effect, all these things you see on the table are another person in front of you in line."

One a prohibited item is identified, except for guns, passengers have the option to take it to their car, give it to someone who came to the airport to see them off, put it in their checked luggage or even mail it to themselves.  Many times, however, passengers arrive with little time to spare, so the items end up as “voluntary abandoned property,” Howell said.

The items get logged, and the state surplus office picks them up under a no-cost contract with TSA.  Dangerous items are disposed of, said Howell, and other things are sold with the money going back to that office. 

Howell said guns are handled differently by law enforcement agencies in each community.

The moral of the story, according to Howell, is for travelers to pay attention to what’s in their bags before they get to the airport.