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TSA advises air travelers about bringing firearms, other dangerous items

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Many items are allowed but must be brought according to TSA rules

As the busy holiday travel season approaches, federal safety officials are asking that people planning to fly be aware of what they can — and can’t — bring on their air journeys.

The Transportation Security Administration advises people traveling on commercial airlines that being prepared to fly before arriving at the airport is important. It helps ensure conditions are going to be safe on the aircraft and that the boarding process isn’t slowed down because of numerous security concerns arising inside the airport.

Transportation Security Administration officials at the Medford airport filled a large table at the airport with a variety of dangerous items confiscated by agents that included tools, martial arts items, and an array of knives, blades and sharp edges.[Photo by Terri Harber]
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneTransportation Security Administration Spokesperson Lorie Dankers demonstrates how to pack a gun before traveling at the Medford Airport.

Nationwide, the number of firearms brought into airports improperly — and often unlawfully — has been on the rise this year. The TSA reports that about 4,900 firearms have been found this year so far.

Going back to 2018 and 2019, the totals were much lower: 4,239 and 4.432, respectively. The total for 2020 was only 3,257, but the sharp decrease can be attributed to the significant reduction in air travel last year because of the pandemic, said Lorie Dankers, a spokesperson for TSA.

The number of such incidents at the Medford airport is also increasing as more people resume air travel. This medium-sized airport reported only five improper gun carries last year, but that number has jumped to 12 so far this year. That number is down from the 14 guns found in 2019, but is concerning to local TSA staff.

The number of passengers departing from the Medford airport has reached 97% of 2019 levels and, as of Monday, the U.S.will lift restrictions on foreign travelers who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, so the nation’s airports will become busier, Dankers emphasized.

Bringing a firearm to a TSA security checkpoint can come with a civil penalty of at least $1,500 and could be as much as $13,910. Potential local criminal penalties could also result.

If you have a concealed carry permit, you still can’t bring a firearm with you as a carry-on item.

Dankers advised travelers who will be bringing firearms and other weapons to check local laws pertaining to weapons in the communities where they will be traveling. Also keep in mind that some airlines have stricter rules about what passengers can bring, and not all allow firearms even in checked baggage. Checking on these rules before flying is an essential part of travel planning.

Firearms, ammunition, clips and magazines must be specially packed inside bags that go through airport check-in. Firearms and most firearms accessories can’t be carried onto the plane by passengers.

The firearm, ammunition and other parts can’t be loose inside of one’s bag, either. All of these items need to be contained inside a secure, hard-sided case with sections designed to hold each piece inside of the bag. That includes magazines and clips.

Remove all rounds from the firearm to ensure it’s not loaded. Put small ammunition into a fiber container of wood, plastic, metal or the box the ammo was in when purchased. Place that package inside of the case.

The case should be fully secured. Many of the containers have two spaces on the top or edge that can be secured with a lock. Both sides of the firearm container should be secured so no one can force it partially open on one side and steal its contents, Dankers said.

Go to the ticket counter and declare your firearm, ammunition and any parts.

Among items that can’t be brought on a plane at all: butane, chlorine, explosives and replicas of explosives, flares, fuel, gunpowder, black powder, percussion caps, rocket launchers, sparklers, spray paint.

In many instances, there are other things one might assume can’t be brought along but actually can. Such items must be packed according to TSA rules, however.

An array of items that people carry around for their jobs and hobbies are considered too dangerous to be allowed in the seating area of commercial aircraft but can be in checked bags: baseball bats, box cutters, cattle prods and corkscrews with blades are just some examples. Knives and any sharp objects allowed on a flight should go into one’s check-in bags and be securely wrapped.

Any gel, liquid, aerosol and creamy items in containers larger than 3.4 ounces, such as foods, toiletries and medications, can’t be carried onto the plane by passengers, either. Those larger items need to be contained in checked luggage.

An exception is hand sanitizer. People can carry on a container with a volume of up to 12 ounces. These large containers might slow down the security check, however.

Even toy and replica guns need to be inside checked luggage.

Items not allowed end up being taken away by airport security if there’s no one around who could take your firearm and hold it for you until you return.

For more details that can help simplify air travel preparations, visit tsa.gov/travel/security-screening/whatcanibring/all.

The TSA website also provides information about how to pack and other helpful tips.

One can also tweet or message “Ask TSA” with travel questions and to determine whether specific items are OK to carry on the flight by posing a question or taking a picture of the item.

To illustrate how much contraband reaches the checkpoint at the Medford airport, a large table was filled with a variety of people’s belongings collected by TSA staff, including tools, martial arts items — including keychains designed for self-defense — and an array of knives, blades and sharp edges.

It was just a portion of what people had to surrender during the past three weeks because they didn’t know such items couldn’t be carried onto their flights. Dankers pointed out that many of the items were lost because their owners say they forgot they were carrying them.

People who haven’t been to the Medford airport for a while will notice that the facility recently installed a state-of-the-art X-ray scanner that the TSA hopes will help reduce waiting times at the security checkpoint. Even with such a safety tool, Dankers reminded travelers to be prepared to face large numbers of other people at the airport also traveling over the holidays this year.