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Archive for Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Airport screeners expect the unexpected

Unusual items discovered in baggage increase over busy holiday periods

November 21, 2007

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Travel tips for carry-on baggage

Among the tips to swiftly get through airport checkpoints:

¢ Have boarding pass and identification out when in line.

¢ Take off shoes and outerwear.

¢ Put any loose metal items, like coins, in your carry-on bag.

¢ Pack your carry-on bag as neatly as possible and layer items. For instance, a layer of clothes, then a layer of electronics, then a layer of toiletries.

¢ Put large electronics, like laptops, in a separate bin.

¢ Make sure liquids are in bottles containing no more than three ounces each, and put the bottles in one quart-sized clear baggie. One bag per passenger.

"You know you're not a threat, but our TSOs don't know you, and seemingly innocent items can actually appear to be potential threats in an X-ray image, simply by the way they're packed," according to the Transportation Security Administration's Web site.

— Security screeners at the Newark airport could almost open a department store with all the banned items: nine bottles of wine, three sets of kitchen knives, a replica antique gun, pool cues, golf clubs and baseball bats.

The objects, confiscated from travelers over several recent days, also included martial-arts weapons and a belt with fake bullets.

"Every day is a surprise," screener Janice Hnyda said.

During the busy Thanksgiving travel period, screeners at the nation's airports are prepared to find the unexpected in passengers' carry-on luggage.

Other bizarre items around the country included: a two-headed snake (Newark); 10 human eyeballs floating in liquid for medical purposes (O'Hare Airport in Chicago); and a collection of hermit crabs carried by a family returning from the Gulf of Mexico (San Antonio).

Lara Uselding, a spokeswoman for the Transportation Security Administration, said airlines can accept some unusual items with advance planning, as long as they are not prohibited by the TSA. That was the case with the snake, which was going through Newark to appear on "Live with Regis and Kelly" with a zoo curator. It was eventually checked.

But other prohibited items must either be placed in checked baggage, given to someone not traveling or left in a car. Some airports offer paid services to mail objects home. Belongings that are voluntarily surrendered become property of the federal government, which discards all food and liquids.

During the holiday travel crunch, screeners are under pressure to move passengers along quickly. And they have learned to anticipate just about anything.

"We get power drills," said Luther Duke, a screener for five years at Newark Liberty International Airport, which expects to handle 547,000 travelers over Thanksgiving.

Their vigilance will be tested during the holidays, when planes are expected to be 90 percent full.

A record 38.7 million U.S. residents were expected to travel 50 miles or more for the holiday. Some were already en route by early this morning, hoping to beat the evening rush on what is often called the busiest travel day of the year.

About 31.2 million travelers were expected to drive to holiday celebrations in spite of gas prices that were nearly 85 cents more per gallon than a year earlier, according to AAA. The national average for regular gasoline on Nov. 16 was $3.09 a gallon, up from $2.23 on Nov. 17, 2006.

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