In a post-Sept. 11 world, travelers are used to the security routine before boarding an airplane.
Shoes, jackets and belts come off before passengers walk through the metal detectors. Their unchecked luggage is scanned through an X-ray machine to detect any items forbidden on airplanes.
For many, it’s second nature.
Still, it doesn’t leave Transportation Security Administration officers bored at the helm.
“It’s amazing what people bring through the checkpoints,” said Scott T. Johnson, region 6, Office of Security Operations director.
TSA officers frequently find that they’re staring through the X-ray at an image of an inert grenade, a machete, a power saw, a replica handgun, a real handgun or a stun gun, just to name a few.
Odd traveler commodities, for sure. However, many passengers have reasons behind their choices.
Washington Dulles International Airport security officers have found inert grenades often are given as gifts, most commonly used as paperweights, according to Lisa Farbstein, of the TSA’s Office of Public Affairs.
The reasoning still would likely do little to calm the fears of fellow travelers.
“The point is, if I’m sitting next to you on a plane and I pull that out, you don’t know that that’s inert, neither does the flight crew. That could cause panic on a plane,” Farbstein said. “… Same thing with the [replica] firearms …”
For some legal firearm owners, traveling everywhere they go with their weapon is common. So when they attempt to board an airplane with the weapon, they often tell TSA officers they forgot the weapon was in their luggage.
“I think that some of them are not thinking about it. Some of them say they forgot them. If you have a firearm, a real firearm, you need to know where it is at all times,” Farbstein said.
And then there are the people that simply haven’t traveled since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks or the incidents that followed, like the capture of Richard Reid, better known as the Shoe Bomber.
“You have to remember, everyone doesn’t travel all the time. We’ve had passengers that have not traveled since 9/11, so this will be their first time coming through. You can tell they’re nervous …” Thompson said.
Some recent finds of TSA include an inert mortar shell and a sword hidden inside a walking cane. Other finds have included replica ammo belts, cattle prods, torch lighters and large knives.
Since the items are legal outside an airplane, passengers are given a choice to keep the items by returning them to their cars, mailing it to themselves, checking it inside non-carry-on luggage or surrendering it to the TSA.
“We lock it in a bin and after so much time passes we box them all up and the Virginia State Surplus people pick it up and sell it. We don’t make a profit off of it. The state does,” Farbstein said.
But beware. What’s legal in Virginia may not be legal in other states. New York has some of the toughest weapons laws, according to Thompson, and the stun guns, brass knuckles and swords – even located in your checked luggage – will get you arrested there.
Despite how unbelievable some of these finds can be, they’re not the strangest Thompson has heard of in his eight-year career with TSA.
Years ago, on the same day at the Miami and Detroit airports, TSA officers found women’s stockings balled up and hidden on two passengers’ bodies.
“There were live snakes they were taking out of the country. And then a woman had something similar in a toilet paper roll … live birds, stuffed inside the stockings. Instead of trying to get them into the country, they’re trying to get them out,” he said.