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Airports' holiday hauls: 15,982 knives and 1 brick
Leslie Miller
Associated Press
Dec. 4, 2002 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON - Some passengers still haven't gotten the word about what they can and can't take on planes. Seized at airports during the Thanksgiving crush: 15,982 pocket knives, 98 boxcutters, six guns and a brick.

Still, transportation officials said the airport chaos predicted by many never occurred. Passengers waited less than 10 minutes on average at security checkpoints during the first holiday travel season since an all-federal workforce took over screening.

Michael Wascom, spokesman for a group representing the major airlines, said operations were generally smooth even with bad weather in some places.

"Passengers moved efficiently through the airports, and customer service standards were upheld," said Wascom, spokesman for the Air Transport Association.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the government has tightened restrictions on what can be taken onboard a plane.

Robert Johnson, spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration, said many holiday travelers are inexperienced fliers and don't realize they can't take knives, scissors, fireworks or ammunition onto planes. If they try to, the prohibited items will be confiscated. Passengers also could be prosecuted, a decision made by law enforcement officials depending on the item and the circumstances.

From Tuesday to Sunday, six people who tried to carry guns onto planes were arrested: two at Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport and one each at New York's LaGuardia Airport, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport, Salt Lake City International Airport and Dulles International Airport outside Washington.

"We find the gun, we turn the passenger over to law enforcement at the checkpoint," Johnson said. Charges vary, but most often they're a variation on possession of a prohibited weapon, he said.

"You're not allowed to have a gun at the airport without a permit," he added.

The Transportation Security Administration says that at the 38 busiest U.S. airports over the Thanksgiving holiday, the following were confiscated: 1,072 clubs or bats, 3,242 banned tools and 2,384 flammable items, including a welding gun in Boise, Idaho. An additional 20,581 sharp objects, such as scissors, ice picks and meat cleavers, also were stopped at the checkpoints. Someone tried to take a toy cannon containing live ammunition onto a plane at Chicago O'Hare International Airport, and a man tried to carry a brick onto a plane at Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington.

"I don't know why he would carry a brick," Johnson said.

Although the security administration can't make year-to-year comparisons because the data collection method has changed, the six guns taken from 38 airports in six days compare with 813 firearms taken from 429 airports in the eight months from February to September. During that same period, 783,670 knives and 31,064 boxcutters were seized, compared with 15,982 pocketknives and 98 boxcutters over Thanksgiving.

The prohibited items are turned over to local police, where they're either kept as evidence or thrown away, Johnson said.

The agency hopes to better educate people about what they can take onto airplanes by Christmas, when air travel will be complicated by new gate check procedures and many more checked bags screened for explosives.

"We would expect that, with the Christmas holiday, a lot of these people will be back, and we hope they'll learn their lesson," Johnson said.

The agency is slowly eliminating random security checks of passengers at airport gates throughout the country. Six airports have been phased in, and more will be by Christmas, he said. Air travelers must have their boarding passes in hand before being screened at those airports where gate screening has been eliminated, even if they don't check their luggage

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