Saturday, December 26, 2009

DHS Statement on Northwest Airlines Flight 253

I understand there are a lot of questions regarding the incident yesterday that occurred on a Northwest flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.

Due to an ongoing investigation, there is little I can say here on the blog, but you can go to to read the official DHS statement from Secretary Napolitano. I am also providing the statement below.


DHS Secretary Napolitano Statement on Northwest Flight 253
December 26, 20091:00 p.m. EST

"I am grateful to the passengers and crew aboard Northwest Flight 253 who reacted quickly and heroically to an incident that could have had tragic results. The Department of Homeland Security immediately put additional screening measures into place- for all domestic and international flights- to ensure the continued safety of the traveling public. We are also working closely with federal, state and local law enforcement on additional security measures, as well as our international partners on enhanced security at airports and on flights.

The American people should continue their planned holiday travel and, as always, be observant and aware of their surroundings and report any suspicious behavior or activity to law enforcement officials.

Passengers flying from international locations to U.S. destinations may notice additional security measures in place. These measures are designed to be unpredictable, so passengers should not expect to see the same thing everywhere. Due to the busy holiday travel season, both domestic and international travelers should allot extra time for check-in."


Blogger Bob

TSA Blog Team

***Update - 12/28/09***

Please visit for our current Q&As and any additional updates. The most recent Q&As are pasted below.

Q: What additional security measures is TSA taking domestically?

A: TSA has a layered approach to security that allows us to surge resources as needed on a daily basis. We have the ability to quickly implement additional screening measures including explosive detection canine teams, law enforcement officers, gate screening, behavior detection and other measures both seen and unseen. Passengers should not expect to see the same thing at every airport.

Q: What additional security measures are being taken for international flights to U.S. destinations?

A: TSA issued a directive for additional security measures to be implemented for last point of departure international flights to the United States. Passengers flying into the United States from abroad can expect to see additional security measures at international airports such as increased gate screening including pat-downs and bag searches. During flight, passengers may be asked to follow flight crew instructions, such as stowing personal items, turning off electronic equipment and remaining seated during certain portions of the flight.

Q: Do passengers need to do anything differently to prepare for checkpoint security procedures? Has anything changed in terms of what passengers can bring in their carry-on or checked bags?

A: At this time, security checkpoint requirements for passengers departing U.S. airports remain the same. Passengers do not need to do anything differently, but they may notice additional security measures at the airport.

Q: Should passengers plan to arrive at airports earlier than normal?

A: Passengers traveling within the United States should give themselves extra time to check in and proceed through the security checkpoint before their flight, especially during the busy holiday travel season. TSA advises that passengers traveling on international flights to U.S. destinations allow extra time for security and arrive an additional hour earlier.

Q: How long will these measures remain in place?

A: TSA will continuously review these measures to ensure the highest levels of security.


Blogger Bob

TSA Blog Team

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Holidays 2009

T'was the night before travel and all through the suitcase,
Not an item was stirring not even the toothpaste.

The stockings were packed in the bag with great care,
With hopes that they soon would be in the air.

The tickets were nestled all snug in a binder,
Your PDA calendar set as a reminder.

Awaking to a yard of frost and snow,
With a grab of your bags you were soon on the go.

At your gate just in time with moments to spare,
Your seat reclined as you glide through the air.

You fall right to sleep as in your own bed,
While visions of fruitcakes danced in your head.

Awaking to sounds of wheels on the ground,
Waiting for luggage you hope will be found.

You have finally arrived at your destination,
It's time to enjoy your holiday vacation.

Happy Holidays and we'll see you in 2010.

Blogger Bob

TSA Blog Team

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Update on Standard Operating Procedures

I published a blog post yesterday on the outdated, unclassified version of a Standard Operating Procedures document that was posted by the agency. It was improperly posted to the Federal Business Opportunities Web site wherein redacted information was not properly protected.‪‪ Once we were made aware of the situation, it was immediately taken down from the Web site and a full review by TSA’s Office of Inspection was initiated.

TSA takes full responsibility for this improper posting and all individuals who may have been involved have been placed on administrative leave, pending the outcome of the review.

This document was not the everyday screening manual used by Transportation Security Officers at airport checkpoints. Thorough analysis has determined the flying public and aviation community are safe and our systems are secure. TSA is confident that screening procedures in place remain strong.

Blogger Bob

TSA Blog Team

Monday, December 7, 2009

TSA Response to Leaked Standard Operating Procedures

TSA has learned that an outdated version of our Standard Operating Procedures document had been improperly posted to the Federal Business Opportunities Web site. TSA took swift action to remove the document when this was discovered.

The version of the document that was posted was neither implemented nor issued to the workforce. In fact, there have been six newer versions of the document since this version was drafted. Standard Operating Procedures change regularly as intelligence provides information on new threats and we find better ways improve security.

A full review is now underway to ensure proper procedures are followed in the future.

TSA has many layers of security in place to keep the traveling public safe, and we are confident that the screening procedures we currently have put in place remain strong.

Blogger Bob

TSA Blog Team

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

What Was She Thinking? A True Thanksgiving Tale

Each Thanksgiving travel season, there are stories that range from slightly odd to truly bizarre. This year was no exception.

On November 25th, a female called the Miami-Dade Police with information about a bomb aboard an American Airlines flight from Miami to Honduras. The police also received an e-mail saying there was a bomb on the same flight.

All bomb threats are taken seriously, and the police department and TSA conducted searches of the plane. The flight was delayed by about four hours. No bomb was found on the plane, and after it was cleared by law enforcement authorities, the flight left for Honduras.

Most of us know that e-mails can be traced, but apparently not everyone does. Law enforcement authorities traced the bomb threat e-mail back to a woman who told them that she made the claims because she was late for work and was concerned that her tardiness would cause her boss to be late for his flight. Apparently, she made the threats to buy him some time. Here’s a link to the local media coverage.

As strange as this sounds, it’s not the first time something like this has happened. I’ve seen other reports of people calling in bomb threats when they’re running late for their flights to keep the plane on the ground until they get there. We’ve also had more than a few people say “what if there’s a bomb in my bag?” when they get to the gate too late to board their flight and want to get their checked bag back. Besides being incredibly selfish, it’s illegal, and when caught, these folks are arrested and face hefty fines.


TSA Blog Team

Friday, November 20, 2009

Gobble, Gobble: TSA Helpful Holiday Travel Tips

Can you believe it? It’s that time of year again where turkeys head for the hills and people head for the airports. It’s the busiest travel time of the year and a time when people who rarely fly, or have never flown, take to the skies, so we wanted to provide some clarification and tips for those who might come to the blog looking for some information.

Here’s some guidance related to the most common questions we’ve been hearing lately. Please remember that each time our officers have to search a bag or a person, the line slows down.

The 4-1-1 on 3-1-1 (Liquids, Gels & Aerosols): Let me start by saying this. If you’re checking a bag, make it easy on yourself and just put your liquids in your checked luggage. That way, you don’t have to worry about 3-1-1. I know that suggestion doesn’t work for everybody. Some liquids are essential and some of you understandably would not like to pay to check your luggage. If you’d rather take liquids in your carry-on, please continue reading…

3-1-1 is the name for our liquid policy. You can read here for more details, but here is the gist of 3-1-1… Each passenger is allowed to take one clear quart-sized sealable bag and fill it with as many liquids in 3.4 oz or less sized containers that will fit, while still being able to seal the bag. Basically, don’t stuff it to the point where it won’t close.

Make sure you take the bag out of your carry-on prior to sending it through the X-ray, or our officers may have to search your bag.

If you have liquids, aerosols, or gels that are used for medical purposes, they do not need to adhere to our 3-1-1 policies and do not have to be placed in a bag. You may be asked to go through a TSA Family Lane (see below) so we can expedite the screening process. The liquids, gels and aerosols will need to be removed from your bags.

Answers to common questions: Stick deodorant is not limited to 3.4 oz or less, but gel or spray deodorant is. Also, any liquid makeup such as eyeliner should be placed in the baggie. That goes for perfume as well. Powder makeup is fine.

Family Lanes: Frequent flyers hate it when they’re in line behind a family, and guess what… families hate it when the frequent flyer is behind them tapping their foot and sighing. That’s why we created Family Lanes. They’re designed to let families take their time and ask questions without feeling rushed by the experienced frequent flyers who can zip through a checkpoint in no time. Also, as stated earlier, anybody carrying medically necessary liquids, aerosols and gels in excess of 3.4 oz may be directed to a Family Lane.

Foods: Pies are permitted, but they are subject to additional screening if our officers see any anomalies. (Additional screening of pies does not include our officers tasting the pie, no matter what they tell you…) Cakes, bread, donuts, turkeys, etc. are all permitted. If it’s a live turkey, you might want to have a word with the airline. Here is a list of items that should be placed in your checked bags or shipped: cranberry sauce, creamy dips and spreads (cheeses, peanut butter, etc.), gift baskets with food items (salsa, jams and salad dressings), gravy (mmm gravy), jams, jellies, maple syrup, oils and vinegars, sauces, soups, wine, liquor and beer.

Gifts: Wrapped gifts may need to be unwrapped. If there’s something in the gift that needs to be inspected, we have to open it. Our officers try their best not to mangle the gift wrap, but it’s not a guarantee and it also slows down the line for everybody else when we have to do this. It is suggested that you wrap the presents when you arrive at your destination. You also have the option of shipping the items as well.

Snow Globes: We are not in cahoots with the Heat Miser, but snow globes are not permitted in your carry-on luggage. They are sealed containers full of liquid that would have to be opened and destroyed to test. We’re not in the business of busting snow globes, so we suggest you place them in your checked baggage or mail them ahead of time

ID & Boarding Pass Checking & Secure Flight: As you approach a TSA checkpoint, you will see an officer checking IDs and boarding passes. Please have your acceptable ID and boarding pass out and ready to present to our officer. If your ID is in a plastic sheath or other type of holder, it will need to be removed so our officers can properly inspect your IDs. By having your ID and boarding pass out and ready, you’ll help move the line along faster. The several seconds it takes to get your ID and boarding pass out might not seem like much time, but it really adds up when you’ve got people in line behind you.

Also, folks have had questions about the Secure Flight program and whether the name on your ticket has to match the name on your ID. The Secure Flight watch-list matching process occurs before a passenger even gets to the airport so if you get a boarding pass, the Secure Flight watch-list matching process is done. In other words, you are clear once you get that pass.

If you have lost or forgotten your ID, you will still be permitted to fly as long as you help us verify you are who you say you are by answering a few questions for us.

Inconsistencies: You may notice your screening experience at one airport doesn’t match the experience of another airport. We realize this happens, and some of it is intentional. While it can be a little confusing for our passengers, it also makes things unpredictable for those who might wish to do us harm. Our officers also can use their discretion in different scenarios that allows them to use common sense and not abide by a checklist mentality that can be studied and defeated by those who wish to do us harm.

Shoes on Belt: We recommend you place your shoes on the X-ray belt as opposed to placing them in a bin. Why? It keeps the bins from getting too cluttered and allows our officers to get a better look at items to ensure prohibited items do not get on the plane. It also speeds things up when they get a better view and don't have to stop the X-ray belt for searches.

The best piece of advice I could give a traveler is to arrive early if you have the time. No matter what happens, (aside from a flight being cancelled) if you get to the airport early, you should be fine. Worst case scenario is you’ll have some time to kill while you wait on your flight.

For any pilgrims who might be flying, be sure not to bring your muskets through the checkpoint and clothing with large buckles is discouraged as it will most likely alarm the walk through metal detector.

Is this all a bit too much to remember? Print out this handy dandy checklist (PDF) so you don’t forget anything.

For a complete rundown, check out our “What to Know before You Go” blog post. It has everything broken down by category.

Also, we’re going to be Tweeting a TSA Holiday Travel Tip every day, so follow us on Twitter @tsablogteam for travel tips, blog post announcements, and other useful information.


Blogger Bob

TSA Blog Team

Monday, November 16, 2009

Holiday Travel Refresher: What if I Lose or Forget My ID?

It’s been a while since we talked about IDs and what happens if you lose or forget your ID on the way to the airport. With the busiest travel time of the year quickly approaching, I thought it would be wise to do a quick refresher on the subject.

So, what if you show up at a TSA checkpoint and you can’t find your ID? Does that mean you won’t fly? Nope… You’ll still be able to fly as long as you provide us with some information that will help us determine you are who you say you are. Verifying the identity of people coming through checkpoints is an important part of security, just as vetting passenger names against the No Fly and Selectee lists.

Using the information you provide, if we can confirm your identity, you’ll be cleared to go through security, and you may or may not have to go through some additional screening. If we can’t confirm your identity with the information you provide or you’re not willing to provide us with the information to help us make a determination, you may not be able to fly.

You can find a list of acceptable IDs here.

Also, prior to the new ID rules rolling out last year, there were tons of questions, and we addressed the questions with several blog posts you can review here:

- 8.13.2008 You won’t be put on a TSA “List” if you forget Your ID
- 8.11.2008 Furthering the Dialogue on IDs
- 7.03.2008 Yet Another ID Post...With Some Answers to Your Questions
- 7.02.2008 ID Q&A
- 6.27.2008 ID Update and Word on the Blog
- 6.23.2008 New ID Requirements: The First 48
- 6.20.2008 New ID Requirements Begin Tomorrow
- 6.11.2008 Why is ID Important for Security?

Blogger Bob

TSA Blog Team

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Veterans Day: Thank You

We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm." - Winston Churchill

Veterans Day is a time to remind our nation to reflect on all of the people who served and sacrificed as members of the United States military and thank them for that service. From the battles of Lexington and Concord to the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, this nation has always had a strong core of people who were willing to serve, fight, and sometimes die for their country and that is truly honorable.
TSA has a strong core of Veterans who have come to TSA to continue to serve and protect their country- in a different capacity. Over 15,000 of our employees are Veterans and over 3,000 employees are serving in the military reserves. Many are currently deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq.

Whether these dedicated men and women served in a kitchen or a foxhole - or were an expert with an M-16 or a Clarinet - their selfless service to our country is something to appreciate and recognize - today and every day.

So, on behalf of TSA, I would like to extend a sincere thank you to all of our nation’s Veterans.

Blogger Bob

TSA Blog Team

TSA Stops Medical Supplies for Cape Verde?

Over the weekend, an article ran stating that TSA Officers in Boston had stopped medical supplies from traveling in checked baggage to Cape Verde. The article states the items confiscated included Tylenol, vitamin C, mosquito repellents, hand sanitizers and rubbing alcohol.

TSA did prevent most of the insect repellant, but everything else was permitted. Why the repellant? Well…

FAA regulations state that Personal Care Items containing hazardous materials (e.g., flammable perfume, aerosols) totaling no more than 70 ounces may be carried on board. Contents of each container may not exceed 16 fluid ounces.

The repellant was in 6.5oz containers (approx), and most bags contained more than the limit of 10 or 11 cans ranging from 2-128 cans over the limit. Most bags were large suitcase bags completely full of just bug spray.

In cases such as these, TSA is required to return the entire bag (s) to the airline so they can remove the hazmat. In this case, due to the high volume of items, TSA Boston worked with air TACV representatives in the baggage screening location to ensure the 70oz rule was followed for each bag.

Our officers followed the proper protocol spelled out by the FAA and included in our SOPs. If anybody else plans to take items such as insect repellent to Cape Verde to help with the Dengue fever, it is highly recommended an alternate shipping method is found so the items will be permitted. Our thoughts go out to the people of Cape Verde.

***Update 11/12/09***

FORCV updated their web page to correct inaccuracies.


Blogger Bob

TSA Blog Team

Friday, November 6, 2009

Response to: “Oops: Backscatter X-ray machines tear apart DNA"

This article has been receiving quite a bit of attention and it’s leading people to believe the Backscatter Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) used by TSA emits terahertz radiation. Recent studies are showing that terahertz radiation may “unzip double-stranded DNA, creating bubbles in the double strand that could significantly interfere with processes such as gene expression and DNA replication.”

(I know… who knew that your DNA could be unzipped? Hey buddy, your barn door’s open!!!)

I forwarded the article around to a few subject matter experts here at TSA and was provided with some interesting information:

“TSA has not tested nor procured any terahertz AIT systems.”

That sentence should sum it up for most of our readers, but for those who like to get into the weeds, here is some more interesting information that was given to me from the fine folks at the Office of Security Technology (OST):

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has assessed multiple types of AIT systems including X-ray backscatter and millimeter wave. Both offer safe and effective whole body screening for weapons and explosives concealed on a person’s body. Backscatter X-ray technology uses X-rays that penetrate clothing, but not skin, to create an image. Millimeter wave technology uses sensors to collect millimeter wave energy to measure the difference in radiated energy relative to each object against a common background (the human body produces these signatures in typical screening applications) to construct a composite image.

Backscatter - Relies on a narrow, low intensity X-ray beam scanned over the body’s surface at high speed that is reflected back from the body and other objects placed or carried on the body, where it is converted into a computer image of the subject and displayed on a remote monitor. For comparison purposes, the X-ray dose received from the backscatter system is equivalent to the radiation received in two minutes of airplane flight at altitude (0.003* millirem by backscatter (2 scans) compared to .0552 millirem for two minutes of flight). Newer technologies require less scanning time, reducing individual X-ray exposure to .002 millirem for the entire process. The backscatter AIT meets and exceeds the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standard for personnel security screening systems using X-rays.

Millimeter Wave - Uses non-ionizing radio frequency energy in the millimeter wave spectrum to generate an image based on the energy reflected from the body. The frequency range for millimeter wave technology exists in the range between 30-300 gigahertz. The three-dimensional image of the body is displayed on a remote monitor for analysis. The energy projected by the system is 10,000 times less than a cell phone transmission (.00000597 mW/cm2 for millimeter wave technology compared to 37.5 mW/cm2 for a cellphone).

Other Safety Information

“TSA security screening technologies are required to meet consensus standards, such as those issued by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), as well as regulatory requirements such as those issued by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Our systems are independently tested as well by such laboratories as Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) and the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) and FDA. We also apply an aggressive maintenance program to ensure that these systems continue to meet these performance standards. Additionally, TSA Occupational Safety Health and Environment (OSHE) is an active participant in our project integrated project teams. TSA OSHE assists in the development and validation of technology safety requirements. We also conduct safety evaluations as part of our laboratory, TSA Systems Integration Facility (TSIF), operational and site acceptance testing procedures.”

TSA tells its employees, namely Transportation Security Officers (TSOs), about the safety of advanced imaging technology machines, including the radiation exposure, during training on the equipment. In addition, TSA’s Office of Occupational Safety Health and Environment has individuals who work directly with TSOs to communicate safety information about operating the equipment. Information is available to TSOs through the OSHE Web site and employees can contact members of OSHE directly with questions.

*.04 was posted in error. The corrrect number was added. 0.003 millirem. Edited on 1/5/10


Blogger Bob

TSA Blog Team

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Response to "TSA Takes Big Gulp over Britney"

A video was posted earlier today by a popular celebrity tabloid showing Britney Spears traveling through airport security at LAX with a large drink cup.

We checked with the airport and I'm happy to report there's nothing to see here.

Her cup had a few ice chips in it, not liquid. Ice is a solid. Therefore, ice is permitted through the checkpoint, as long as it's screened by the X-ray (Which it was).

I should also add that Ms. Spears did have a bottle of liquid in her purse which was identified on the X-ray and voluntarily surrendered at the checkpoint.

One thing to remember when bringing ice through the checkpoint: it can't be partially melted. It has to be just the ice with no liquid at the bottom.

While I'm at it, I'll take this opportunity to answer a common question. Yes, empty bottles and cups are also allowed through the checkpoint.

*** Update: 11-4-09 ***
After reading the incoming comments this morning on our blog, it was very apparent that we had left some inaccurate information on the web page:

"Frozen gels/liquids are permitted if required to cool medical and infant/child exemptions. Frozen gels/liquids for any other purpose are not permitted."

This information has recently changed and should have been updated. An update has been posted in its place.

If you encounter any problems, please contact a TSA Customer Support Manager by using the Got Feedback? program.

***Update 11/6/2009***

Clarification on Frozen Liquids… and Britney

Earlier this week, Britney Spears came through a checkpoint at LAX. The paparazzi were there taking pictures and presumed they landed a big story when they saw what they thought was TSA giving Ms. Spears the “celebrity treatment.” They presumed the cup in her hand was a full beverage. It was also assumed that we let Ms. Spears through the checkpoint with her beverage instead of prohibiting it, which led to allegations of TSA just letting her slide by.

What really happened was Ms. Spears had a cup with a few ice chips. Ice and other frozen solid liquids are permitted as long as they’re frozen solid and X-ray screened.

So, why are frozen solidified items permitted when they’re eventually going to melt once the passenger is in the gate area or on their flight? Good question. It is highly improbable that the explosives TSA is concerned about could be frozen by traditional means. The key word here is frozen. Not thawing. Not a slush or slurry. Frozen solid.

I’ve read comments saying things similar to “Huh, but you wouldn’t let me bring my [Insert Frozen Item Here] before… what’s the deal?” As a result of many questions from our officers on the front lines, we previously clarified the treatment of solidified liquids through internal processes.

So, while something may have been prohibited by an officer in the past, it may not be now. Please remember that even permissible items get a closer look at times, so don’t be surprised if we take a closer look. So you might want to think twice before going overboard and freezing your entire pantry or medicine cabinet and packing it in your carry-on.

Another question that comes up is “Why not just ban all liquids?” Another great question… I just answered this recently, so excuse me while I cut and paste. At first, all liquids were banned. This wasn’t sustainable long term. People have liquid medications and mothers need to travel with breast milk and formula, etc. So, using the intelligence at hand, it was determined how much liquid could be allowed on planes by a passenger so that we could balance security with convenience. Hence 3-1-1… TSA is now working on technology that will hopefully bring an end to it – so that liquids could be screened along with everything else in your bag – and no little plastic baggie. The day that technology allows liquid to stay in your bags, our HQ will look like a vintage victory parade. Tickertape will be streaming out of our windows and bands will be marching around the building.

You have to keep in mind that these procedures were put in place to as an effective measure until the necessary technology can be deployed. 3-1-1 was never intended to be the perfect permanent fix. There is still a lot of work to be done on this and we are as disappointed as you are that the technologists have not been able to find solutions as quickly as we had hoped. Remember that 3-1-1 is in use throughout most of the world and all of our counterparts are working on a solution as well.

Now back to Britney…

Some of you are saying our officers were star struck and gave Ms. Spears special treatment and didn’t even X-ray her bags. First off, this is LAX. Our officers are pretty accustomed to screening celebrities, so I doubt they get star struck. Secondly, if you watch the TMZ video, you’ll notice that her purse is brought over first by a TSO.

There ‘s an opening on all of our X-rays that is next to the X-ray operator and allows a bag search officer to grab the bag as it comes out of the X-ray. This prevents bags that need inspected from getting to the passenger and causing a security breach. That opening is not visible on the TMZ video, but here is a picture.

OK, when the purse is brought to her, watch her expression. You’ll see an “Oops I did it Again” expression as she is informed that she has a bottle of perfume in her purse. (Which she voluntarily surrenders) Next you’ll see an officer bring the bin to her with the cup in it. Notice the officer to the left looking over the bin to inspect it. That’s when it was confirmed that there were just a few ice chips in her cup. (After it had already gone through the X-ray) There is no straw and you can clearly see her get an ice cube out of the cup and not a drink.

Blogger Bob

TSA Blog Team

Friday, October 23, 2009

Response to “Bag Check” Cartoon

On the surface, this cartoon resonates with many passengers who’ve had to abandon their liquids or adjust their travel to adhere to TSA’s 3-1-1 liquid policy.

This cartoon compares the allowance of laptop batteries with a bottle of water. It leads the reader to believe batteries are more dangerous than the water. While that might be true, it leaves out the reasoning behind 3-1-1. The batteries may be more dangerous than a bottle of water, but they are not more dangerous than a water bottle filled with liquid explosives.

When you show us a bottle of liquid, we can’t tell if it’s a sports drink or liquid explosives without doing a time consuming test on it. We’re developing the proper technology to allow us to expedite the screening of all liquids, but in the meantime, to screen everybody’s various types of liquids over 3.4 oz. would cause gridlock at the checkpoints.

Why is 3.4 oz. and below OK and what’s up with the baggies? To date, I think those questions were answered best in an interview with Ars Technica’s Jon Stokes. I highly suggest you read it to get the big picture of what lead to 3-1-1.

Additional information on Lithium (laptop) batteries: They’re permissible in checked and carry-on luggage when they’re in the devices they are intended for. Spare batteries are not permissible in checked baggage, but they can be transported in your carry-on luggage if they are packaged properly.

You can read more about the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) rules on traveling with batteries at the SafeTravel web page.

(Cartoon Courtesy of XKCD)


Blogger Bob

TSA Blog Team

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Response to “My Daughter the Terror Suspect”

I came across a post yesterday about a cute little four year old girl who was believed to be on the No Fly List because every time she flies with her father, he has to check in at the ticket counter and can’t print tickets from home or from a kiosk. The author also described that even though his daughter had a nuclear meltdown at Target, she was by no means a terrorist.

I can relate to nuclear meltdowns at Target since my daughter had one there last year. I carried her out of the store like a sack of potatoes and she was screaming all the way. I really expected somebody would call the police, but they didn’t.

It may seem like semantics here, but first off, I wanted to let you know that your daughter is not on the No Fly List. It sounds as if her name is a match or similar match to an actual individual on the Selectee Watch List. You can’t obtain a boarding pass if you’re on the No Fly List. If you’re on the Selectee Watch List, you can fly after you’ve received additional screening.

Many have been misidentified as a match or possible match for the Selectee Watch List and the only thing they could do is work with the Redress Office to correct the problem.

But who is that I see? Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, It’s Secure Flight! Airlines are beginning to ask for name, date of birth, and gender as it appears on the government ID you plan to use when traveling. This is a part of the Secure Flight program. The program will be in full effect for domestic airlines by the first quarter of 2010 and the rest of the airlines will be on board by the end of 2010. It will reduce mismatched names by 99.9%.

So, this will not be a problem in the future.

In the short term, individuals who have been misidentified as a match or possible match for a Watch List can work through the DHS Redress process to resolve the issue.

Secure Flight Related Posts on the TSA Blog


Blogger Bob

TSA Blog Team

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Why We Screen Wheelchairs Part II

Our officers work in what some have referred to as a large fishbowl. Everything they do is being observed by passengers. So, when they screen veterans & active military, children & seniors, and people in wheelchairs, people notice. It doesn’t sit well with them and we often hear about it. All wheelchairs must be screened and it's important to remember that some people, including terrorists are looking to sneak things through, by pretending to have a disability.

Lynn wrote the last “Why We Screen Wheelchairs” as a result of a passenger trying to smuggle two packages of cocaine onto a plane. Wherever you can hide drugs, you can hide bombs and other items, so we thought it was a good example to help explain why we screen people in wheelchairs.

In this most recent case, a gentleman came through the checkpoint at Milwaukee’s MKE airport in his wheelchair and whoops -what’s that??? Underneath the cushion of his wheelchair was not one, but two firearms. Our officers found the following:

- One 9mm loaded with 15 rounds and one chambered

- One 32 caliber loaded with seven rounds and one chambered

It turns out that the gentleman didn’t have any nefarious intentions(He forgot the guns were there) but it is yet again another example of why we screen wheelchairs and the people in them.

To help us better understand how to screen persons with disabilities (PWDs), TSA established a coalition of over 70 disability-related groups and organizations with disabilities and medical conditions. These groups have assisted TSA with writing our policies to help us thoroughly screen PWDs while ensuring they are treated with dignity and respect. Our officers are regularly trained on screening people with disabilities.

You can go to to read more about traveling when you have a disability.

Blogger Bob

TSA Blog Team

Friday, October 16, 2009

Response to "TSA Agents Took My Son"

A blog post has been circulating today from a woman who wrote a very emotional story about being separated from her child while traveling through a TSA check point. Two things went through my mind after reading her post.

  1. As a father of two small children, I empathized with her about the alleged circumstances.
  2. As a TSA employee and former TSO, I felt it could not be true -- especially since our policy is that TSA will not ask parents to do anything that would distance them from their children during the screening process.
TSA works daily to achieve the balance of effective security and passenger convenience. We diligently review claims of improper conduct. But when inaccurate passenger accounts are made either via media outlets or on the blogs, TSA works to resolve them and present both sides of the story. In this case, TSA has made the decision to post the CCTV video of the incident online to allow for transparency.

After watching the video footage, you'll see the video clearly shows that this individual was never separated from her baby by TSA. You'll also see that a lot of the other claims are also unfounded.

Blogger Bob
TSA Blog Team

***Update - 10/18/09 - 7:00 PM***

On Friday, TSA posted the video footage pertaining to the portion of the process where the individual said that TSA removed her child from her presence. There are 9 camera angles of the incident which were placed into sequence to show the time frame in question. For full transparency, TSA is posting the entirety of the footage from each camera of the entire time the passenger was within camera range at the checkpoint.

Part 1 - Entering Checkpoint

Part 2 - Loading Items on X-ray

Part 3 - Waiting to be Screened (Different Angle)

Part 4 - Waiting to be Screened

Part 5 - Walking to Screening Area

Part 6 - Security Screening

Part 7 - Security Screening (Different Angle)

Part 8 - Exiting Checkpoint

Part 9 - Exiting Checkpoint (Different Angle)

Also, TSA's Atlanta Federal Security Director and the TSA blog team reached out to the individual on behalf of TSA on more than one occasion regarding the incident and have not heard back.

The individual has also acknowledged on her blog that this is her in our CCTV footage.

Thanks ~ Blogger Bob

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Grenades: A Refresher Course on Checkpoint Etiquette

Last July, Blogger Bob wrote a post: “Can I Take my Hand Grenade on the Plane?’ Some wondered aloud if we had to state such an obvious thing, because seriously, who would think they could take a grenade on a plane?


Over the weekend, a grenade was found in a passenger’s carry-on bag in Phoenix. At first, the passenger said he didn’t know the grenade was in his bag. Then he said he left it unattended curbside and someone could have put it in there. Later, while talking to law enforcement officers, he admitted it was given to him by his grandfather from WWII.

There’s been quite a few reports of grenades found at checkpoints lately, so I did some research to find out just how many had been caught by officers since Blogger Bob’s July post. The answer: 21.

Of the other 20 or so hand grenades found, here are some highlights:

One was found hidden in a stuffed animal. The passenger said the stuffed animal was a gift and had no idea anything was hidden in it. Talk about the gift that keeps on giving…

One was the popular gag-gift plaque that says: “Complaint Department: Take a Number.” Problem is, in the X-ray, the most notable part of the image is - you guessed it - the grenade.

A Pittsburgh passenger who packed an inert hand grenade in his bag as a present for his son said he has never flown before and had no idea he couldn’t take the inert grenade on the plane.

A law enforcement officer from Canada visiting the US for a convention had a pepper spray grenade, flash bang grenade and a smoke grenade in his bag.

A passenger who said he was previously a member of the military stated that the grenade found in his bag was a souvenir.

A military reservist said the grenade found in her bag was a gift for her brother.

The lesson to be learned here is that even if it’s a gift (gag or otherwise), souvenir or inert, putting a grenade in your carry-on or checked bag is a no-no. I would also suggest not packing the new novelty grenade MP3 player in your carry-on or checked bags. Not only will you be delayed and possibly miss your flight, but you could also end up spending some quality time with law enforcement officers.

As we like to say when giving packing advice, when in doubt, leave it out. And it can’t hurt to do a last minute double check of your bag to make sure there are no grenades, guns or other prohibited items in it.

Safe travels,


TSA Blog Team

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Dakota to Chicago Via Virginia

Earlier this week, a 14 year old boy used his mother’s credit card to purchase a plane ticket and board a flight using his mother’s name, Virginia.

When asked at the checkpoint, the boy told the TSA officer that his name was indeed Virginia. With names like Moon Unit, Apple, etc., I’m not shocked by anyone’s name anymore. There are many names out there that can be gender neutral. For example, his real name is Dakota, a name given to both males and females.

Minors under the age of 18 are not required to show ID. Regardless of age, everyone who goes through a security checkpoint is screened. The boy was screened and had nothing dangerous on him.

TSA’s mission is to protect the Nation’s transportation systems to ensure freedom of movement for people and commerce. At the end of the day, we did just that. No dangerous items made it onto the plane.

We’re glad Dakota’s family was able to locate him and bring him home safely.


Blogger Bob

TSA Blog Team

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

TSA to Receive $355 Million for Airport Security Projects

(DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano recently announced that TSA will receive $355 million for more than a dozen airport security projects funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

The $355 million is going to be used for a lot of really nifty improvements to aviation security including:

Inline Baggage Screening Systems: Inline baggage screening systems help keep transportation safe. $254 million will be spent on inline baggage handling systems at six airports—including Washington Dulles International Airport, Mineta San Jose International Airport, San Antonio International Airport, Portland (Maine) International Jetport, Port Columbus International Airport, and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Watch this video about inline baggage screening at ATL.

CCTV: $38 million will be spent to support new and enhanced closed circuit television (CCTV) systems at six airports, including Chicago Midway International Airport, Little Rock National Airport/Adams Field, Kansas City International Airport, Omaha Eppley Airfield, Washington Dulles International Airport, and Tampa International Airport.

Backscatter Advanced Imaging Units: Backscatter machines use advanced imaging technology that allow our officers to better detect a wide range of threats in a matter of seconds, including explosives. More than $25 million will fund the purchase and deployment of approximately 150 backscatter advanced imaging units to airports across the nation. This deployment follows a successful pilot phase, during which 46 imaging technology units were deployed at 23 airports and passengers opted to use imaging technology for primary screening 98 percent of the time. It is important to note that this technology is always optional to passengers.

Next Generation Explosives Trace Detection: If you’ve seen our officers swabbing passengers and luggage with white swabs, that is our Explosives Trace Detection (ETD) machines. ETDs can detect even the smallest traces of explosives and are a very important part of our layers of security. $15 million will be spent on Next Generation Explosives Trace Detection (ETD) units.

Next Generation Bottled Liquid Scanners: $22 million will be spent on Bottled Liquid Scanners (BLS), a technology that screens medically necessary liquids such as infant formula and liquid medications to ensure they do not contain a threat.

Also, be sure to check out Tom Frank’s USA Today article on TSA’s purchase of 150 backscatter machines.

Blogger Bob

TSA Blog Team

Friday, October 2, 2009

Did Newark’s Mayor Really Add Conan O’Brien to the No Fly List?

Conan O’Brien recently included the following in his monologue: “The Mayor of Newark, NJ wants to set up a city wide program to improve resident’s health. The health care program would consist of a bus ticket out of Newark.”

Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, responded with this humorous video and jokingly informed Conan he’d been added to the No Fly list for Newark’s EWR airport.

I knew right away this was a joke, (a pretty funny one I thought) but after reading some comments around the blogosphere, it seems that some are buying this gag. First off, airports don’t operate on individual No Fly lists. The No Fly list encompasses all airports.

Also, the mayor of Newark – or any elected official for that matter - cannot add somebody to the No Fly list. It is a much more stringent process. The FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center has to add you to their Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB), and they can’t do that unless you are known or appropriately suspected to be or have been engaged in conduct constituting, in preparation for, in aid of, or related to terrorism are included in the TSDB per the Homeland Security Presidential Directive 6. (HSPD-6.)

So, if you’re not familiar with the No Fly list, you’re probably wondering what it’s all about.

From the TSA FAQ Section: The No Fly list is a list of individuals who are prohibited from boarding an aircraft. The "Selectee" list is a list of individuals who must undergo additional security screening before being permitted to board an aircraft. After 9/11 the Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) was created through a Presidential Directive to be administered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Department of Justice, in cooperation with the Departments of Homeland Security, Defense, State, and Treasury, as well as the Central Intelligence Agency. The purpose for the TSC is to consolidate terrorism based watch lists in one central database, the Terrorist Screening Center Database (TSDB), and make that data available for use in screening. Intelligence and law enforcement agencies nominate individuals to be put on the watch list based on established criteria, with the list maintained by the TSC. TSA's No Fly and Selectee lists are subsets of the TSDB and are maintained by the TSC.”

The terror watch lists keep legitimate terror threats off of airplanes every day, all over the world. According to the GAO, terror watch lists have "helped combat terrorism" and "enhanced U.S. counterterrorism effort."

If you think you are on the No Fly list, let me ask you this question: Have you obtained a boarding pass? If so, you are not on the No Fly list. If you obtained a boarding pass and an airline employee told you that you were are on the list, they were mistaken. Your name was probably a match or a similar match to the name of somebody actually on the list. Have you flown? You would not be allowed on a flight if you were on the No Fly list.

This is a good opportunity for me to segue into Secure Flight. Secure Flight is a behind the scenes program that streamlines the watch list matching process. It will improve the travel experience for all passengers, including those who have been misidentified in the past. In fact, Secure flight will reduce mismatched names by 99.9%.

Contrary to popular belief, Conan regulars Eyeballs O'Shaughnessy, Todd the Tiny Guy, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, and La Bamba, are not on the No Fly list.

Key Takeaways:

-Mayor Booker was joking and did not place Conan on the No Fly list

-If you are able to obtain a boarding pass, you are not on the No Fly list

-Secure Flight will reduce mismatched watch list names by 99.9%


Blogger Bob

TSA Blog Team

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Law Enforcement Officers Flying Armed

(Photo courtesy of Paul Keleher)

As of July 15, 2009, TSA implemented security enhancements to the process that allows state, local, territorial, and tribal Law Enforcement Officers (LEOs) to fly armed.

When LEOs need to fly armed, they will now obtain a unique identifier code from the TSA via a secure law enforcement network. This new system is replacing the old method of clearance via written authorization from the officer's police department.

The beautiful thing about the security enhancements is that they use an existing infrastructure, so no additional costs are incurred while security is strengthened.

So now, in order to fly armed, a LEO will need to present their credentials along with their unique identifier code when traveling through a TSA checkpoint.

Why are we updating security procedures? As you can imagine, allowing somebody in the aircraft cabin with a weapon has to involve the most secure of check-in process. These enhancements to the process allow us to ensure that only properly credentialed LEOs with a need are flying armed.

Law enforcement officers flying armed serve as a deterrent aboard commercial aircraft. To date, due to support from our law enforcement partners, the rollout has been extremely smooth.

Law Enforcement Officers who meet the requirements can go here to get more info.

No additional costs + enhanced check in process + added security for passengers = WIN!

Blogger Bob

TSA Blog Team

Friday, September 25, 2009

Combining Security & Convenience: A Balancing Act

Media reports and security “experts” routinely ask if TSA really makes air travelers safer or if we are simply trying to make things more inconvenient in the name of security.

Safety and convenience can be a bit like oil and water at times, but TSA is always trying to balance the two. It’s not always easy, and we know passengers aren’t always thrilled to take off their shoes or put their liquids in a baggie. But you don’t take your shoes off because of Richard Reid and the liquid explosive threat isn’t over because the UK plot was foiled. Everything TSA does is rooted in intelligence, and every security measure is done to mitigate a threat.

Sometimes security measures come after a plot is busted, such as the August 10 liquids plot. In August 2006, existing technology could not root out the peroxide-based explosives from all the other liquids that come through the checkpoint. The threat was very real, and continues to be real, as all the news on terrorism this week shows. Three men involved in the UK plot have since been convicted for trying to blow up commercial airliners with liquid bombs. Watch this video to see the capabilities of liquid explosives to do catastrophic damage to a commercial airliner.

So we first enacted a total ban along with the UK and other countries. Then after national labs here and overseas studied the intel, we worked with international partners to come up with the policy of packing 3.4 ounce or smaller containers in the one quart baggie so passengers could take necessary liquids in their carry-on bags.

Other times, we proactively enact measures to mitigate a threat, like when we announced that remote control toys could receive additional screening last year, and again this month, when we deployed test kits to give added scrutiny to certain powders that could be used to make explosives. Both items can be used to create an IED, but instead of banning them, we use existing technology to mitigate the threat with very little impact on most travelers.

There are some other examples of balancing security with convenience to improve your travel experience:

Laptop Friendly Bags: Officers continue to this day to find gun parts and other prohibited items hidden in laptops, as well as tampered laptops. While it’s an extra step to take your laptop out of its bag, that extra step helps officers make sure they get a clear view without other items in your laptop bag getting in the way. So we worked with industry to come up with Laptop Friendly Bags that allow you to keep your laptop in your bag and give officers the clear view of the laptop that they need to keep you safe.

AT X-rays: Advanced Technology X-rays give officers a better and multidimensional view of your bag which in turn leads to fewer bag searches and reruns. AT X-rays can also be upgraded to address evolving threats.

Black Diamond Self Select and Family Lanes: Self Select and Family Lanes are based on feedback from frequent fliers and passengers with children or special needs. This enhancement allows passengers to travel through checkpoints at their own skill level and pace. TSA has also positioned technology to screen medically necessary liquids at the Family/Liquids lanes.

Imaging Technology: Not only has the use of Millimeter Wave and Backscatter made things safer for the flying public by detecting both metallic and non-metallic threat items that could be hidden on a body, it has allowed us to take a more hands-off approach when screening certain passengers. It has been a long time coming for passengers with metal implants who always have to undergo a pat down.

Alternative Screening Procedures: Good security requires giving the same level of screening to all passengers. While we must treat those with disabilities and other special needs with respect, over the years, we have seen many people try to get prohibited items through the checkpoint using wheelchairs, casts – even in prosthetics. If people think there’s a loophole, they will try to use it. That’s why TSA has created many alternate screening procedures for passengers with special needs such as disabilities, children, small infants , soldiers and wounded warriors.

Secure Flight: It’s critical to keep known terrorists off planes. But it’s unfortunate when people whose names are similar to those who are really on a watch list are unable to print a boarding pass at home or at a kiosk. It’s worse when someone in an airport tells a mom or dad that their child is on the No Fly List – because no child is. Secure Flight brought watch list matching back inside the government, so we could ensure a high level of security and reduce the hassle factor. Providing your name as it appears on your government-issued ID as well as your gender and date-of-birth reduces the chance of misidentification by more than 99% to make travel safer and easier.

Paperless Boarding Pass: The paperless boarding pass puts a 2D barcode encrypted boarding pass directly onto a passenger’s PDA or cell phone. It mitigates the threat of fraudulent boarding passes and it’s a customer service improvement for airlines and passengers.

TSA is not only concerned about balancing security and convenience – the equation isn’t complete without talking about privacy. Privacy considerations have been built into Secure Flight, imaging technology and other screening functions.

TSA’s layered approach to aviation security incorporates elements long before the airport all the way to the plane. You will never see or be affected by many of those elements. And while engaged passengers and hardened cockpit doors have gone a long way to preventing another 9-11 style attack, we also have to focus on preventing future attacks. As current media reports show, terrorists continue to look at IEDs, including peroxide-based explosives. Preventing an IED from getting on a plane involves intel-sharing, technology, highly trained officers and random, unpredictable screening procedures.

Kristin Lee

Assistant Administrator for Strategic Communications and Public Affairs

Quadrennial Homeland Security Review Phase III

On July 31, I blogged about the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review (QHSR) and mentioned its 3 phases. The first phase and second phases have included more than 26,000 unique participants. The third and final phase is right around the corner and will be September 28 – October 4.
The third and final National Dialogue session is focused on receiving feedback on the final proposals concerning:

-Counterterrorism and Domestic Security Management
-Securing Our Borders
-Smart and Tough Enforcement of Immigration Laws
-Preparing for, Responding to, and Recovering from Disasters
-Homeland Security National Risk Assessment
-Homeland Security Planning and Capabilities

The QHSR is a congressionally mandated review of the nation’s homeland security policies and priorities that will guide homeland security for the next four years.
Some of the discussion will be web-based and we invite you to participate.
For all you need to know about the QHSR including a video message from Secretary Napolitano, you can go to the QHSR Homeland Security Dialogue page.
Blogger Bob
TSA Blog Team

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

TSA Paperless Boarding Pass at 4 More Airports

That’s right, the paperless boarding pass pilot is at 34 airports now! It was brought to my attention after my blog post last week that 4 airports were not included in my list. Here is the complete up-to-date list:


--Atlanta Hartsfield International (ATL) – Delta/Northwest
--Austin-Bergstrom International (AUS) - Continental
--Baltimore-Washington International (BWI) - Continental
--Boston Logan International (BOS) – Continental
--Charlotte Douglas International (CLT) – Continental
--Chicago Midway (MDW) – Delta/Northwest
--Chicago O-Hare International (ORD) – Continental, American
--Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International (CVG) – Delta/Northwest
--Cleveland Hopkins (CLE) - Continental
--Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County (DTW) – Delta/Northwest
--Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International (FLL) - Continental
--George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) - Continental
--Indianapolis International (IND) – Delta/Northwest
--John Wayne, Orange County, CA (SNA) – American, Delta/Northwest
--Las Vegas McCarren (LAS) – Continental, Delta/Northwest, American
--Los Angeles International (LAX) – Continental, American
--Memphis International (MEM) – Delta/Northwest
--Miami International Airport (MIA) - Continental
--Minneapolis-St. Paul International (MSP) – Delta/Northwest
--New Orleans International (MSY) - Continental
--New York LaGuardia (LGA) – Continental, Delta/Northwest
--Newark International (EWR) - Continental
--Orlando International (MCO) – Continental, Delta/Northwest
--Philadelphia International (PHL) - Continental
--Phoenix Sky Harbor International (PHX) – Continental
--Portland International (PDX) - Continental
--Raleigh-Durham International (RDU) - Continental
--Ronald Reagan Washington National (DCA) – Continental
--Salt Lake City International (SLC) – Delta/Northwest
--San Antonio International (SAT) - Continental
--San Diego International (SAN) - Continental
--San Francisco International (SFO) - Continental
--Seattle-Tacoma International (SEA) - Alaska

--Tampa International (TPA) - ContinentalAirlines:


Alaska: SEA

American: LAS, LAX, ORD, SNA



Also, while I’ve got your attention, the question keeps coming up as to how people will travel if they don’t own a PDA or cell phone. No worries... There are still people who don’t own computers, so we’re well aware that many passengers do not an will not ever own a cell phone or PDA.

TSA is working with airlines to roll out bar codes and scanning capabilities to paper boarding passes as well. We have begun preliminary testing at SEA, ORD, LAX, and SNA. Also, it’s important to realize this is still in the pilot phase and while it is expanding, it’s only in 34 airports right now.


Blogger Bob

TSA Blog Team

Monday, September 21, 2009

What happens to your prohibited items?

Guns and knives.
CNN ran a story today titled: From carry-on to eBay: The journey of airport security booty. It talks about what happens to items that passengers have to surrender at checkpoints.

It’s been a pretty popular piece so far, so I thought I would open it up for discussion on our blog.

Our officers would really rather not have you lose the trusty pocket knife your grandfather gave you. They would really prefer you didn’t have to surrender the knife you used to cut your wedding cake. When prohibited items come through the checkpoint, passengers are given options: 

1) Take the item to the ticket counter and check it in your baggage or a box provided by the airport.
2) Many airports have a US Postal Service or other shipping services area where boxes, stamps and envelopes can be bought so you can ship your items home.
3) If there is somebody seeing you off, you can hand the prohibited item to them.
4) If your car is parked outside, you can take the item to your car. 

If you’re not given these options, you should ask to speak with a supervisor or manager. 

We understand passengers aren’t always able to use these options due to the chance of missing flights, etc.

So, what happens to these items if passengers can’t use one of the options? Many folks are under the wrong impression that our officers get to keep the items. It just doesn’t happen. If somebody is caught pocketing the surrendered items, they are terminated. There is zero tolerance for theft at TSA. I know of somebody who was fired for stealing .69 cents.

Nico wrote a really informative blog post on this last year. For your convenience, I’ll just copy and paste it: 

So What Exactly Happens To All Of That Stuff? 5.05.2008

As every passenger and visitor to this blog probably knows, hundreds of thousands of items are identified each year by our security officers that are prohibited from being carried onto an aircraft. Of course, occasionally, items get through, but that’s a whole different post.

There are two classifications of items, prohibited and illegal. The prohibited category includes things like knives, scissors (larger than 4 inches), some tools, chain saws, swords, boulders, replica guns, bottled water, soda, toothpaste, hair gel, snow globes and on and on.

Illegal items are obviously guns, brass knuckles, switch blades. When discovered at the checkpoint, we contact law enforcement and they do what they need to do, maybe arrest, maybe a citation,…. it really depends on each jurisdiction.

We often refer to prohibited items internally as Voluntary Abandoned Property. Passengers call them confiscated…, either way; these items become possessions of the federal government, and are deemed excess government property.

While it may seem like we enjoy taking this stuff, the fact is passengers have choices. A passenger can go back to the airline and place the item in his/her checked bag. Some airports have mailing facilities or mail back programs so travelers can mail the item home. The item can be given to a loved one seeing you off at the airport or, if you drove yourself to the airport, you can go place the items in your car. Or for that matter, a passenger can go throw the items away in a nearby trash can. If they decide to do none of these and "surrender" the prohibited item to a security officer, they are considered excess government property.

Now before you go and post a comment about the options, I’m not saying they are good or bad options, I’m just pointing out that there are options. I know if someone is late for a flight, the last thing they are going to do is go back to their car, and wait in line again. Can we just agree these are options? Of course, the best option is to know what is in your bag and not bring a prohibited item to the checkpoint to begin with, but that’s not the point of this post.

Of interesting note, of all the items I have seen, most, almost all, could have made it from Point A to Point B, had the passenger simply taken the time to place it in a checked bag.

Depending on the size of the airport, each day, week or month, the items are picked up. Because the items are excess government property, we must follow General Services Administration guidelines for the disposition of the material. Many airports use a TSA-provided contractor who collects the “stuff” and disposes of it….. quite literally, throws it away. Or, as some airports do, we donate items to approved, non-profit organizations in accordance w/GSA regulations.

We have heard of local schools receiving the scissors. We have heard of local police departments training with the mace. Some VA hospitals sell some of the items to help make ends meet. Some non-profits, including several state surplus property divisions, sell the material on the auction web site eBay, and put the profits in THEIR coffers. TSA does not sell or profit in any way from the selling of this voluntarily abandoned property.

There have been references to this practice on this very blog, but the fact is, those news reports are plain wrong. Again, we are required to follow GSA guidelines for the disposition of this property and we do.

Now liquids are another story. As you can imagine we have voluminous amounts of liquid items surrendered daily and from airport to airport the disposition is different. Some airports have the local janitorial staff pick up the trashcans. Some are collected and picked up by our contractor and in some airports, both can happen, depending if a passenger throws the item away prior to screening or in the security checkpoint. Either way, it’s disposed of … that goes for liquor, water, lotions and everything in between.

Early on, there was a move to donate the liquid items to local homeless shelters but we were forced to suspend that practice after the determination was made that there is a liability risk. We couldn’t continue to donate items and not know if the if the water was truly water or if the shampoo was truly shampoo. While unfortunate, the litigious world in which we live forced the abandonment (pun intended) of that process. So now, those items are tossed out.

It is important to note, that currently there is a California state senator-sponsored bill that would require all California airports to donate these liquid items to homeless shelters. While it is unclear exactly how that would work, an effort to actually put these items to use is in the works; at least in one state.

A question raised many times on this blog is how can we justify throwing all of these liquids away in a trash can near the checkpoint if they are such a danger. While a fair question, the answer has been available in many different threads though not directly answered, so here it goes.

We have said since the institution of the liquid ban that the fear or threat is the combination of items, including liquid explosives while in flight to create an improvised explosive device. That combination means explosives, detonator and other components to have a fully assembled bomb. Take one component away and you have a collection of harmless items. Of course we don't want liquid explosives anywhere near us but without the other components, they're not causing catastrophic damage.

That’s why it is safe for us to store the items together in a trash can near the checkpoint and that's what we do with prohibited items. ~ Nico


Blogger Bob
TSA Blog Team

Friday, September 18, 2009

Paperless Boarding Pass Now at 30 Airports

You know, everywhere I go, people say: “Hey Blogger Bob, I hear the paperless boarding pass is available in more airports now. If you could blog about it, that would be awesome.”

So here goes…We’ve been trying out this paperless boarding pass thingamabob since 2007 and it’s been working pretty swell so far. Any cell phone or PDA that can receive and open attachments can be used. A 2-D bar code is sent to your cell phone/PDA, you open the attachment, scan it, and presto, you’re on the way through the checkpoint and to your gate.

Check out this blog post for more information on the pilot.

It’s now being piloted in 30 airports with 5 airlines participating. Here is the updated list:

George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH), Ronald Reagan Washington National (DCA), Newark International (EWR), Boston Logan International (BOS), Austin-Bergstrom International (AUS), San Antonio International (SAT), Cleveland Hopkins (CLE), New York LaGuardia (LGA), Indianapolis International (IND), Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County (DTW), Minneapolis-St. Paul International (MSP), Seattle-Tacoma International (SEA), Chicago O’Hare International (ORD), John Wayne, Orange County, CA (SNA), Los Angeles International (LAX), Las Vegas McCarran (LAS), Memphis (MEM), Atlanta Hartsfield International (ATL), Salt Lake City International (SLC), Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International (CVG), San Francisco International (SFO), San Diego International (SAN), Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International (FLL), Tampa International (TPA), Portland International (PDX), Phoenix Sky Harbor International (PHX), Charlotte Douglas International (CLT), New Orleans International (MSY), Raleigh-Durham International (RDU), Orlando International (MCO)



Delta/Northwest: ATL, LAS, MEM, MSP, DET, SLC, CVG

Delta only: LGA

Northwest only: IND

Alaska: SEAAmerican: ORD, SNA, LAX


Blogger Bob

TSA Blog Team

Friday, September 11, 2009

Remembering 9-11

When you go through security checkpoints, your mind is on making sure you got the metal out of your pockets and the liquids out of your carry-on bag and what gate you need to head to afterward. Your goal is to get through and get through quickly, which means no chit chat. No time to pay attention to people. Before I worked at TSA, it was the same for me.

Two years ago, TSA employees were given the chance to share their memories of 9-11 as part of a historical archive and a way to share our experiences as an organization. I read all of the stories that were submitted, and it was a humbling experience.

One of the men who works in my building was working in the Pentagon, in the innermost circle where the plane went in. When the smoke got to his area, he used the skills he learned in the Marines, got his gas mask, and joined his colleagues in rescuing others. There were a few stories of others from the Pentagon who came to TSA as well.

If you fly through Las Vegas, you might be screened by a woman who worked on the in the North Tower of the World Trade Center. She was in the office that morning, but left the building to run an errand, and just as she was returning, the first plane hit. She tried to get back in to help her boss and colleagues, but the firemen wouldn’t let her in. She came to TSA and has committed her service to her colleagues who died and the firemen who saved her life.

A member of the military lost a colleague in the World Trade Center and another one in the Pentagon. After he retired from active duty, he wanted to continue to serve his country, so he joined TSA as a bomb appraisal officer. He’s one of the guys who comes to resolve alarms and teaches officers about explosives detection techniques.

A law enforcement officer who lost family members on the plane that hit the Pentagon joined the Federal Air Marshal Service so he could work more actively to prevent another attack.

A Transportation Security Officer in Hawaii carries a picture of an usher at her niece’s wedding with her to work every day. Shortly after the wedding, he was on one of the planes that hit the World Trade Center.

There were stories of people who lived near the crash sites who witnessed the events of the day. Some were near the buildings who had to scramble to get out, and some whose lives were spared when the Towers came down because someone helped them. A wife of a NYC fireman joined TSA to do her part. People who were high school students on 9-11 shared their stories.

Most of the stories were from people who didn’t know anyone on the planes or in the buildings, but felt a call to action. Over and over, they talked about wanting to do something , wrote “Not on my watch” and pledged their service to protect their country in memory of those who died.
We know you’re in a hurry when you’re going through security, but we wanted you to know that you might be screened or helped by someone like the people who shared their stories with us.
Today, we honor the victims of 9-11 and the heroes who gave their lives while trying to save others. Around the country, TSA’s officers, inspectors, supervisors and FAMs will rededicate themselves to the mission. We will never forget.

Thanks for all you do to help TSA keep the aviation system safe. And if you’d like, share your 9-11 story in the comments section.


TSA Blog Team Member

Thursday, September 10, 2009

TSA Blog: 1,000,000 Hits!

I just wanted to make a quick mention that as I checked the hit-o-meter (delete-o-meter's arch-nemesis) this morning I was surprised to see that the TSA Blog had passed its one millionth hit. Some folks were sure we wouldn’t last more than a month after the launch, but one and a half years and a million hits later, we’re still kicking. One million hits! That’s almost as cool as Jerry Reed costarring on Scooby Doo. Almost…

We launched the blog in January of 2008 and have since published 188 posts (this is 189) discussing everything from exploding chickens to the most recent post on the screening of powders.

The blog has been a great way for us to explain the why’s of security while also addressing current TSA related events and busting myths. Make sure you check out our archives for a complete chronological list of our posts.

Thanks to all of our readers for helping us reach this milestone and we look forward to the two millionth hit!

Blogger Bob

TSA Blog Team