Checkpoint: Know What You Can't Bring In Your Carry-on Through Security

It’s getting busy at Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) as more people are traveling again following nearly a year in which the pandemic slowed air travel to levels not seen in decades. And it’s expected to get even busier as the 2021 summer vacation season arrives as the country opens up and Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.

Summers and holidays usually see large numbers of leisure travelers – folks who are typically not accustomed to air travel -- flocking to airports. On top of that, cheaper airfares driven by the pandemic have attracted more infrequent flyers to air travel.

There is no better time than now to remind people that before you come to the airport you need to know what you can and cannot put in your carry-on and checked baggage. You do not want to be THAT PERSON who shows up at the security checkpoint with a prohibited item in your carry-on bag.

First of all, if you have something in your carry-on that you can’t bring through the checkpoint, at the very least you are going to annoy the people waiting in line behind you because you’re going to hold up the works while the bag is inspected, and the verboten item is brought to your attention.

“If it’s a prohibited item – not illegal -- the carry-on bag is diverted from the conveyor belt for a TSA officer to resolve the alarm,” explained Lisa Farbstein, TSA spokesperson. “This involves taking the bag to a table where it is opened, and the prohibited item removed. The passenger can observe this process. When someone shows up at a checkpoint with a prohibited item, they are given a choice on how to handle it. They can put it in their checked bag, return it to their vehicle, hand it off to a non-traveling companion, mail it to their destination or home if the airport has a mailing center, and the last option is to voluntarily surrender it to TSA. It is up to the traveler as to how they want to handle their violation and when the items end up in the possession of TSA, it is because the traveler chose the option to voluntarily surrender it.” Items surrendered to TSA will not be returned.

Most often, travelers – anxious to get through security and to their departure gates - forego the options to retain the prohibited item and elect to give it up to TSA. According to Farbstein, many of these items include oversize liquids/gels/aerosols, knives, and tools larger than 7 inches.

So what does TSA do with these surrendered goods? Most of the items are disposed of through the TSA Surplus Property Program. In Pennsylvania, it’s overseen by the Pennsylvania Department of General Services. The items are auctioned on GovDeals and can be found by typing “Pennsylvania State Surplus” in the search box. Most items can be shipped but some must be picked up in person at a location in Harrisburg.

Showing up at the checkpoint with an oversize bottle of hair gel or knife is one thing; getting caught with a firearm is an entirely different and more serious matter.

When an individual shows up at a checkpoint with a firearm, the police are called, and the checkpoint lane comes to a standstill until the police remove the carry-on bag from the X-ray machine and take it to a side table to be opened.

The police question the traveler and make a decision to cite, arrest or take no action. Regardless, the firearm is not permitted at the checkpoint. TSA also follows up with an investigation and then from TSA headquarters a determination is made as to what federal financial civil penalty should be imposed.

In a news release issued earlier this month, TSA stated that “TSA reserves the right to issue a civil penalty to travelers who have guns and gun parts with them at a checkpoint. Civil penalties for bringing a handgun into a checkpoint can stretch into thousands of dollars, depending on mitigating circumstances. This applies to travelers with or without concealed gun carry permits because even though an individual may have a concealed carry permit, it does not allow for a firearm to be carried onto an airplane. The complete list of civil penalties can result in a fine up to $10,000 and a criminal referral for a first-time offense of carrying a loaded firearm or an unloaded firearm with ammunition access to the checkpoint. If a traveler with a gun is a member of TSA PreCheck®, that individual will lose their TSA PreCheck privileges.”

“There is no excuse for carrying a gun to an airport security checkpoint,” said Gerardo Spero, TSA’s Federal Security Director at PHL. “This is not a new regulation. In fact, the prohibition of carrying guns onto airplanes was in place long before TSA even existed. The majority of individuals who we catch with a gun claim that they forgot that they had their gun with them. If you own a firearm, you should know where it is at all times. Guns inside carry-on bags are accidents waiting to happen.”

Passengers are permitted to travel with firearms in checked baggage if they are properly packaged and declared at their airline ticket counter. Firearms must be unloaded, packed in a hard-sided case, locked, and packed separately from ammunition. Firearm possession laws vary by state and locality. TSA has details on how to properly travel with a firearm posted on its website. Travelers should also contact their airline as they may have additional requirements for traveling with firearms and ammunition.


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Christine Ottow
Director of Strategic Communications
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Heather Redfern
Public Affairs Manager
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