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Weapons, increased baggage keep TSA officers busy at airports

Finding real and replica weapons is more of a challenge during the holiday season with the higher volume of bags, many filled with food and novelties.

December 25, 2012|By Hugo Martín, Los Angeles Times

Spear guns, inert grenades, stun guns and loaded 9mm handguns.

The holidays bring no letup in the number of real and replica weapons that Transportation Security Administration officers uncover at airport checkpoints.

But finding them is more of a challenge at this time of year with the swelling volume of bags, many filled with food and novelties.

Take the Christmas lights made of real green and red shotgun shells that were recently discovered in a carry-on bag at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey.

"Nothing says happy holidays like Christmas lights shaped like shotgun shells," TSA spokesman Nico Melendez joked. The TSA prohibits passengers from packing ammunition, live or not, in carry-on bags.

Airlines for America, the trade group for the nation's airlines, estimates that airlines will carry 15% more luggage during the holidays. In addition, the American Automobile Assn. predicts the total number of holiday travelers across the country will be the highest in six years.

"All year long we get crazy items that come through the security checkpoints," Melendez said. "The challenge is the number of people coming through the checkpoints and all the stuff they bring."

Jellies, jams, sauces and syrups can also cause headaches for airport travelers during the holidays because such foods are all considered liquids, no matter how thick and gooey they may be. That means fliers can bring no more than 3.4 ounces of the stuff in a carry-on bag.

Blocks of cheese and jars of peanut butter are allowed in checked bags but probably will get extra attention from the TSA because X-ray scanners have trouble seeing through such foods, Melendez said.

As for weapons, TSA officers stationed across the country discovered in the week ending Dec. 21 a spear gun, 34 handguns, three inert grenades, several knives and brass knuckles, and 11 stun guns, according to the agency.

The shotgun holiday lights, made with real shotgun shells, are distributed by a North Carolina novelty company and sold under the name Jingle Bells Shotgun Shells.

hugo.martin@latimes.com

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