Fake grenade, live lobsters? Odd stuff found at airport

Liquids in large containers, especially those deemed flammable, are banned from passengers’ carry-on bags at airports, including Charleston International.

Brass knuckles, hammers, scissors, power steering fluid and even a replica hand grenade are just a few of the items found on passengers during the past month or so at Charleston International Airport.

The Transportation Security Administration laid out dozens of prohibited objects Tuesday to bring awareness to the problem security officials face every day at not only Charleston, the state’s busiest airport, but other terminals across the country.

“Each month we collect about 100 pounds that are voluntarily abandoned by passengers in Charleston,” said TSA supervisor Levoy McCray.

And that doesn’t include all the items people are allowed to return to their vehicles, place in checked bags or mail back to themselves, he said.

It also does not include firearms.

Last year, the TSA found nine guns as passengers tried to go through security at Charleston International, said Mark Howell, TSA’s regional spokesman. In 2013, security agents discovered five. So far this year, none has been found, but five have shown up across the state at other airports, Howell said.

When a firearm is found in a passenger’s carry-on bag, TSA contacts local law enforcement, which can determine if an arrest is warranted, civil penalties up to $7,500 are levied or the weapon is confiscated.

“Eighty percent of the firearms we find are loaded,” Howell said. “We are seeing a big increase in firearms.”

Nationwide, the TSA found 1,813 guns at airports across the U.S. in 2013. Last year, the figure rose 22 percent to more than 2,200, Howell said.

He attributed the rise to more people flying and more people owning guns.

“Most passengers, about 99 percent, don’t have any intent to do any harm,” he said. “The biggest excuses we get are, ‘We didn’t know it was in the bag’ or ‘Someone else packed the bag for me.’ ”

Firearms can travel on commercial airlines, but they must be unloaded, in a checked bag in a hard case that is locked and declared to the carrier, Howell said.

The TSA is crisscrossing the state this week to show how big the problem is.

Some of the more unusual items Howell has seen are a gasoline container, a gassed-up chain saw and a Styrofoam cooler filled with live lobsters.

“People rush when they travel, and they don’t stop to think about the consequences,” Howell said.

He urged passengers to take a few minutes before they come to the airport and look through their bags, their clothing and their purses and wallets.

One of the main items found lately is the credit card knife. It’s the size of a credit card and fits in a wallet, but it folds out into a blade.

When items such as replica grenades are found, TSA has to shut down the entire area because they don’t know if the item is inert or live.

“It can cause major delays,” Howell said. “And it makes the hair on the back of our necks stand up.”

Liquids in containers larger than 3.4 ounces also are not allowed, but people continue to put them in their carry-on bags.

Liquor, water, mouthwash, cologne, hand soap, power-steering fluid and contact lens solution were just a few of the items found during the past month at the Charleston airport, McCray said.

Other items such as cat-eye brass knuckles, Ninja stars, pepper spray, torch lighters, power tools, hand weights, BB guns, welding torches and bullets also have been found.

“I think it’s more about people forgetting about it,” McCray said when asked why people put them in their carry-on bags.

Once passengers leave the items with TSA, they are collected by outside firms and either destroyed or sold at auction, Howell said.

“We don’t take them and we don’t want them,” he said.

Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.