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When packing for your flight, don’t bring ‘Grandpa’s grenade’

Transportation Security Administration at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport (U.S. Department of Homeland Security/Released)

Be careful what you pack before traveling to the airport.

Officers with the U.S. Transportation Security Administration have confiscated 50 firearms at checkpoints at St. Louis Lambert International Airport this year — and other items such as an inert grenade and brass knuckles.

In fact, the number of firearms confiscated at Missouri’s airports this year has increased from 2018, and it’s likely more will be seized as the busy holiday travel season ramps up.

So far this year, TSA officers have seized 64 firearms at Kansas City International Airport, 15 at Springfield-Branson National Airport, one at Columbia Regional Airport and one at Joplin Regional Airport.

That’s a statewide total of 131 guns discovered this year at the state’s largest commercial airports, compared with 116 in all of 2018, according to Sari Koshetz, a spokeswoman for the TSA. The 2019 tally is also the highest number since at least 2013, when 40 guns were confiscated.

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Since 2013, 671 firearms have been intercepted by TSA officers at airports in Missouri.

“Unfortunately, we do see an escalation in the number of guns during the holiday period, due to the increase in the sheer volume of travelers and also because some of the passengers do not fly very often and may not be focusing on what’s inside their bag when they head to the airport,” Koshetz said.

Beyond guns, TSA has uncovered some unusual items.

One security screening lane was closed for about 30 minutes at Lambert on Feb. 23 when a passenger packed what the TSA refers to as “Grandpa’s grenade” in a carry-on bag. It was inert.

Grenades, real or fake, aren’t allowed in carry-on or checked bags, the TSA said.

“Whenever we find grenades during security screening, our TSA officers need to call on our explosives specialists to evaluate them to determine if they are real or inert,” the TSA’s Jay Wagner said in one of his weekly blogs for the agency. “This takes time and can cause security to slow down or stop altogether.”

Brass knuckles with a blade attachment were discovered at Lambert on Feb. 15.

And TSA officers that same day at Lambert found a hookah, or water pipe, that had been modified to resemble brass knuckles.

Officers found two high-capacity magazines hidden in an infant’s toy at Orlando (Florida) International Airport this month. The toy and the box were “made to appear to be factory sealed,” the TSA said. Police confiscated the magazines, the TSA said.

“Our officers are very adept and well-trained at locating threat items that have been camouflaged as everyday items,” such as a stun gun that looks like a flashlight, Koshetz said.

The agency documents the weapons discovered at checkpoints. In a two-week stretch this month, TSA officers screened 31.7 million passengers nationwide and found 205 firearms in carry-on bags. Of those weapons, 176 were loaded and 72 had a round chambered.

TSA has a number of rules for traveling with a firearm, including that the weapon must be unloaded and locked in a hard-sided container and transported as checked baggage only. Firearm parts such as magazines, clips and firing pins are prohibited in carry-on baggage, but can be in checked baggage. Replica firearms, including firearm replicas that are toys, may be brought in checked baggage only.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, the busiest travel days are expected to be Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, with 2.7 million passengers and crew, and Dec. 1, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, with more than 2.8 million travelers heading back home. The TSA said it screens about 2.1 million passengers on a typical weekday. At Lambert airport, for example, officials expect to screen more than 208,000 passengers during the 11-day Thanksgiving travel period from Friday, Nov. 22, through Monday, Dec. 2. That’s an increase of 6,000 passengers from last year at Lambert.

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© 2019 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch