New TSA rules to take effect at Augusta Regional Airport in 2018

Frequent fliers already are accustomed to removing laptops from carry-on bags at airport security checkpoints. Now they – and everyone else – will need to do the same for all electronic items larger than a cell phone.

 

A new rule requiring travelers to place their e-readers, tablets and hand-held gaming devices into their own x-ray bin takes effect at Augusta Regional Airport the first week of January, Transportation Security Administration officials said Thursday.

Previously, small and intermediate-sized devices could be kept inside carry-on bags. But the sheer volume of items being stuffed into carry-ons – food, medications, electronic cables and other personal items – has made it difficult for security screeners to know what they are seeing on the X-ray screen.

“When you have all of that stuff compressed into one space, the image you’re going to get on the X-ray machine is very jumbled,” TSA Regional Spokesman Mark Howell said. “And depending on what it is, it could look very nefarious depending on what’s put next to each other.”

The rule has been in effect at certain U.S. airports and has been enforced intermittently in Augusta in recent weeks as a test run. It will be in effect at airports nationwide by spring.

Security officials say they are trying to get the word out to keep security lines moving quickly. Minutes are added to the screening process each time a TSA officer removes an item from a bag for visual inspection.

“If you have 50 people, that could create up to an hour backup,” said Tiffany Jean-Paul, Augusta Regional Airport’s lead TSA officer.

Multiple electronic devices can share a bin as long as they are not stacked on top of each other, she said. The new rule does not apply to TSA PreCheck-enrolled travelers, but Augusta Regional’s TSA checkpoint does not have a PreCheck lane.

Airport security officials also are reminding travelers to avoid packing prohibited items in their carry-on bags, such as knives and other sharp objects, as well as large amounts of liquids, aerosols and gels. Under the long-standing “3-1-1” rule, travelers are allowed to bring a quart-sized bag of liquids, aerosols, gels, creams and pastes through the checkpoint as long as the items are less than 3.4 ounces each. The 3-1-1 rule also applies to liquid or creamy food items, such as yogurt.

TSA officials on Thursday displayed some of the prohibited items surrendered at Augusta Regional Airport during the past quarter. The items included weapons and self-defense items such as knives, brass knuckles, pepper spray and small batons, but also unusual items such as machine parts and large tools, such as wrenches and pliers, that could be used as a bludgeon.

Nearly all of the items would have been allowable in the travelers’ checked baggage. The TSA uses the term “surrender” instead of “confiscate” because travelers are given the option to take prohibited items – barring firearms and explosive devices – back to their cars or leave them with family or friends at the airport.

The Augusta checkpoint collects roughly 25 pounds of prohibited items each month, excluding liquids.

“If we included liquids, we would be talking tonnage,” Howell said.

Five firearms have been seized in Augusta this year, down from seven in 2016. Nationally, more than 4,000 guns have been seized, exceeding the 3,391 that were taken last year.

Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3352 or damon.cline@augustachronicle.com.

TSA TRAVEL TIPS

• Double check your bags before going to the airport to ensure you have no prohibited items in your carry-on bag. “Travelers should make it a ritual to check their bags,” Transportation Security Administration Spokesman Mark Howell said.

• De-clutter your carry-on as much as possible. Items likely to raise suspicion, such as small electronics or certain food items, should be placed in a separate bin.

• Arrive with plenty of time to make it through security. Passengers who bring prohibited items to the checkpoint can hold a line up anywhere from several minutes to a half hour.

• Heavy items likely will not make it through. Howell said collectibles such as antique bricks and bowling pins have been turned away, as have weights used for exercising. “Leave your kettlebells at home and use the hotel gym instead,” Howell said.

• If in doubt, check it out. The TSA’s website (tsa.gov) and social media pages (@TSA on Twitter and facebook.com/AskTSA on Facebook) are full of information on what is and isn’t allowed.

 

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