Miami-Dade County

Fliers didn’t see a bleeding gator head or a chain saw on the plane. And here’s why

Most people pack clothes, underwear and a toothbrush for a trip. Then there are those passengers who do not travel light. They have attempted to carry on the following items at Miami International Airport:

A three-foot-long machete. A can of Frontiersman Bear Repellent. A sword hidden inside a dragon-head cane. A 19-pound pipe wrench. Brass knuckles worn as belt buckles. A decorative grenade.

Someone who was perhaps on her way to a “Mad Max” costume party packed a rubber gas mask studded with two dozen real bullets. Lots of guns have been stowed in bags — paint guns, a stun gun concealed inside a hairbrush, and a pink revolver with matching pink “cat’s eyes,” a martial arts weapon effective for stabbing an enemy in the throat.

Screeners have seen everything but a kitchen sink inside luggage. There was a fully fueled gas chain saw. A car door. And a bleeding alligator head.

So the next time you complain about the miserably long lines at the airport, pity the poor Transportation Security Administration officers and blame your clueless fellow passengers.

The busy summer season is heating up and TSA is begging travelers to pay attention to the rules because “preparedness can have a significant impact on the airport screening experience and the amount of time spent waiting at security checkpoints nationwide.” Not to mention the amount of time spent waiting by the people fuming behind those who didn’t bother to pack smart or who move at a pace better suited for an art museum than a bustling airport.

At MIA, an average of 58,000 passengers are screened per day by about 1,000 TSA officers. Nationwide, it was 738 million passengers in 2016. Typical wait times are down to five minutes in the regular lines and three minutes in the TSA Precheck lines at MIA, according to TSA spokesperson Sari Koshetz.

The situation is much improved compared to a year ago, when wait times occasionally ballooned to 47 minutes and worse at other airports before TSA’s chief was fired and the agency hired more employees to keep up with the increase in traffic and baggage. Today, improvements in technology and training — officers must undergo a week of training at an academy in Georgia and re-qualify for their jobs each year — have reduced the hassle factor.

Growing enrollment in the TSA Precheck program (which costs $85 for five years) means that 4 million passengers nationwide can go through lanes in which they do not have to remove shoes, jackets, belts or laptops. New automated screening lanes are being used in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Chicago and Newark and will eventually expedite check-in at MIA and Fort Lauderdale. More dogs will be used for threat detection this summer.

Nevertheless, passengers who overpack, ignore the 3-1-1 liquids rule (3.4-ounce limit per container in one quart-size clear bag) or carry dangerous items constantly gum up the system.

“We collect more than 5,000 pounds of hazardous materials per month in Miami,” Koshetz said while holding up the confiscated grenade. “Last year, we stopped 42 guns in Miami, 56 in Fort Lauderdale and 369 in Florida. That’s a gun per day.”

MIA, which was ranked No. 7 in the world for worst overall quality and No. 2 for worst waiting times by the Skytrax ratings website and No. 13 nationally for most annoying security checkpoints by Travel and Leisure magazine, is much better than it used to be, say frequent fliers such as Mariana Lvoff, a Miami resident who travels the world as a competitive ballroom dancer.

“Miami was absolutely horrible — like a purgatory,” said Lvoff, who was flying to Los Angeles on Tuesday. “Now, if you avoid the peak hours, the lines are shorter, the stores and places to eat are nicer and everyone is in a more pleasant mood.”

Nyssa Sullivan and Ashley Durnell, two casino cocktail waitresses from Las Vegas, were furiously repacking their bulging carry-on bags after they were initially rejected for the Terminal D security line. Durnell threw out a pair of shoes. Sullivan put on a sweater. They shifted items between bags and squeezed zippers shut. They didn’t want to check their bags because of the fees and because “they always lose your bags.”

They support TSA rules: “There’s a lot of maniacs around and I’d rather feel safe,” Sullivan said. But they admitted they inadvertently broke them and held up the line when leaving Vegas.

“We are those annoying people!” Sullivan said. “I got stopped for a can of shaving cream.”

Joseph Rivet of Davie, who was traveling to Barcelona on Tuesday, believes some TSA practices are not only inefficient but illogical and ineffective.

“Like the time they did a full pat-down of my mom, who’s in a wheelchair, or when you see them make mothers throw away the milk they’ve pumped for their baby,” he said. “Who are they really protecting? I wish we could do it like they do in Israel where they have trained professionals looking for terrorists and not disrupting normal citizens.”

Alan Jackimowicz, a TSA officer at the Detroit airport and executive vice president at the American Federation of Government Employees TSA Council 100, cautioned that long lines may return if wages don’t increase and a current government hiring freeze doesn’t end.

“We used to have 46,000 screeners nationwide and we’re down to 42,000 with fewer lanes open for increased traffic and bag volume because of the high attrition rate of this low-paying, thankless job,” he said. “We have to keep anything off the plane that could harm the public and that’s a lot of stress for $16 an hour. So you’ve got a revolving door of employees moving on to better-paying jobs.”

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