- The Washington Times - Friday, December 24, 2004

Small knives left in travelers’ pockets are still among the most common contraband at airport security gates, but screeners say they continue to see everything from a large snake to a gun-packing granny.

“Our two biggest offenders are scissors and knives, but we also find sometimes that people artfully conceal prohibited items,” said Darrin Kayser, spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which does the screening at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Washington Dulles International Airport and Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

Screeners in Indianapolis recently caught a women with a boa constrictor around her waist.

“It was kind of funny,” Mr. Kayser said.

Other discoveries are not so amusing. An 86-year-old woman in Florida recently was caught with a loaded gun she had hidden inside a book.

Other recent episodes include a child who was flagged when screeners found a gun hidden inside his teddy bear.

Mr. Kayser said the stuffed animal was a gift from a stranger who was using it to hide a weapon used in a crime. “There’s thousands of these stories,” he said.

More than 16 million items have been found by screeners since February 2002.

Most airports allow passengers to mail the “offending” items to themselves, give them to friends or put them in the luggage stored in the plane’s cargo bay, Mr. Kayser said.

But if passengers decide to give up the items, some states sell them on EBay, donate them to charity or just throw them out with the trash.

TSA officials said yesterday that they did not know which procedures are used in Virginia and Maryland.

Reagan and Dulles airports are run by the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority.

Tom Sullivan, the authority’s spokesman, advises travelers not to wear jewelry and to “limit the amount of metal objects in your pockets.”

Such advice will help reduce the long lines at security checkpoints, which grow even longer during the holiday season.

The Reagan, Dulles and Baltimore airports reported about 250,000 travelers over just two days this week.

“It’s an exodus of biblical proportions,” said John Townsend II, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “It’s as if all the residents of Fairfax County or Montgomery County decided to get up and move out for four or five days simultaneously.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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