Thousands of pounds of contraband items have been seized from passengers at Miami International Airport, but they're not guns, bombs or knives.
They're bottles of booze.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) says it collected more than 9 tons of oversized bottled items at the airport -- mostly alcohol and perfume -- from October through January.
Hundreds of airline passengers each week returning from Caribbean vacations are trying to go through Miami's security checkpoints carrying bottles of alcohol only to be told their spirits threaten security. So much is accumulating that the airport has convened emergency meetings of transportation and tourism officials.
"It's a problem for tourism in South Florida," airport security director Lauren Stover said. "We don't want people to come down here and have a wonderful vacation, and then have their alcohol taken away when they're flying home."
The problem stems from a TSA policy adopted last summer that limits passengers to carrying only small bottles of liquids in airplane cabins. The restriction took effect after authorities said they had disrupted a plot by British terrorists to blow up U.S.-bound jets with liquid explosives.
In Miami, tourists continue to haul large bottles of alcohol to checkpoints hoping to carry them on flights. The items are typically bought at duty-free stores in the Caribbean, but travelers run into trouble in the Miami airport when they try to make connecting flights and get to security carrying bottles that exceed the TSA's 3-ounce limit, Stover said.
"I'm not aware of any other airport that has this issue," TSA spokeswoman Ellen Howe said. "It's a combination of the cruise-ship volume and international flights." Duty-free shops, which can be found in airports, at seaports and on cruise ships, entice travelers because they don't impose taxes or customs duties.
The problem is bewildering because travelers can take bottles of liquor on flights by packing them in checked luggage. "I don't know why people aren't doing that," said Tim Wagner, a spokesman for American Airlines, which carries 68% of Miami's passengers.
Michael Payne, executive director of the International Association of Airport Duty Free Stores, said travelers may not understand a fine point of security: It's OK to carry liquor bottles bought in overseas duty-free shops on board U.S.-bound planes. But when travelers get to the USA and change planes, they can't carry the bottles on those flights.
"The rules are new for some people," Payne said.
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