Fines Lurk for Fliers Toting Banned Items

Packing scissors and a temper can be costly.


Nancy Malooly hustled her shoes off, chucked some lip-gloss into the trash and was carefully polite to the screeners as she made her way through Dallas Love Field's security checkpoint the other day.

"I try to be as nice as possible," said the Dallas resident. "I just want to get through smoothly."

Ms. Malooly didn't know it, but her perennial politeness may someday save her from getting slapped with a fine by the Transportation Security Administration.

Most passengers don't realize that if they take banned items through airport security - knowingly or unknowingly - they could face as much as $10,000 in fines. Usually the threat is obvious, such as being caught with a loaded gun. But try to pass through metal detectors with a large pair of scissors and a bad attitude and you could be out as much as $1,500.

TSA assessed $1.4 million in passenger fines in 2005, and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and three other Sun Belt airports topped the list, in part, said one federal official, because these states usually have more gun owners along with laws that allow individuals to carry firearms. D/FW security uncovers about one gun a week during the screening process, said Dallas-based TSA spokeswoman Andrea McCauley.

Agency officials say the financial penalties are needed to enforce rules on prohibited items. But some passengers, already frustrated by what they say are uneven standards at security checkpoints, contend that fines are unnecessary. They say some vaguely worded reasons for fines, such as "interference with screening,'' are too arbitrary.

And some travel industry experts said they didn't even know about the TSA's crackdown and question whether it's effective.

"Confiscating items, yes. But fining people? I had no idea," said Tim Winship, contributing editor of SmarterTravel.com and publisher of FrequentFlier.com, a popular flier information and advice Web site.

"The fact that I'm not [aware of this] would suggest that the TSA is doing a lousy job of getting the word out. They're obviously catching people unawares."

Ms. McCauley said the organization frequently talks about fines with the news media.

"Every time I go out there to talk about prohibited items - guns, knives - I bring up civil penalties," she said. Fines also were in place under the Federal Aviation Administration, which was in charge of airport security before the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, she said.

From January to July 16, TSA issued 1,450 fines nationwide, Ms. McCauley said; a small number compared with the millions of prohibited items passengers surrendered to screeners during that time.

At least 59 million fliers passed through D/FW in 2005. TSA officials issued $45,110 in fines, the fifth-highest amount in the nation. Information on individuals fined at D/FW was not immediately available.

D/FW officials weren't surprised at the airport's spot on the list, given its size. But Mike Moncrief, Fort Worth mayor and member of the D/FW Airport Board of Directors, said he was concerned travelers were in the dark.

Security areas are full of signs about which items are barred, he said, so why not take the same care to alert passengers about fines, too? TSA is responsible for security areas, the mayor said, but maybe D/FW should look into giving travelers more notice.

Phoenix leads list

Fines vary widely from airport to airport.

Chicago O'Hare International is the second-busiest airport in the world, but its TSA penalties put it 10th-highest in fines in 2005. Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is the sixth-largest airport in the country with 40 million passengers in 2005, but TSA security there gave out the highest total fines by far - $77,420.

"Clearly we wouldn't want to be at the top of that list," said Todd Sanders, a spokesman for the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce.

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