Tens of thousands of air travelers get caught with knives, tools and other banned items at airport checkpoints every day. They're forced to surrender their property or search for another way to get it home - and maybe miss their flight.
As soon as next month, travelers flying from Tampa International Airport should have another choice.
Smarte Carte, the Minnesota company known for their rental baggage carts at airports, plans to install self-service kiosks near security checkpoints where customers can mail their banned items back home. The price: $8.95 plus the cost of U.S. Postal Service shipping.
"This will allow them to get their things mailed back to themselves without going back to the terminal," said Louis Miller, Tampa International's executive director. He's recommending the airport's board approve the deal today.
Although it has been 4 1/2 years since the Sept. 11 attacks, a surprising number of passengers are caught each day trying to pass through security with banned items.
Federal screeners collected 15.7-million pieces of contraband nationwide in 2005. Last year at Tampa International, passengers surrendered 286,605 items, or an average of 785 per day. Both nationally and in Tampa, lighters made up more than half the total.
The Transportation Security Administration on Wednesday displayed a week's haul from Tampa International. Spread on two card tables were lots of knives - including a packaged set of steak knives - circular saw blades, a golf putter and a folding shovel.
Last year, Transportation Security Administration screeners at the airport found 420 box cutters, the kind of tools terrorists used as weapons in the 2001 hijackings.
Travelers trying to pass through security with a firearm or other weapon can face criminal charges and civil penalties. Local police confiscate the weapons.
Passengers with otherwise legal items get caught in a bind. About 250 of them, like Janet McGinnis of Chicago, make their way each month to the Traveler's Aid booth in Tampa International's main terminal.
On Wednesday, screeners found an antique grapefruit knife that McGinnis forgot she had placed in a bag while visiting her mother in Clearwater. Volunteers sold her an envelope and stamps for $1.63 and pointed her to a mailbox across the terminal.
But McGinnis is the exception, Miller said. Most travelers don't want to go back after passing through the screening line, even if they have to give up a family heirloom pocketknife or a pricey multiblade Leatherman tool.
That's where Smarte Carte's Mail Safe Express comes in, said Bert Heaton, senior director of new product development.
"A lot of airports don't have postal service, and people worry about looking for a half hour," he said. "They don't want to go back out" through the security line.
At the Mail Safe kiosk, customers place their item in a padded envelope, navigate through an Internet mailing site, paste on a printed label and put their package in a pickup box. They get a Postal Service tracking number and a receipt.
Smarte Carte has kiosks in 12 U.S. airports, Heaton said, with plans to add 25 or 30 this year. The company arranged 25,000 airport shipments last year.
There's one drawback: Mail Safe can't accept lighters, which are considered hazardous materials that the Postal Service won't accept in first-class mail.
Federal screeners collected 15.7-million items that aren't allowed through airport security checkpoints last year. At Tampa International Airport, screeners collected 286,605 items - an average of 785 a day. Here are the top categories of banned items collected at the airport in 2005:
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The items represent another day's work for several dozen early-shift Transportation Security Administration officers who act as a vital line of defense at the nation's sixth-busiest airport.