Mar. 1--Ever consider how much that souvenir cigarette lighter or family heirloom pocketknife is really worth to you?
Millions of travelers who try but fail to pass through airport security checkpoints with such federally banned items are forced each day to make that split-second decision: Give up the item forever or risk missing a flight to find another alternative.
In Orlando, another option is now available for the right price.
CheckPoint Mailers Inc. installed two mailboxlike kiosks at each of Orlando International Airport's two security lines late last year.
For a minimum of $9, the company will pack and mail the prohibited item to your home, saving it from the U.S. Transportation Security Administration auction block.
"I've actually had someone ask me to mail back a $1.99 Bic lighter," said Heather Lowry, president and chief executive of the Charlotte, N.C.-based company that now operates in 27 airports across the country.
For an Australian tourist heading home, 19 Bic lighters collected from 19 different U.S. cities were worth $144 -- the amount he paid the company to ship the lighters home, Lowry said.
"It was important to him," she said. "It's interesting to see what's important to different people."
Even with TSA's new, more lax rules that allow small scissors and sharp tools on airplanes, the agency's officers who screen passengers and their carry-on luggage asked passengers to surrender 15 million items last year.
"Cigarette lighters are, by far, the most common item we see," TSA spokesman Christopher White said. "They become government property."
Though lighters are most common, Orlando officers have turned up a bottle of perfume made to look like a real hand grenade and a swordlike blade inside an elderly woman's cane.
In Atlanta, White said, officers found a fully fueled chain saw in a carry-on bag.
Surrendered items are eventually sold, auctioned or donated, he said.
Saving heirlooms and keepsakes deemed too dangerous for air travel by the federal government has turned into big business with companies competing to offer the services at airports.
Minnesota-based Smarte Carte's Mail Safe Express, which offers a similar service, is available in 11 airports including Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International, Washington Dulles International, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty International. The company, which has mailed back 40,000 items since it started in 2004, was passed over for CheckPoint by Orlando International officials.
Since the CheckPoint kiosks were installed in Orlando in November, 585 people have chosen to pay the cost to mail a beloved item rather than part with it permanently, airport spokeswoman Carolyn Fennell said.
That's just a fraction of the 6 million people who passed through the airport during that time.
"It's not getting as much use as it should," said Lowry, who is scheduled to meet with Orlando International officials next week to talk about adding more kiosks and moving the existing ones to a more visible spot than the perimeter of the security line, where they are now. "That airport should be doing about 650 items a month minimum."
CheckPoint has pledged to cut Orlando International in on at least 11 percent of its gross receipts each year, according to its contract.
The company charges a minimum of $9 for most domestic deliveries and $14 for each lighter delivered in the U.S. Each lighter mailed outside the country is at least $32. Sometimes the company will negotiate a price for multiple items, which it did for the Australian tourist with 19 lighters.
At least one local airport, though, decided some good PR is worth more than the cash.
Daytona Beach International Airport pays, on average, up to $500 a month to mail prohibited items to travelers' homes.
With each cherished pocketknife or other item that was turned away at the security checkpoint, the passenger receives a letter thanking him for his business and a free pen or luggage tag.
About 615,000 people passed through the airport last year. Spokesman Steve Cooke said the airport would continue footing the bill on its own rather than turn the service over to a private company that charges.
"People love it," he said.
Beth Kassab can be reached at email@example.com or 407-420-5448.