Columbia Metropolitan Airport Screeners Fill Buckets in S.C.

The excuses fly at the Columbia Metropolitan Airports security checkpoint when screeners find knives, loose ammunition and occasionally a handgun.

Gerald Chapman, federal security director at the airport, said security hears all kinds of explanations such as this one for carrying a large steak knife:

Oh, I had it to peel my fruit. Then, we dont see any fruit there in the bag, Chapman said.

Every day, hundreds of travelers pass through the Transportation Security Administrations checkpoint where screeners look for things prohibited on airplanes. And dozens of people end up leaving something behind.

Most recently, the screeners have been collecting cigarette lighters since they were banned from flights in April. On Wednesday, screeners took away 35 lighters from morning travelers. Thats about half of their daily average of 65 to 70 cigarette lighters, Chapman said.

Its enough to overflow a five gallon bucket.

So, weve ordered a 10 gallon container, Chapman said.

Inside the airports TSA office, a plastic box holds the belts, bracelets, compact disc, watches, cell phones and sunglasses left by rushed, forgetful passengers. The TSA crew tags the items and holds them for about two months. If they are unclaimed, the South Carolina surplus office gets them.

With little room for storage, TSA doesnt hold on to collected items for long, Chapman said.

A hazardous materials company picks up lighters for disposal.

As for the knives, tools, scissors, belts, phones, jewelry and other things left behind or confiscated, the states surplus office collects and sells them. Proceeds go to the state, said Mike Sponhour, spokesman for the S.C. Budget and Control Board. The airport goods dont bring a significant amount, he said.

To help passengers keep up with their belongings, the Columbia airport has ordered clear plastic bags to place at the checkpoints, said Lynne Douglas, the airports marketing director. Passengers can empty their pockets into the bags and then have only one thing to pick up at the other end of the security line, she said.

Over the years, the screeners have confiscated some interesting things: replica hand grenades from Fort Jackson, a cigarette lighter the size of a cigar box and a collection of knives from Outback Steakhouse.

Jackie Westerman, screening supervisor, said his crew recently took a 6-inch Outback knife from a passenger.

She said, Its a souvenir. I put it in my bag and didnt think about it again, Westerman said.