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Airline Travelers Can Now Be Fined For Dangerous Objects in Carry-Ons

By Joe Sharkey

The New York Times -- That long-forgotten Swiss Army knife, or that joke that a screener deems threatening, could cost airline passengers hefty fines at airport security checkpoints under a new enforcement policy that the Transportation Security Administration put in place last week.

Previously, unless they found a gun or other obvious weapon, security screeners merely confiscated most prohibited items they found in carry-on bags. In one three-month period in 2002, for example, security screeners discovered nearly two million knives or blades of less than three inches, and 3.3 million other “sharp objects” in passenger bags, the TSA said.

The new guidelines spell out various levels of fines for prohibited items discovered at checkpoints, within secure airport areas, or on board aircraft. Loaded firearms, or those with ammunition accessible, warrant fines of $3,000 to $7,500, as well as criminal referral. For unloaded firearms, fines are $1,500 to $3,000, plus criminal referral.

For other “weapons,” which the TSA says include “sharp objects, clublike items and other prohibited items” that could be used as weapons, fines are $250 to $1,500.

The guidelines chiefly “send a message that it’s no longer OK to say, “I’m sorry, I forgot I had my gun in my bag,” said Ann Davis, a TSA spokeswoman. The guidelines list “aggravating factors and mitigating factors” in giving authorities discretion in levying fines, she said. Among those factors are an alleged violator’s attitude, past violation history and level of traveling experience.

The guidelines also set fines of $1,500 to $5,000 for “interfering with screening” through “physical contact,” and fines of $500 to $1,500 for unspecified “nonphysical” interference. Anyone making “false threats,” like joking about a bomb or a weapon, can be fined $1,000 to $2,000.

The tightened procedures are meant to “encourage travelers to be a little more aware of what they’re traveling with,” Davis said. Since the TSA assumed responsibility for airport security in 2002, there have been 4,568 civil penalties assessed against passengers for prohibited items, she said.

In another development in airline security, a test of an iris-identification biometric identification system is under way at Frankfurt Airport in Germany for some Lufthansa passengers who have registered their iris data.

Passengers stand at an electronic device that checks their iris patterns against iris patterns previously registered on their passports. Seven of the devices, developed by Byometric Systems and Oki Electric Industry, are in place at immigration and emigration control gates at the airport. It is part of a pilot project that ultimately is expected to lead to use of iris-identification technology at airports in 18 European nations, the companies said.