Nunchucks. A wrench. Keychain self-defense weapons. Hammers. Vice grips. That’s just a snapshot of what travelers attempted to get through Sea-Tac Airport security screenings in the past two weeks.
“If the passengers didn’t bring it, I wouldn’t be able to show you,” said Lorie Dankers, a spokesperson with the Transportation Security Administration.
“Every day, somewhere in the country we have eight firearms, on average, brought into an airport,” she said.
At 10 a.m. on Tuesday a passenger attempted to bring a torch lighter, in the shape of a gun, through the security gate. That was promptly confiscated, and Dankers put it on display in a room full of reporters.
The items aren’t to showcase what is going through and what is not going through the security screenings. Rather, they are to make a point of why travelers should be prepared when coming to the airport, especially in the coming months when record high numbers of travelers are expected to flood into Sea-Tac. When one person gets stopped for contraband, the whole line stops. Law enforcement might be called depending on the item. And that slows things up.
That can only make things worse this spring break when the airport expects to see the first wave of record high travelers coming through its gates. Last year during spring break, between March 31 and April 17, about 43,500 people went through the security gate each day. This year, that number is expected to be more than 53,000.
“It’s not a sleepy airport anymore,” Dankers said.
“It used to be if we hit 50,000 passengers screened by TSA in a day, as recently as two years ago, that was considered to be in the stratosphere,” she said. “As of last summer, nearly every day it was like 53,000-58,000 people.”
Spring break is a notable time for travelers and TSA agents. It is the first busy push through the airport before the travel season peaks in the summer.
“Spring break is the dry run for summer,” Dankers said. “Unlike holidays at some airports, our biggest travel time is summer. The biggest of the summer is August.”
Dankers notes that despite the considerable rise in passenger loads passing through the checkpoint, TSA staffing levels have not risen, making 2016 the lowest staffed year in five years.
This adds up to lines at the airport security checkpoint. Dankers said beyond timing, the best thing a traveler can do is be prepared for that checkpoint. For example, remove laptops from bags before sending them through the x-ray machine. When a passenger doesn’t do this, the bag then has to be inspected.
Sundays, Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays are the busiest travel days; Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays are less busy.
Think about what clothing you will wear in the airport line. Jewelry or lace up shoes and boots will take longer to process at the security gate. Slip on shoes go on and off quick.