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"Points of no return"


 
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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Points of no return
State agency collects, resells itmes surrendered at airport checkpoints
By DAVID WETHE
THE FORT WORTH (TX) STAR-TELEGRAM
 
Some of the items surrendered in recent weeks at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport security checkpoints. The items are collected and resold by the Texas Building and Procurement Commission.
Some of the items surrendered in recent weeks at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport security checkpoints. The items are collected and resold by the Texas Building and Procurement Commission.

D/FW AIRPORT -- To the person who was barred from carrying a scuffed bowling pin onto an airplane: You can find your keepsake at a state-run resale shop in Austin -- along with a couple of bowling balls, a hockey stick and a Louisville Slugger baseball bat.

The items that travelers have given up over the years at airport security checkpoints range from the utilitarian -- like trusty red Swiss Army knives - to the absurd, such as a colorful piņata stick.

And that might not be the last of the unusual items.

As we roll into the busy Christmas travel period this week, more rookie passengers are filling up the airplanes. And it's the less-experienced travelers who often try to take strange stuff onboard, because they're not up on the latest carry-on rules from the federal Transportation Security Administration. The bowling pin, for one, was deemed a potential bludgeoning object. Who knew?

Don't worry, though. If you're a flying newbie and you have to surrender your pink golf putter, as one unlucky passenger did at a Texas airport, just check out the state surplus storefront in Austin or visit eBay.

The Texas Building and Procurement Commission is responsible for gathering up and reselling the forfeited items that the TSA collects at its security checkpoints in eight airports across the state, including Dallas/Fort Worth Airport and Dallas Love Field. Since its inception at the end of 2001, the TSA has donated all of its collected items to each state's surplus property division or to the federal General Services Administration.

The Texas commission picked up 14,545 pounds of surrendered property for its fiscal year ending Aug. 31, said Shannon Franklin, the state's surplus property director. For context, that's roughly equal to the size of the 53-man roster for the Dallas Cowboys.

And that's about an average year for the commission, Franklin said. Nationwide, the numbers are not much different, as travelers continue to forfeit the same number of items each year.

The only difference came in 2005, when the number of surrendered items more than doubled from the previous year. That's because the TSA banned all cigarette lighters in April of that year, said Carrie Harmon, a TSA spokeswoman.

In addition to airport stuff, the commission is charged with selling office furniture, equipment and vehicles that state agencies no longer need.

Of the $8 million worth of stuff the state sold in its 2006 fiscal year, $33,500 came from the sale of airport-related items.

Although that's not much, the items collected from air travelers help make for a more colorful selection than desks, chairs and old photocopiers, Franklin said.

"I think most of the items are pretty standard, but we do get some unusual things from time to time," she said.

When the decorated piņata stick arrived, "that cracked us up," Franklin said. "I can't imagine trying to board an airplane with something so large and cumbersome, even if it wasn't against regulations."

However, most of the airport stuff is knives and scissors, Franklin said.

TSA officials don't like to refer to the items collected at checkpoints as confiscated or seized material, because they argue that travelers have three options for what to do with the prohibited items.

Travelers can go back to the airline ticket counter and try to put the item in checked luggage. They could give it to a friend or relative seeing them off at the airport, or they could mail it home. If all that fails, they could just "voluntarily surrender" the item, Harmon said.

The mail option has given rise to a small subindustry of entrepreneurs selling prepackaged envelopes through airport concessionaires stationed near security checkpoints.

But it's hardly a lucrative business for Alan Kaufman, president of New York-based Self Defenses, which sells an envelope he calls the Mail Back. It is available at about 40 airports across the country, including Hobby Airport in Houston, but not at D/FW Airport or Love Field. CheckPoint Mailers, a competitor, has kiosks at D/FW and Love where travelers can mail items back to themselves.

Kaufman's envelope, which sells for $4.95 to $6.95, includes a pen for writing the address, postage already paid and a special tear-resistant liner in case you want to mail back a sharp object.

"I created this as a good deed," he said. "I'm not a nonprofit organization, but this is really a nonprofit product. I just got upset with people taking things away from people. That just didn't seem like the right way to handle things."

The Texas commission is trying to sell more of its airport-related stuff through eBay.

And sales appear to be pretty brisk.

On a recent sale that closed Friday, the bidding for 14 "old-timer pocket knives" packaged together went from $29.99 to $107.52 in two weeks.

The commission began selling its airport stuff in earnest on eBay around January.

The sales have boosted the commission's annual revenue.

And although the commission is not focused on pocketknives boosting its Christmas sales this year, it is looking at buying radio advertising time in January to get lure more shoppers into its Austin store and onto its eBay section.

Franklin said she lost one of her favorite pocketknives to the TSA in 2001, before she was in the role she's in now for the state commission.

But she said that won't happen to her anymore.

"I'm a lot more conscientious about that kind of stuff," she said.

CHECK YOUR BOWLING BALL

14,545 pounds

Property surrendered this fiscal year at eight Texas airports that was given to the state. Does not include lighters, liquids and gels, which are all thrown away.

CIGARETTE LIGHTERS AND POCKETKNIVES

Most common items seized by the TSA

7.1 million

Number of items forfeited to the TSA in 2004

15.8 million

Number of items surrendered to the TSA in 2005. Includes 9.4 million lighters, banned in April 2005.

TWO PLACES TO FIND YOUR PRIZED BOWLING BALL

Go to the Texas Building and Procurement Commission's Austin store at 6506 Bolm Road.

Hunt on eBay.com. (Click on "Advanced Search." Then click on "Find a Member." Then type in "texasstatesurplus."

WHAT YOU CAN CARRY ON

Allowed:

Take any holiday presents unwrapped through security. Frontier Airlines is offering to wrap your gifts for free once you get to your gate, from Dec. 21 to Dec. 24.

If you pack any liquids or gels in your carry-on bag, make sure the liquids or gels, such as toothpaste or shampoo, are in containers no larger than 3 ounces. Put those containers into a plastic zip-top bag that is no larger than 1 quart. Limit one plastic bag per traveler.

Even if you don't want to use it on the plane, pack your laptop in a carry-on bag. The Transportation Security Administration has seen an increase in laptops carried in checked bags. They can crack easier that way.

No-Nos:

Box cutters

Knives, except for plastic or round-bladed butter knives

Scissors longer than 4 inches

Screwdrivers, wrenches and pliers longer than 7 inches

Mace pepper spray

Golf clubs, baseball bats, billy clubs, pool cues, or anything else that could be used as a bludgeoning object

Check out the TSA's full list of prohibited items at www.tsa.gov


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