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Have a machete? Forget about flying

Jordan Curet/The Aspen TimesJudy Jenkins, right, hands over her medication and liquid items in a zipped bag to TSA agent Len Voltchek, left, at the security gate at the Pitkin County Airport.
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ASPEN “Bringing a knife to the airport and expecting to get through the security is not the brightest idea, yet hundreds of people do it every year in Aspen.

Nearly six years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and countless scares, there are still millions of people who attempt to bring prohibited items on board airplanes throughout the country.

Pocket knives, tools and razors are among a month’s worth of “surrendered” items collected at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport and the eight surrounding regional airports. According to TSA officials, between 400 and 500 pounds of potential weapons are surrendered at these locales each year.



Besides lighters, the most popular item taken at the security checkpoint at the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport is knives. Not the cheap ones either ” most popular are Leatherman, Swiss Army and specialized cutting knives, which show up in mass quantities during hunting season.

Ammunition, another prohibited item, also shows up in large amounts during hunting season. During the holidays, a lot of toy guns given as gifts must be surrendered.



And one person last year attempted to bring a 3-foot-long machete on board at the Durango airport, said Ralph Hamlin, assistant federal security director for the TSA.

In Grand Junction, a woman tried to carry a human skull through the security checkpoint; it turned out that the skull was taken from an Indian burial site and the woman had to surrender it.

In Telluride, a passenger thought it would be OK to bring along a milk jug of kerosene.



On a recent visit to the Aspen airport, Hamlin displayed a month’s worth of surrendered items from passengers traveling through the nine regional airports on the Western Slope.

There were hundreds of Swiss Army knives, a set of steak knives, a barbecue tool set, a set of darts, razor blades and even box-cutters.

Travelers walking by gazed at the mass of weapons. One man tried to find a knife that he had given up previously.

“Once you surrender the item, it’s the government’s,” Hamlin said. “Everybody has the opportunity to give it to a friend not traveling, check it in their bag or put it in the car.”

Hamlin added that in Aspen and the other smaller airports, an airline will pull a checked bag for people who don’t realize that a 10-inch screwdriver, a machete or a knife are prohibited items.

“Anything that is a bludgeoning item, something that you can wield,” Hamlin said.

“While many people understand the rules, others don’t,” agency spokeswoman Carrie Harmon said. “People need to be prepared when they get to the checkpoint because if they aren’t, it not only holds them up but the passengers behind them.”

The average wait at an airport security checkpoint is 13.7 minutes – 1.20 seconds longer than last year, the TSA said.

Nationally, 2,600 knives, 20 clubs, 26,000 lighters and one gun are surrendered every day, according to TSA officials.

So far this year, 559,000 knives and 35,000 “deadly and dangerous” items have been surrendered nationally, Harmon said. By the end of the year, the total number of items will grow to more than 5 million, 4.4 million of which are expected to be lighters.

Harmon said some of the more odd items surrendered in Denver include fully gassed chain saws, a cobra in a jar filled with formaldehyde, a cane with a sword built in its middle core and a 6-foot-long African spear.

It appears that most people are willing to part with their belongings, based on how many things are surrendered every day. Plus, TSA officials say $185,000 worth of change is left behind every day at the nation’s airports.

“We do live in a disposable society,” Hamlin said. “Aspen folks aren’t really vocal [about having to surrender their belongings].”

It varies from state to state, but in Colorado, the surrendered items and forgotten coins are handed over to the Government Services Agency in Denver. From there, items like knives and other useful things are auctioned off in large quantities.

“Forgetfulness is costly,” said Viki Reath, who works in the GSA Public Affairs in Washington, D.C. “Remember to leave your tools and knives at home or the federal government, as well as state and local governments, will make good use of the property ‘voluntarily abandoned’ by the forgetful.”


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