With today's tightened security, you know you're not supposed to pack certain items when getting on a plane. If you do forget and get caught with a banned item, you hand it over and that's that.
Right? Maybe not! Thanks to a little known federal safety policy, you may literally have to pay the price. Not only with your pocketbook but also with future travel troubles. Airport officials say they are simply aiming for safer skies. But privacy experts, and some on Capitol Hill, are up in arms.
When Jon Zetterlund mistakenly packed a Swiss Army knife in a carry-on, he wasn't surprised when airport security confiscated it. But Jon was shocked when a letter arrived a few weeks later.
"I had been assessed a fine of $250 for bringing a weapon into the sterile environment of the airport." he said.
It's all part of a stepped up safety plan by the Transportation Security Administration, or TSA. Jon is one of nearly 10,000 flyers fined in the past year for packing banned items. "Our intent is just to make sure that people who are a threat, you know, are dealt with accordingly." said Lauren Stover with the TSA. "The, 'oh, i forgot i had it' doesn't work with us anymore."
Stover says the fines range from $250 to $10,000 depending on the violation. But the penalties are not automatic. "We take a lot of factors into consideration." she said. Those factors include your attitude with screeners, whether you've tried to conceal the item, and how dangerous it is.
Jon was fined because of the length of his blade but says he doesn't think he should've been a target at all. "I don't feel as though I had intent that would really go hand in hand with a fine."
Republican Representative John Mica of Florida is the Chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee. He says the system is too arbitrary and wants most of the fines to be eliminated. "I think TSA has gone overboard." he said. "They've fined people for bringing a wedding cake knife on a plane."
According to Stover, "Fines are imposed as a deterrent, that we can get people to think a little bit."
Are they working? the TSA intercepted more than seven million items last year with fines in place. That's up a million from the year before with no penalties.
Security expert Eric Grasser says it's obvious. "Passengers are not getting the hint of what they can and can not bring to the airport."
If you do get "bagged", you should also be aware that it could cause problems on future flights! We've learned your name and personal information may be added to a secret database. "Certain people get placed on a list that would require them to get additional screening every time they fly." said Stover.
Airport security officials admit this list is off limits for security purposes. That has some outraged. Privacy expert Marcia Hoffman says it's important to know what information is maintained about you by the government. If you can't even find out if you're in the database, she says you're not able to verify the accuracy of that information and change it when it's incorrect."
While its policies are sparking controversy, the TSA insists its one and only mission is to protect.