Airport screeners find array of items

By Greg Gelpi

When Transportation Security Administration screeners X-ray luggage they never know what may be inside, and screeners at Atlanta's airport have found an array of items from the dangerous to the humorous.

TSA screening supervisor Jamie Covil, 28, of Douglasville, said that since taking the job in September 2002 he's seen many of the typical banned items, along with some items that are a "little out there," at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Among those "out-there" items are the more personal items, such as "adult toys," Covil said.

"They aren't prohibited, but you do see them on X-ray," he said.

Other unusual items are prohibited, though, and aren't as humorous, Covil said, recalling a chef who packed meat cleavers in his luggage and tried to bring them through security.

The chef thought he had checked the bag, Covil said, adding that passengers often forget what's in their bags or don't realize what they're putting through the X-ray machine.

"We had one instance where a lady put her cat through X-ray," Covil said. "A lot of people bring power tools and forget they're in their bags."

One traveler actually brought a chain saw already gassed up through security, he said, adding his surprise that someone would do that.

"It's been a joy," Covil said of his job. "Right now I know I serve a greater cause. I treat each flight as if a member of my family was aboard."

Although he never knows what to expect to appear on the X-ray screen, he said that he does know that his job is crucial to the security of passengers.

The same desire to provide safety brought TSA lead screener and trainer Pete Ramos, 52, of Dallas to the job, sparked by the attacks of Sept. 11.

"I was able to go to a television and watch in amazement at what was happening," Ramos said of the terrorist attacks. "It prompted me to see what I could do to help."

Although he has found his share of knives, bullets and even guns in baggage, he has also found an assortment of unusual items.

One such item was a thick metal milk canister of sorts containing an odorous pickled meat, Ramos said.

"It was very unusual," he said. "It kind of had an unusual odor to it."

He's also screened the occasional pair of handcuffs with fur and other items for "personal pleasure," he said, but through it all screeners must stay alert for potentially dangerous weapons. When weapons do show up, screeners must react cautiously, not knowing if the weapon was an honest oversight or if it was brought with criminal intent.

"It puts us all on a really high alert because of the danger," Ramos said.

Christopher White, a spokesman for the TSA, said that the most common prohibited items that screeners come across are scissors and knives of all shapes and sizes.

The TSA has also collected hundreds of lighters daily since a ban began April 15, White said. For a complete list of prohibited items, he said that passengers should visit www.tsa.gov.