The Transportation Security Administration is tightening security at Louisiana airports ahead of the holiday travel season, and agents are trying to get the word out to the public about what to expect.
Among the changes TSA agents announced Tuesday at Baton Rouge Metro Airport is a requirement that passengers remove any device larger than a cellphone from their luggage and place it on an X-ray tray to be scanned. Removing laptops has been required for years and now so will electronics such as tablets, TSA representatives said.
The fear, TSA explosives expert Billy Booth said, is that hijackers could hide a bomb in electronic equipment or that one person could hide an incendiary agent in one device while a partner hides a detonator in another.
Would-be terrorists are accustomed to the attention given to laptops, he said, and airport authorities are trying to stay ahead of the curve by scrutinizing other devices. Without giving much away, he and TSA spokeswoman Sari Koshetz said the push is supported by information collected by counterintelligence agents.
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"We know that terrorists are still interested in aviation. ... It's a high-stakes target for them," Koshetz said.
The new rule is being rolled out in phases nationwide; Louisiana is making the change at about the halfway mark, they said.
"TSA is committed to raising the baseline for aviation security, and we appreciate the cooperation of the traveling public in this endeavor. ... The simple step of separating personal electronic items for screening allows TSA officers to more closely focus on resolving alarms and stopping terror threats," Louisiana TSA Director Jonny Eason said in a statement.
It's already been a busy year for Baton Rouge and New Orleans-based TSA agents. In the capital city, six people have been stopped for trying to bring a gun on board an aircraft this year, Koshetz said. That's twice the 2016 number even before this year's busy holiday season, she said.
New Orleans officials have confiscated 50 guns.
But firearms aren't the only concern. TSA put out a table of all the potential weapons they've collected over the past months from the two airports — a menagerie of brass knuckles, multitools and knives, as well as pellet guns, ammunition, hatchets, a small bow, large scissors, lighter fluid, exercise weights, a blackjack, wrenches and a throwing star.
New Orleans even sells a unique souvenir that must be confiscated, Booth said.
The World War II Museum sells replica hand grenades in its gift shop. Upon scrutiny, the merchandise is obviously a model, but the TSA won't let passengers fly with them — not even in checked baggage. According to TSA, some criminals have filled fake grenades with real black powder, which is dangerous, and even the sight of a grenade could create a panic onboard — the same reason it prohibits realistic looking toy guns.
The agency reminded travelers it is still enforcing old measures like the 3-1-1 liquids rule, which limits each passenger to 3.4 ounces of liquids kept in one quart-sized bag in one piece of luggage. There are allowances for medicine, breast milk and formula.