TSA adds forbidden articles to app

gag gift looks like bomb

A passenger should not need TSA's app to know that a gag gift made to look like a bomb wouldn't be allowed on the plane. (TSA agents confiscated this one in July.) But for more conventional objects such as knitting needles, it provides fast information. (TSA photo)

The Transportation Security Administration has added a search capability to its mobile application home page in hopes of making it easier for travelers to identify what items can and can't be brought aboard aircraft, a perennial problem for the agency.

TSA officials announced the addition a few days ahead of the Labor Day weekend.

The "Can I Bring My ___" function of the MyTSA app searches more than 3,500 specific items in its database. Passengers can fill in the blank with any words they wish in search of a match. Many of the items in the database were suggested by passengers.

TSA's app brings up match suggestions for users after they type the first three letters of an item, and clicking on a suggestion provides an immediate answer on whether it can be taken on a plane.

However, because items have different names and wireless device keypads are not always easy to use accurately, being what they are, the agency said if users don't get any items in a search, or an "item not found" response comes up, they should re-type the name to ensure they spelled it correctly.

Users also have to eliminate unnecessary qualifiers. The app suggests, for instance, that users type "knitting needles," rather than "my knitting needles," or "light saber" instead of "my son's light saber" toy.

Even with the app, TSA continues to encounter plenty of banned items. Loaded handguns, stun guns and inert grenades turn up at airport security checkpoints every week. TSA said it found 44 guns in passenger carry-on bags, 39 of them loaded, during the week of Aug. 26. In July, TSA officers in St. Petersburg, Fla., found a gag retirement gift crafted to look like an improvised explosive device in one passenger's luggage.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a staff writer at FCW.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.

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Reader comments

Wed, Sep 4, 2013

Problem with this stuff is that I watched TSA confiscate a tiny 'pen' knife, while a small drafting set with much more useful (if used by someone with an ounce of training or who watched certain TV shows) tools of mayhem were let through. Just one example of the many disconnects I have seen over the last 10 years or so of travel via air.

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