On the Road

On the Road

I haven’t had a gun since 1968, when a Marine quartermaster in Vietnam (I was in the Navy, but on the ground) handed me an M14 rifle and snarled, “Here, try not to hurt yourself. And
always know where that weapon is.”

I complied on both counts. However, I’m a knucklehead who often forgets his phone,  and occasionally leaves a credit card behind at a restaurant. So the admonition about knowing where your firearm is has always stuck with me.

Unfortunately, some traveling Americans don’t follow that basic rule of gun-ownership, as evidenced by the growing numbers of firearms being found by Transportation Security Administration screeners in passengers’ carry-on bags at the 440 domestic commercial airports. Almost invariably, TSA screeners hear this excuse when they fish a gun out of a bag: “I forgot it was in there.”

No matter what your position is on gun ownership, no one thinks it’s a good idea for passengers to carry a gun onto an airplane. Corporate travel managers who aren’t already reminding traveling employees about TSA rules on prohibited items might want to do so as the heaviest travel period of the year comes up at the holidays, a time when most of us are in a rush.  There’s nothing like being detained at the airport to ruin the best-laid business travel plans. And inadvertently violating the TSA’s rules on prohibited items involve costs both to the traveler (in fines) and to the company in lost productivity through busted itineraries.

Since 2005, the TSA has published detailed weekly statistics on the numbers of guns discovered in carry-on bags at airport checkpoints. Last year, screeners found a record 3,957 firearms. That was up about 17 percent from 2016 – and 500 percent higher than in 2005, the first year the TSA began publishing these statistics.This year, we’re headed for a new record. I went through the weekly totals through mid-November, when about 3,750 firearms had been found. If the trend keeps pace through the rest of the year, 2018 will be another record-breaking year in what I call “packing for the airport.

Lots of people routinely carry guns for lots of reasons. About 38 million American adults own registered handguns; 25 percent of them carried a gun within the last 30 days, and a third of them carried every day, according to a report in the American Journal of Public Health. But let’s be clear. The TSA has found no one with a gun who has terrorist intent. Some people who are accustomed to carrying a handgun sometimes just forget they have it till they get to the airport checkpoint and trigger the alarm. Which is not to minimize the problem. The TSA says that more than 80 percent of the guns found last year were loaded -- a third of them had a live round chambered.

The penalties? In all cases, a person packing a gun is delayed at the checkpoint. In most cases, the TSA issues a fine. The maximum is $13,066 – if, for example, a supervisor determines that the violator deliberately tried to conceal the gun. Usually it’s less. There is a fine “in almost every incident, but the amount will vary based on the circumstance,” a TSA spokeswoman, Jenny Burke, told me. Last year, the TSA issued $1.45 million in fines for passengers found at security checkpoints with prohibited items, according to The Washington Post.

Given the hodgepodge of state and local laws about carrying firearms, it can become a lot worse than a fine if local law enforcement gets called. In late October, for example, a pilot for Sun Country Airlines was arrested by police and briefly jailed after a loaded pistol was found concealed in his carry-on bag at Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers. The reason: His concealed-carry permit, issued in Minnesota, was not recognized in Florida. The flight he was to pilot was cancelled, disrupting his travel plans and those of more than 100 passengers.

Travel managers who want background on TSA enforcement and fines can find the guidelines here: https://www.tsa.gov/sites/default/files/enforcement_sanction_guidance_policy.pdfds-up. And here’s the TSA guidelines on flying with a firearm in checked bag: https://www.tsa.gov/travel/transporting-firearms-and-ammunition

Incidentally, the TSA’s chatty blog where the prohibited items found at checkpoints are updated weekly is in abeyance after the very entertaining blogger, Curtis “Bob” Burns, died suddenly in October at age 48. Blogger Bob, who put a human and often humorous face on a giant bureaucracy, will be a tough act to follow.  Here’s the weekly blog he produced just before his death: https://www.tsa.gov/blog/2018/10/10/tsa-week-review-september-24th-30th


Memo Pad: Business travelers lucky enough to be in Germany during the holidays can enjoy the festive, glittering joys of German Christmas Markets in well over 100 cities, from Munich to Berlin. The German National Tourist Board compiled this list of 2018 Christmas markets, with dates: http://www.germany.travel/en/specials/christmas/christmas.html   … Zip the Strip:  The Las Vegas Strip is over-the-top as a visual spectacular, and now you can experience it 12 stories above the street, going 35 mph, in a new zip-line attraction, Fly Linq. It opens this week (cq NOV 9) with 10 parallel ziplines (some of them for zipping in a seat, others free-form). Another zipline ride, Slotzilla, has been operating since 2014 at the Fremont Street Experience downtown. ... More room? Travel managers have become more vocal with airlines about the fact that business travelers hate being crammed into uncomfortable seats in airplanes that have been flying mostly full for many years, Delta Air Lines is among those responding. Delta recently unveiled its new Airbus A220-100 planes configured in 3-2 rows (three seats on one side, two on the other ), with fewer middle seats, more legroom, bigger overhead bins and, get this, three bathrooms. The Delta A220s, which have 109 total seats, will enter service in January and will replace regional jets on highly competitive domestic business-travel routes such as New York-Dallas/Fort Worth …Busiest airports for rental cars: Avis says its top 5 are Los Angeles, Phoenix, Miami, Denver and Tampa … All aboard – As demand soars and the holiday travel season approaches, Amtrak says it put every available train car in its fleet on its tracks. It’s also adding extra trains for its Northeast Corridor, including Acela, and on Midwest routes. It’s adding extra cars to West Coast routes.

About the Author: Joe Sharkey
Joe Sharkey’s work appears in major national and international publications. For 19 years, until 2015, he was a columnist for the New York Times — for 16 years doing the weekly “On the Road” column on business travel, and before that the weekly “Jersey” column for three years. He is currently a columnist with Business Jet Traveler magazine, and an adjunct professor of journalism at the University of Arizona. A Vietnam veteran, he has written five books, four non-fiction and a novel. One of his nonfiction books, “Above Suspicion,” has been adapted as a major motion picture starring Emilia Clarke, Jack Huston, Thora Birch and Johnny Knoxville (and directed by Phillip Noyce), to be released soon. In January 2017, a new, revised edition of his book “Above Suspicion” was published in print and as an e-book by Open Road Media. Penguin Random House also released an audio book version in January. Open Road also published revised editions in e-book format of his true-crime books “Death Sentence” and “Deadly Greed.” In January 2018, the revised edition of “Death Sentence” was published in print by Open Road Media. In his newspaper career before the New York Times, he was an assistant national editor at the Wall Street Journal; the executive city editor of the Albany (N.Y.) Times-Union; and a reporter and columnist with the Philadelphia Inquirer. On Sept. 29, 2006, while on assignment, he was one of seven people on a business jet who survived a mid-air collision with a 737 at 37,000 feet over the Amazon in Brazil. All 154 on the commercial airliner died. His reports on the crash appeared on the front page of the New York Times and later in the Sunday Times of London Magazine. He and his wife Nancy (who is a professor of journalism at the University of Arizona) live in Tucson — where he is also working on a new novel about the exploits of an international travel writer who hates to travel. .