They are showing up like never before. Guns at South Florida airports are being brought by passengers now in record numbers, officials said.
The disturbing number of weapons the Transportation Security Administration is finding at checkpoints comes as the Federal Aviation Administration is dealing with an increase in unruly passengers and just before the busiest travel time of the year.
That’s a potentially dangerous mix the security experts want to avoid.
"It is a concern, both the unruly behavior that we’ve seen and the number of firearms,” said Daniel Ronan, the TSA Security Director at Miami International Airport.
In 2021, the FAA has received more than 5,000 reports of unruly passengers and more than 3,700 disputes report over mask-wearing.
In addition to the long-standing potential danger of an unauthorized weapon on a flight, with the spike in bad behavior, the last thing anyone wants is a passenger who’s not a U.S. Marshall having a gun on the aircraft. The TSA said that 75% of the weapons discovered are ready to fire.
“Many firearms are loaded. All across the country that the majority being brought are loaded," Ronan said.
The TSA exclusively shared images with NBC 6 showing guns found at checkpoints — some of them loaded and heading through the checkpoints at MIA, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood and Palm Beach International airports. In 2021 so far, 71 weapons were confiscated at the checkpoint at MIA. At FLL, 121 is the number to date, which is to break the state’s record for most guns found at any airport in a single year. The numbers of weapons are up almost 15% at Miami and more than 20%t at Fort Lauderdale.
“The idea that people would bring into an airport just seems pretty crazy to me," said passenger Bill Echikson, who was flying in from Europe at MIA on Tuesday.
And passengers are being arrested. Miami-Dade Police took Cameron Hinds and Antron Ferguson to jail this month.
“We refer every one one of them to the local police,” Ronan said.
Both men are presumed innocent.
“It slows down screening. We have to stop screening on the lane where the person introduces a firearm into the x-ray,” Ronan said.
The word to keep the lines moving this holiday. “Pack smartly — know what’s in your bag. No prohibited items. No firearms,” Ronan said.
MIA and the TSA are posting new signs Tuesday telling passengers if they have a gun to turn around. It also says they could be fined almost $14,000.
With the airports headed for a week where the passenger travel here at MIA is expected to be up 12%, that increases the odds that more people will show up here with loaded weapons.
The message from the airport and the TSA is to check your carry-on, your briefcase, backpack, and purse before you leave the driveway. Otherwise, you could end up with a free meal on the taxpayers at the county jail this holiday, not the same touch as mom’s home cooking.