‘Out of control’: TSA expects record numbers for Thanksgiving travel

More than 2.3 million travelers are expected to travel across the country for Thanksgiving in November, a record that is perhaps no surprise given that 2017 was the best year for travel so far, with a peak 8.9 million flying on the holiday weekend, the Department of Homeland Security said.

In a blog post, the TSA noted the ongoing trend of increasing U.S. airports’ passenger totals on Thanksgiving and international travel has also grown significantly in recent years. This year, almost 36.7 million passengers are expected to fly during the period, the second-highest Thanksgiving total in the last decade.

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“It’s important to remember that security has to fit the threat to the U.S. homeland,” John Pistole, TSA administrator, said in a statement. “Increasing numbers of travelers bring home more dangerous items, including firearms. Please be prepared by packing your carry-on items safely and upright and packing your firearms unloaded and in a locked hard-side case in your checked baggage.”

To date, more than 6,500 firearms have been discovered in carry-on bags by TSA officers during the agency’s 2017-2018 fiscal year.

Although the TSA did not provide statistics for previous holiday weekends, 2017 was the year that the agency found the most firearms ever: more than 3,100. At the peak, more than 1,000 were discovered in a single day.

According to the TSA, firearms are typically found hidden in bags or in carry-on luggage in airports or aboard commercial aircraft, as the weapons make their way from secluded spaces into the open market. Many of the firearms intercepted during the holidays are loaded.

In the most recent Thanksgiving-related incident, a man traveling on an Amtrak train from Chicago to New York City, died when a firearm was accidentally discharged by a passenger after a shift change on Sunday evening. The gun was discovered after the train stopped at an Amtrak station in downtown Chicago.

Pistole said that in the years ahead, TSA will work to carry out a “firm nationwide ban on electronic firearms and personal alarms in passenger areas”, according to the TSA blog post. The TSA has banned such firearms from flights since 2005, but has never explicitly banned the weapons on domestic ground-based airlines.

In October, Congress passed legislation that prohibits private airline passengers from bringing electronic firearms, ammunition, flintlock revolvers, muzzleloading shotguns, semi-automatic rifles and all pistols in carry-on luggage. In addition, no firearms can be carried onto any commercial airline while airlines are engaged in negotiations with the Federal Aviation Administration.

“Taking this step is just one more important step we can take to protect airline passengers and crew and aircraft from firearms,” Pistole said.

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