EL PASO, Texas -- An increase in travel is leading to an increase in contraband at the El Paso International Airport.
In the time frame from Feb. 19 to March 26, federal Transportation Security Agency officers said they seized six handguns, five of which were loaded.
"The month of March was actually the busiest month since the start of the pandemic for travelers nationwide. In this month ,we had over 20 days of over a million passengers," said Patricia Mancha, a spokesperson for the TSA in Texas. "We haven't seen that since before the pandemic started, so that is very significant. As a result we also see people who are bringing more prohibited items."
The contraband seized by TSA officers not only has the potential to ruin your vacation, it can land you behind bars.
The El Paso Police Department, is quick to get involved after a gun is found in somebody's bag, and Mancha said the most common excuse is one that won't help you with the authorities.
"The really distressing part about this, the most often heard excuse when people bring prohibited items to the airport is 'I forgot it was in my bag'," Mancha said.
That lapse in memory has the capacity to land you a hefty fine. Most first-time offenders will face a $2,000 fine for an unloaded gun found in a bag. A loaded gun brings with it a $4,000 fine, and some offenders can face the possibility of a fine topping out as high as $13,000.
It's not just guns that TSA is looking for, stun guns are also prohibited as are pepper spray, knives, and machetes - just to name a few. This year has seen an uptick in prohibited items in El Paso as well as across the country.
TSA officials tell ABC-7 that nationwide there have been 1,006 firearms detected with 86 of those found loaded. In 2020, there was a total of 3,257 firearms found in carry-on luggage at airports across the country.
Passengers can travel with a gun, but only if it is in checked luggage in a hard-back case and locked.
The TSA's biggest message to travelers is to check your bag before you get to the airport.
"It's very important for our officers to really make sure that travel is safe for everyone. So our main goal is to facilitate travel for anyone that is willing to do it and safety doesn't only mean Covid precautions - it also means finding weapons, prohibited items or anything that can cause a problem once the person is in an airplane," Mancha said.
The TSA tells ABC-7 it is preparing for the travel demand that is expected this summer as more people get vaccinated against Covid-19.
In response to the anticipated demand, the agency is launching a hiring campaign. Anyone interested in working for TSA should click the following link.