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How safe is air travel? Who knows? TSA doesn’t

Who knows how safe air travel is in the United States? The TSA doesn’t. Airport security is impossible to judge based on the agency’s haphazard data.



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He said he receives a lot of calls "about what they can and cannot bring. So I think it’s just a matter of the passenger knowing what is and is not prohibited. It seems like it is always evolving and changing almost on a daily basis, so it’s hard to keep up with."

Other small airports in Utah also have high rates: Wendover, 288.14 items per 10,000 boardings; St. George, 206.24; Moab, 202.5; and Cedar City, 150.28. (Scheduled passenger service at Provo and Ogden airports had not begun in the period for which data were provided.)

At a glance

TSA provided data two years after request

In October 2010, The Salt Lake Tribune made a Freedom of Information Act request for TSA data about numbers of prohibited items, by type, surrendered at security checkpoints at each U.S. airport. Almost exactly two years later, the TSA provided data for 2005-2010. While The Tribune requested data in electronic format, TSA provided paper printouts, which required entering it by hand into computers for analysis. The newspaper combined this information with data for 2002-04, which was obtained earlier.

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Though the rates are high, the actual numbers of potential weapons are small. Items surrendered at all those small Utah airports combined in the period totaled 19,306 — a figure dwarfed by Salt Lake City International Airport’s haul of 452,590.

Salt Lake City’s surrender rate was 53.4 items per 10,000 boardings — 20 percent lower than the average among the nation’s 28 large hub airports. (New York’s John F. Kennedy International was the highest at 128.99, and Charlotte/Douglas International Airport in North Carolina was the lowest at 26.46).

Items surrendered in Salt Lake City included: 66 firearms; 149,134 lighters; 143,535 knives with blades shorter than 3 inches; 7,676 knives with blades longer than 3 inches; 103,900 "sharp objects"; 29,821 tools; 10,321 flammables/irritants; 3,421 ammunition and gunpowder; 1,452 box cutters; 1,017 "dangerous objects"; 708 clubs, bats and bludgeons; 604 fireworks; and 83 explosives.

ldavidson@sltrib.com




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