TSA, PHX officials prepare public for busy summer travel season, remind travelers how to travel properly with a firearm on a commercial aircraft

Local Press Release
Friday, May 28, 2021

PHOENIX – As more people begin to travel by air throughout the United States, officials with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) offered helpful tips so travelers know what to expect ahead of what is predicted to be a very busy summer travel season. They also reminded those who are planning to travel with a firearm how to do so properly to avoid potential criminal and civil penalties.

Summer travel outlook
Nationwide, TSA officers are screening an average of 1.5 million people per day, which is an increase from last year, but still down from 2019 levels when TSA was screening approximately 2.5 million people per day during the summer months. TSA expects that due to the increased number of fully vaccinated people and pent up travel demand, the number of people traveling this summer will continue to steadily increase. TSA and PHX airport officials anticipate the local outlook and passenger growth will mirror the national trend.

For travelers departing PHX, the busiest times of day at the TSA security checkpoint are between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. The busiest days of the week are Sunday and Monday. As the number of people traveling by air continues to increase, please plan to arrive at the airport two hours prior to flight departure. This will allow plenty of time to complete all steps of the travel process from curb to gate.

With the onset of the pandemic, travelers can expect to see modified TSA procedures to ensure that the security screening experience is safe and healthy for everyone. As part of its “Stay Healthy. Stay Secure.” initiative, travelers can expect to see:

  • All security officers wearing face masks and gloves during the screening process. Security officers will change their gloves after each screening position rotation, after a pat-down or upon a passenger’s request.
  • All travelers must wear a mask. The federal requirement that all travelers wear a mask anywhere in the airport and at TSA airport screening checkpoints remains in effect. Face coverings need to cover the nose and mouth and fit snugly against the sides of the face without gaps. A TSA officer will ask travelers to briefly adjust their mask for ID verification purposes. Travelers without a mask will be denied entry into the security checkpoint. Failure to comply can result in civil penalties or denial of boarding an aircraft.
  • Social distancing leading up to and in the security checkpoint environment.
  • Increased frequency and intensity of cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces in the security checkpoint including bins.

Here are some additional tips to remember during the summer travel season:

Step 1: Dress for security screening. Simplify your experience by avoiding bulky jewelry, scarves, hair accessories and large belt buckles since these types of items are likely to require additional screening. For general screening travelers, wear shoes that are easy to slip off and on.

Step 2: Secure loose items in your carry-on. When removing items from pockets such as phones, keys, wallets or change, place them in carry-on luggage instead of placing them in bins.  Avoid placing personal items and food directly in bins since bins are a common use item and should be treated as such.

Step 3: Traveling with hand sanitizer. TSA is allowing one liquid hand sanitizer container, up to 12 ounces per passenger, in carry-on bags. Passengers may also bring hand wipes of any size or quantity through security checkpoints.

Step 4: Enroll in TSA PreCheck®. People can “Travel with Ease” and experience a smoother screening process by enrolling in TSA PreCheck®. Eligible travelers do not need to remove shoes, belts, light outerwear, laptops, electronics larger than a cell phone or travel-size liquids from carry-on luggage. PHX Airport has a TSA PreCheck enrollment center and Global Entry Enrollment Center on airport property. In April 2021, 98% of travelers eligible for TSA PreCheck waited five minutes or less to be screened at airports nationwide. Another benefit of the program is that children 12 and under are permitted to use the TSA PreCheck lane when traveling with an eligible parent or guardian on the same itinerary.

TSA readiness and hiring
Due to the upswing in air travel, TSA has expanded its efforts to hire security screening officers at PHX and nationwide to ensure checkpoint lanes are fully staffed to screen the ever increasing number of travelers. As an incentive to join the agency, TSA will pay newly-hired TSOs $500 upon starting with the agency and $500 after one year of service with TSA. To qualify for the recruitment incentive, the employee must come onboard with TSA between now and September 30, 2021. To view open positions, visit https://jobs.tsa.gov.

Increase in the number of firearms brought to the security checkpoint at PHX
As of May 31, 2021, TSA officers have discovered 53 firearms in travelers’ carry-on luggage at the PHX security checkpoint this year. The most recent firearm find was May 28th, 2021.

Each of the firearms was discovered during the routine screening of carry-on property at airport security checkpoints and the vast majority of the firearms found were loaded with ammunition.

Below is a summary of TSA firearm discoveries from 2018 to 2021:





PHX totals:





National totals:





* January 1st through May 31st.

Anytime a TSA officer spots the image of a handgun on the x-ray screen, TSA immediately stops all screening and notifies the City of Phoenix Police Department Airport Division, which responds to the security checkpoint. A law enforcement officer takes control of the firearm and removes the passenger and the weapon from the checkpoint.

In addition to potential criminal citations, travelers face civil penalties of up to $13,000 for bringing firearms to the security checkpoint. TSA evaluates each firearm incident on a case-by-case basis, but factors considered when determining the civil penalty amount are whether the firearm was loaded and whether there was accessible ammunition. Even if a traveler has a concealed weapons permit, firearms are never permitted in carry-on luggage.

How to travel with a firearm on a commercial aircraft

TSA and airport officials want travelers to know that firearms can be transported on a commercial aircraft only if they are unloaded, packed in a locked, hard-sided case and placed in checked baggage. Ammunition should be placed in its original packaging. Any type of replica firearm or firearm parts are also prohibited in carry-on baggage and must be transported in checked luggage.

At the airport during the check-in process, a passenger needs to go to the airline ticket counter to declare the firearm, ammunition and any firearm parts. Prior to traveling, passengers are encouraged to check gun laws and regulations at their destination to ensure they are in compliance with local and state laws. TSA also recommends travelers check with their airline prior to their flight to ensure they comply with any airline-specific requirements.

TSA has additional traveler information specifically related to the transportation of firearms and ammunition.

TSA reminds passengers to be aware of the contents of their carry-on bag prior to coming to the security checkpoint. TSA has multiple resources available to passengers to help them determine whether an item is permitted in carry-on baggage, checked baggage or not at all.

Travelers can use the “Can I Bring?” feature on the TSA website or on the TSA mobile app, myTSA. Travelers can also Tweet or Message “@AskTSA” if they have a travel question or are unsure if an item is allowed through security in a carry-on bag. Just snap a picture or send a question and get real-time assistance weekdays from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. MST and 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. MST weekends.