TSA to Panthers fans: Don’t bring guns to the airport

The scene at Charlotte Douglas International Airport Tuesday, November 17, 2015.
The scene at Charlotte Douglas International Airport Tuesday, November 17, 2015. dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

The Transportation Safety Administration has a message for people traveling to watch the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50: Leave your guns at home.

Through January, the TSA has already found six guns at Charlotte Douglas International Airport checkpoints, according to spokeswoman Sari Koshetz. Most guns found in carry-on bags have been accidentally left there by their owners, often in a pocket they don’t use frequently and forget to check before heading to their flight.

“There are some people that come out that haven’t traveled in years,” she said.

The number of travelers heading to Santa Clara, Calif., won’t be anything compared to the tens of thousands who swamp Charlotte Douglas during the peak travel weeks around Thanksgiving and Christmas. But airlines are anticipating extra travelers, and they’ve added flights to accommodate the demand.

American Airlines, the biggest carrier at Charlotte Douglas, has added two flights from Charlotte to San Francisco on Feb. 5, along with a nonstop direct flight to San Jose. The company has added three return flights after the game. JetBlue added a Charlotte-San Jose flight and return trip, and United added an extra Charlotte-San Francisco flight before the game, as well as a return flight.

Travel website Orbitz said Monday that average airfare from Charlotte to the San Francisco area rose 64 percent after the Panthers beat the Arizona Cardinals and secured their trip to the Super Bowl, reflecting higher demand.

Anyone with a gun at a Charlotte Douglas checkpoint faces automatic arrest by airport police officers and fines of up to $11,000, as well as confiscation of their weapon. Other weapons and prohibited items, such as knives, nunchuks, fireworks and even baseball bats and wrenches (Yes, TSA has confiscated all of those and more) can also get travelers in hot water.

In 2015, the TSA discovered 42 guns at Charlotte Douglas checkpoints. January’s six seizures mean the airport is already on pace to nearly double that. Koshetz said other airports are also seeing higher numbers of guns discovered so far this year.

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo