With four airlines now serving the Minot International Airport, at least 10 and sometimes up to 14 flights are scheduled daily, which is well up from the years prior to the population boom due in large part to the activity on the Bakken Formation, according to airport director Andy Solsvig.
With better travel opportunities, people need to be ever more vigilant of security protocol, as one mistake could have unexpected consequences.
The Minot Police Department responded to two calls from Transportation Security Administration officers reporting weapons at the airport Sunday.
Two women who went through this screening area administered by the Transportation Security Administration at the Minot International Airport Sunday were caught with weapons, but were ultimately allowed to make their flights because terrorist intent was not suspected.
Three weapons were seized, including a knife and two stun guns. In this case both women found with the weapons were allowed to make their flights because the police believe the weapons in their purses had just slipped their minds and there was no terrorist intent. Still, warrants have been sought for their arrests at a later date and they may be prosecuted for Class B misdemeanors.
"We do get a lot more out-of-state travelers now," Solsvig said. "With more travelers comes more luggage and everything else. People just need to be aware of what they're packing and how they pack it."
"Many passengers who bring prohibited items to the checkpoint say they forgot they had them in their bag or didn't know they weren't allowed to bring them," said TSA spokesperson Carrie Harmon. "We urge travelers to visit the TSA.gov website to see a list of prohibited items and then to check their bags carefully before coming to the airport."
In the case of the weapons found Sunday, and all weapons other than flares which are fully prohibited there would have been no problem if they had been packed in checked luggage, according to the TSA's official listing of prohibited and permitted items (1.usa.gov/QS8aaf). Some weapons, like guns, should be declared to security personnel, as there are some restrictions in place.
In short, a firearm must be declared, unloaded, and locked in a hard container. Ammunition up to a .75 mm caliber may be included in the same container as the gun as long as it is properly stored within its own ammunition case. Larger calibers must be stored separately.
Bladed weapons such as knives can also be checked on a plane as long as they are properly sheathed and stowed so as not to injure an inspecting security officer or a baggage handler.
Prosecution of people who transport weapons or drugs in Ward County have so far been "few and far between," according to Christene Reierson, an assistant state's attorney for Ward County.
In her four years with the office Reierson has seen only one person arrested for attempting to transport a weapon and one person arrested for attempting to transport marijuana through TSA security, although she said that is her personal experience and there may have been more.
"It's coming from the standpoint that, really, the TSA is in control of this," Reierson said. "If TSA confiscates something and it's a done deal then it's over," but they also have the ability to call in to the local police and turn the matter over to the law. "Our office isn't going to get involved unless law enforcement gets involved and the only way law enforcement gets involved is if TSA contacts them."
"Referral for criminal investigation and enforcement is appropriate where there appears to be a violation of criminal laws," according to the TSA's Enforcement Sanction Guidance Policy. "Criminal penalties and fines are different and wholly separate from the civil penalties assessed by TSA."
Despite having been issued blue police-like uniforms equipped with metal badges in 2008, TSA security officers are not law-enforcement officers and do not have the power to arrest.
The process can be compared to that of a gas drive-off at a gas station, Reierson said. The gas stations will have video surveillance systems in place and will have identifying information about the drive-off, like a license plate number. It will then be up to the gas station to determine whether the matter will be handled privately or if they wish to press charges and turn the situation over to police.
"Just make sure to grab all your items that you had sat down with," Solsvig said about the biggest problem facing the Minot airport in particular. According to him losing items at the airport and on the plane is a regular occurrence and can ruin a passenger's travels. "If there is anything of importance make sure there is a contact phone number or other contact information on that item ... because if those items are lost somewhere along the way then that person can be contacted."