Story highlights

TSA Administrator John Pistole gives update on "behavior detection"

Travel industry still concerned about checkpoint congestion

TSA: More than 900 weapons have been recovered at checkpoints this year

Washington CNN  — 

Federal airport screeners still find four to five guns at checkpoints on a typical day, the Transportation Security Administration’s chief told a Senate hearing Wednesday.

“Yesterday we found six, including one at … Bradley (airport in Connecticut) – a loaded gun with seven rounds in it, in a checked bag that (a passenger) was trying to get through,” Administrator John Pistole said.

Passengers typically say they forgot the weapon was in their bag, TSA officials said. But in one recent case, a passenger at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport tried to board a plane with two pistols, three ammunition magazines, eight knives and a hand saw in a carry-on bag, the TSA said. That passenger was arrested by local law enforcement.

More than 900 guns have been recovered at checkpoints this year, the TSA says.

At a wide-ranging Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing, Pistole mentioned the Connecticut gun find as evidence of the effectiveness of the agency. Pistole also touted his program to expedite screening for trusted travelers, full-body scanners which can find nonmetallic items and “Behavior Detection Officers,” some of whom now question passengers in an effort to ferret out terrorists.

More than 150,000 people have gone through the “expanded” behavior detection at Boston Logan International Airport, Pistole said.

“We’ve had probably a dozen or so people who were referred to law enforcement because of their response,” he said. “And it turned out, some of these individuals had outstanding warrants for them. Some were illegal immigrants.”

Pistole said the expanded behavior detection is being tested in Boston and Detroit, adding, “I want to get the data from those two airports before I make any decisions whether to expand it or not.” He said he would report back to the committee on the results at the test airports.

Senators at the hearing generally praised the TSA for its work. But members of the travel industry, who testified after Pistole, said that current passenger-screening procedures were stifling travel and need to be improved.

“Since 2004, TSA’s overall budget has increased by 68%. During the same time period, passenger levels have remained almost the same,” said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. “TSA is spending more money each year to screen the same amount of passengers.”

Dow cited a 2008 survey in which 28% of air travelers said they avoided at least one trip because of the hassles of air travel, which included aviation congestion and passenger screening.

Airline fees for checked luggage are prompting people to bring more carry-on bags, adding to checkpoint congestion, Dow said.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-Louisiana, said she would introduce legislation requiring airlines to include at least one bag in the price of a ticket, in an effort to reverse the trend and speed up inspections at checkpoints.