Miami's Vice: Thousands of Pounds of Alcohol Destroyed Monthly at Airport

Liquor is causing a peculiar brand of trouble at Miami International Airport, and it's not drunken behavior.

Since the Transport Security Administration's 3-1-1 campaign began, liquid items have been restricted in carry-on luggage to 3-ounce containers in one quart-size, clear, plastic, zip-top bag per passenger.

In Miami, many travelers have not received the message that this policy applies to bottles of alcohol they may be carrying home from a sunny vacation in the Caribbean.

Travelers from Europe are adding to the load too.

"They are allowed to buy duty-free items and have them onboard in a sealed bag, but they need to realize that they must pack this bag into their checked luggage before connecting to their domestic flight where they'll have to pass through a security check," says Sari Koshetz, a TSA spokesperson.

Duty-Free Downer

Though the regulation has been in place since last summer, Miami travelers still attempt to take large bottles of liquids -- mainly alcohol -- through security checkpoints regularly.

"In February, 6,267 pounds of hazardous materials, mostly alcohol and a small amount of perfume, was surrendered to us," says Koshetz.

Each Miami checkpoint is now outfitted with lockers and cabinets to house what the TSA call "hazmats" -- contraband rum, vodka, tequila and the occasional perfume bottle.

Miami's popularity as a cruise ship port factors into the problem, explains Miami Dade Aviation Department spokesman Marc Henderson.

"[Travelers] are coming in from the cruises, which means they areeither buying their liquor where they got off of the cruise, which could be one of several ports of call, or they are buying it off the ship."

These duty free purchases are slightly less expensive than what vacationers might find at home, and so the impulse is to buy.

Burning the Bottles

"We don't confiscate alcohol. Travelers have the option to box their spirits and place them in checked luggage -- even if that means going back out to check-in," says Koshetz.

Nonetheless, many are handing over their latest vacation purchases to the TSA.

"I think that, unfortunately, people don't either get the information, or sometimes you do things absent-mindedly you forget, you are in a hurry, your mind is on … getting to your destination," says Henderson.

Absent-minded travelers in Miami have surrendered 9 tons of alcohol since the 3-ounce rule went into effect, and to no good cause.

According to the TSA, every two to three days, because of volume, the airport lockers are cleared and every single bottle is assembled at a warehouse off the airport property.

"We have a national contract with the SAIC [Science Applications International Corp.] to come and take it away in truckloads," says Koshetz. "We get a notice from them to tell us that it has been destroyed by incineration."

Miami Airport Security Director Lauren Stover said, "Quite truthfully we would rather [travelers] take it with them."

Stover says the surrendered items have become a nuisance to airport security and travelers, prompting officials to address the problem.

"We called together a meeting with the cruise lines and the airlines and the Convention and Visitor's Bureau and had everybody in a room and basically said 'no one's walking out of here until we come up with some sort of a solution'," she said.

Get the Word Out Better

"We asked leadership at both the cruise lines and the airlines to assist us in this," said Koshetz. "We gave them letters, posters and overhead announcements. There will be notices in cabins on cruise ships, announcements on buses. It needs to be made glaringly obvious."

Koshetz is also working to substitute some 3-1-1 signs to say that an item like alcohol is tax-free, but it's not restriction free.

While February's figure of 6,267 pounds remains high, it is an improvement on the 9,564 pounds collected in November last year before more attention was applied to better signage over the Christmas period.

"It's still a sad number," said Koshetz. "We want to keep passengers safe, but we also want them to be able to enjoy their purchases, so educating people about TSA's restrictions is key."

Henderson worries that this will have a ripple effect, affecting the tourism in Miami.

"We are a major tourism site both seaport and airport," he explained. "We want tourists to come here on a consistent basis. If people are not getting the word or having to 'pour their liquor out' before they get to the security checkpoint, that's a big hit."

So with no end to the 3-1-1 campaign in sight, the TSA suggests getting comfortable with the rules so that drinkable vacation souvenirs get to go home with you.

Additional reporting by Nadine Rubin