MEM warns of carrying BBQ sauce on airplanes amid increasing passenger numbers

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Memphis International Airport saw its second largest number of passengers come through the airport since 2011, prompting airport officials to issue a saucy safety warning.

At the airport’s check-in gates, a sign warns passengers not to bring more than 3.4 ounces of liquid in their carry-on luggage, but not just any liquid. During Memphis in May, barbecue sauce often becomes a contraband item in carry-ons for TSA.

A sign at MEM check-in gates directs passengers to put barbecue sauce in their checked bags, rather than in carry-ons.

“They (TSA) actually see about a 25% increase in the number of carry-on bags that they’re screening during May,” Glen Thomas, public information officer for MEM, said. “And barbecue sauce is something that’s frequently found. Of course, with all the activities going on in May here, it’s understandable. But it has been somewhat of an issue for them.”

Thomas said the barbecue sauce sign acts as a warning for all airport travelers to check their carry-on bags, so TSA agents can get everyone through the security checkpoint quicker. That quickness becomes important as the number of passengers through MEM begins to take off.

May 13 saw the largest number of passengers come through MEM so far in 2019, and the day was the second busiest day at the airport since 2011, when the airport still served as a hub.

A total of 9,468 passengers went through security that day, a 12% increase from the same day in 2018.

Thomas said this increase is because Memphis in May events coincide with schools letting out for the summer, bringing both tourists and vacationers through the airport. He also said the airport has seen a good bit of growth in the past year.

“When we get to this point when school starts getting out, and you’re seeing travel increase, especially as people go on vacation, as well as Memphis in May activities that draw tourists here, it’s very encouraging for us to see these growth trends continue,” Thomas said. “And we know that we’re going to have a very busy summer.”

Since the end of being a hub in 2013, MEM has exceeded 9,000 passengers in a day only 10 times. Nine of those 10 days were in the last year, and three of them happened this May.

Thomas said the airport always sees more traffic during the summer, but Memphis in May adds to that crowd of passengers.

“May brings a whole lot of tourists to Memphis and visitors to Memphis with the attractions like the Music Fest and the Barbecue Contest, so that contributes a lot to our passenger growth,” Thomas said.

But the latter of those Memphis in May events seems to add a new, but flavorful, problem to airport security.

In true Memphis style, dry-rub barbecue may be more safe to take onto an airplane. On the same sign, airport officials encouraged, but did not require, passengers to also put barbecue seasonings in their checked luggage instead of in carry-on bags.

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