These are the weirdest weapons confiscated by the TSA
Credit: TSA Instagram

These are the weirdest weapons confiscated by the TSA

WASHINGTON — David Johnston stands over a table full of peculiar items confiscated at Dulles International Airport: A glittery clutch with brass knuckles as a clasp. A perfume bottle shaped like a grenade. A rusted circular saw blade. A pocket-sized pitchfork.

None of those are quite right. Then Johnston sees it: A guitar shaped like a semi-automatic rifle. Bingo. It will do nicely for the Transportation and Security Administration’s social media accounts.

Johnston, TSA’s social media director, is following in the footsteps of Curtis “Bob” Burns, who created unlikely internet buzz for the not-always-beloved agency by showcasing the weirdest stuff travellers pack in their carry-ons. He died suddenly in October at age 48.


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Yes, you may pack your brick in a checked bag, but please leave your mortar at home. … Excuse us while we play with words. And yes, people have packed mortars and inert mortar shells in the past. But that’s enough talk about bricks and mortars! Read below about our fantabulous AskTSA team. They’re standing by to answer your questions! … This picture is a screenshot of a tweet that was sent to our AskTSA team. … Have you ever wondered whether or not you can pack a certain item? If you’re a regular follower of this account, I’m sure you can think of many situations where it would have behooved somebody to send us a picture first. Well, fret no more! Now you can do just that! … Simply snap a picture and tweet it to AskTSA (, or send it via Facebook Messenger ( and our team will get back to you promptly with an answer. … And that’s not all! Contact the team about any TSA related issue or question you might have. They can even help you if you don’t see TSA Pre✓® on your boarding pass. … Check out our new EXTENDED HOURS! The team looks forward to answering your questions, 8am-10pm on weekdays, and 9am-7pm on weekends and holidays . #AskTSA #TSATravelTips #TSA … #RandomQoute – “The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.” ~ Douglas Adams … #TSA #AskTSA #42

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Burns’ work created a model for other federal agencies. The quirky photos combined with a hefty dose of dad humour helped lure in more than a million followers on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, who would then see important messages about the dos and don’ts of airline travel.

“How are we going to replace Bob? The reality is we can’t,” said Johnston. “We had a unique situation with him, but we can still be entertaining and help people as we find our way forward without him.”


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It’s #TBT time, and we thought we’d give a shout out to our good friends at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (@USFWS). If you love wildlife, you’ll love their account! … The following pictures are from when officers discovered smuggled wildlife in luggage. When we find animals being smuggled, we contact the USFWS who respond to the scene. … Eels!!! The eels were discovered in 2012 in a checked bag at the Miami International Airport (MIA). Among many other things, the traveler was attempting to transport 163 marine tropical fish and 22 invertebrates to Maracaibo. The passenger surrendered the items to the USFWS. One could say this was a really good catch. ???? … Snake In a hard drive! Discovered earlier this year, a traveler on her way from MIA to Barbados attempted to smuggle a snakelet inside of an external hard drive. The USFWS responded and took possession of the snake and cited the traveler. Both the traveler and the snake missed their flight. As we said in our original post, this python had not gone full monty. It was wearing a nylon stocking. … Bottled Seahorses. There’s nothing funny about dead seahorses. In 2012, an oversized bottle of liquor was detected in a carry-on bag at Detroit (DTW). Not only was the large bottle of liquor prohibited, but so were the five dead endangered seahorses inside the bottle. … Smuggling is not for the birds! Two birds were discovered during a pat-down in 2011 at LAX. They were wrapped in socks and taped to the leg and chest of a woman who was traveling to China. The USFWS responded and arrested the woman on suspicion of smuggling and exporting an endangered species out of the United States. … Snakes almost on a plane! In August 2011 at MIA, seven small snakes stuffed in nylon stockings were discovered in a traveler’s pants after being screened in a body scanner. In addition to the snakes, he also had three small turtles [Insert inappropriate jokes here]. The USFWS officers arrived on the scene and took custody of the reptiles. The passenger was arrested and charged with violating the Lacey Act. … #TSA #USFWS #SnakesAlmostOnAPlane ???? ???? ✈️ @usinterior

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On the blog, Burns shared a weekly count of firearms that TSA officers found at checkpoints nationwide. He did a summary of knives and all matter of other bizarre and sometimes scary items that travellers had stuffed into their bags, pockets, purses or briefcases.

In one Instagram post, someone tried to bring on a glove with razors for fingers and Burns (naturally) made a “Nightmare on Elm Street” joke.

“It’s safe to sleep on Elm Street again. Freddy lost his glove at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL).”

The agency’s Instagram account won three Webby awards last year, including the People’s Voice Award for weird social content marketing. In his acceptance speech, Burns eyed the award, shook it and declared: “This Webby is carry-on approved!”

Johnston, who worked with Burns for about three years, and has been in government jobs for nearly a decade, has tried to keep it up all on his own, but it’s been tough.

Johnston sent out a Valentine’s Day post that showed off a throwing star, axe and double-edged dagger confiscated from a passenger’s carry-on bag. (“Safe travels, you romantic fool!”) And it was national puppy day recently, so that was an excuse for a photo of Cole, a big-eyed TSA explosives detection dog.

TSA is growing its social media staff – bringing in three more workers to expand its social media presence. The staff will continue to use fodder sent in by officers around the country, who seize all manner of unusual items people try to bring onboard. But it’s hard to find people who have both the government know-how and a sense of humour that resonates.

Johnston said the thing that made Burns’ posts so special was Burns himself. “When you look at his posts, you’re seeing a window into his soul. It really was from his heart, he was a fun, happy guy.”


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Sometimes, air travel can make you a little crabby. … #ThrowbackThursday to July 27, 2017 at the Boston Logan International Airport (BOS). … There’s no sidestepping it. This crusty critter was in a pinch. Nothing is known as to how or why he was there, but there he was. Alone. In a bowl. In Boston. He had been scuttled by his human. There is no “rest of the story” here. We don’t have any records of the event other than this photo. … Now we imagine you’re wondering if you can travel with crabs. You can! Crabs are allowed in carry-on and checked bags. We’ll screen them, but it’s strongly recommended that you contact your airline for any specific guidelines or packaging requirements. … #RandomFact – Abandoned crabs can end up in hot water.

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Burns’ sister-in-law, Candy Creech, said he had a dry sense of humour and a hefty dose of patriotism: He had served in the Gulf War. Burns had worked in airports before taking over social media and believed there was public negativity around TSA. He wanted to change that.

“And I think he felt he could change that by communicating with people in a way that wasn’t scolding,” she said. “He was one of a kind.”

During a TSA Facebook live, “Ask Me Anything” episode last year, Burns said the success of the account was partly due to the shock value.

“People don’t come to a government Instagram account and expert to see humour,” Burns said, “And they also don’t expect to see these crazy things that people are trying to bring on a plane.”

At Dulles, in the prohibited items section, Johnston sees a few possibilities for TSA’s YouTube series called “They Brought What?” including a large snow globe with big a white fairy imprisoned in some kind of liquid (It’s creepy and it has liquid, so they can highlight the liquid restrictions.)

He passes over the four pairs of nunchucks (Yawn. You can’t believe how many people bring those) and a handful of pocket knives. He stops at a large bullet from Afghanistan that has been altered to be a cigarette lighter and pen.


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Even if not real, replica or inert explosives are not allowed, at all, in carry-on or checked bags. Never. Nay. Nope. Negatory. Yeah, no… … While the actual item here looks a bit Wile E. Coyote-ish, the X-ray image was far more realistic. … When our officers spot a potential explosive on the X-ray monitor, they cannot just take the traveler’s word that the item is not real. A TSA Explosives Specialist or Police Department Bomb Squad must respond before the bag is ever opened. This can lead to costly evacuations, delays, and missed flights while explosives professionals determine whether the item is real or not. These types of items can lead to hefty fines and arrest. … This replica Improvised Explosive Device (IED) was in a traveler’s carry-on bag at the Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD). As a result, the checkpoint was closed for a total of 19 minutes before the Chicago Police Bomb Squad was able to respond and clear the item.

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“The things people think of,” he says. Turning more serious for a moment, Johnston notes the importance of showing off these items, especially to people who aren’t well-travelled.

“The bottom line is our social media pages makes travellers better informed so they have a better experience and it frees up our officers to do what they need to do – look for the bad actors,” he says.

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