If you’re a nervous flier, read no further. If you’re fairly confident you’ll be willing and able to board a plane again after discovering how absolutely barking mad your seatmates are, continue on.
Every once in a while, reports of the contraband passengers attempt to smuggle past the Transportation Security Administration manage to infest the Internet almost as thoroughly as their 3D scanners invade your being. TSA airport inspectors have found cannonballs and eels and rocket launchers.
People seem to be constantly strapping weapons to their legs and stuffing them in their shoes. Notably, in 2011, a man was found to be concealing seven snakes in his pants. And that’s just for starters.
About a year ago, the organization’s social media team, led by a 12-year veteran of TSA named Bob Burns, launched an Instagram feed. Over its run so far, the filtered, captioned, and heavily hashtagged feed has morphed into an incredible trove of photos documenting the most absurd things people try to bring on planes.
Because the only thing better than a gun with Jesse James’ face on it is knives disguised as a gun and bullet with Jesse James’ face on it. In the caption, passengers are educated to the rule: “All knives (including knives that look like guns) are prohibited in carry-on bags.” The outlaw would undoubtedly have been smoother.
Apparently TSA is into the throwback Thursday trend. They posted this picture from Washington Reagan airport in 2011 with the #TBT hashtag. These two 6.5 inch throwing knives were apparently neatly tucked into a hollowed out book on ninjas. The caption kindly reminds fliers that, “#Ninja books are permitted, throwing knives are not.”
The photos are curated by Burns, who dubs himself “Blogger Bob” and is based in Ohio. He first pulls incident reports from airports around the country and then requests pictures from those that strike his fancy. “I’ll ask for a photograph and a lot of times I’ll be surprised by what I see,” Burns recently told Wired. “A lot of times I’m not even sure what the photo’s going to look like—the report might just say ‘a four-inch knife,’ but for all I know it could be a steak knife or it could be one of these fantasy Klingon knives.”
Seriously? Who thought this was going to fly? This terrifying-looking Improvised Explosive Device is actually a training kit for explosives instructors. “People that need to travel with inert explosives training aids should plan ahead and contact their preferred shipper about mailing the items to their destination,” the TSA advices.
No words. Someone in Oakland checked a couple suitcases filled with 81lbs of marijuana, barely concealed, it seems, by a few items of clothing. “[W]hen contraband is found, it must be reported to local law enforcement. Especially when it's 81 pounds of contraband.”
The photos, Burns says, serve to warn future fliers about prohibited items and ensure the consequences are clearly explained. They also serve as a sprinkling of PR magic, serving to assure the public that the TSA—which isn’t known its popularity—is watching and enforcing the rules. In addition to contraband, the team posts photos of drug- and bomb-sniffing dogs, their handlers, and security lanes touting the recent “Pre-Check” expedited option.
The TSA also documents overall confiscations on its blog. A regular “Week in Review” post shares notable discoveries and a charted tally of firearms, including where they were found and whether or not—scarily enough—rounds were loaded in the chamber. At the end of June, there was a noted proliferation of credit card knives, and in the week abutting the Fourth of July, 33 firearms were confiscated.
A common source of confusion among American fliers appears to be the ban on replica or inactive weaponry. Example: this 60mm mortar round more than a foot in length discovered at Washington Dulles. “Oops I forgot to unpack my mortar,” a commenter joked.
*Please don’t let this person ever be on my plane.* This futuristic throwing star with six—yes, six—fold-out blades was plucked from the carry-on of a Las Vegas passenger.
The tone of the commentary is often cheeky and funny. Take this helpful list of things not to say at an airport posted online:
An Albuquerque (ABQ) passenger stated the following to a gate agent: “I have explosives in my pocket. We all have bombs. I have cyanide in my wallet.” He didn’t have explosives or cyanide.
A Rochester (ROC) passenger approached a ticket counter to check in and stated to the ticket agent that he had a bomb in his bag. He didn’t have a bomb in his bag.
Paging Batman: You can’t fly with those things. Using questionable hashtagging, TSA explained that “these #batarangs” were found in Newark.
Is there a medieval horseman on this plane? This spiked ball-on-a-chain, known as a “morning star,” was confiscated from a passenger in Chicago.
In 2013, TSA tallied up a total of 1,813 firearms—nearly five per day—most of which were loaded. Atlanta’s airport took the unsavory prize for most intercepted. But for all the passengers TSA screens—638,705,790 last year, to be precise—the guns-to-customers ratio is actually reassuringly low.
Just remember: These people—disguising knives in combs and swords in canes and, perhaps most worrisome of all, other terrifying weapons with no camouflage at all—are on your plane. Enough scrolling through the TSA Instagram feed before takeoff and you won’t be getting a wink of sleep on that red eye.