Hear “Transportation Security Administration” and you imagine stern-faced agents inspecting carry-ons. But the TSA as social media mavens? You bet. The agency became an unlikely phenom thanks to its Instagram feed featuring seized weaponry (brass knuckles, knives disguised as lipsticks, grenades, plain old guns and ammo) and other contraband (tiny snakes, giant drug stashes) interspersed with tail-wagging K-9 officers and #TSATravelTips (it’s okay to pack a pecan pie—who knew?).
Designed for “passenger education,” the @TSA account “developed a cult following, with over 210,000 followers,” says Mark Howell, TSA spokesperson for the region that includes Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Fast Company named TSA one of the 10 top social media innovators of 2015.
In Atlanta, Howell notes, novel discoveries spike around Labor Day. “When DragonCon’s in town, that’s when some interesting things come through.”
A Bat Signal–shaped throwing star was the first item to go viral. This year, credit card knives are trending, says Howell.
#TSAcatch: This throwing star was discovered in a carry-on bag this week at the Buffalo Niagara (#BUF) International Airport. Martial arts weapons are prohibited from being carried in your carry-on baggage and may be illegal depending on what state you’re in. You can learn more about prohibited items at the #TSA web page. http://www.tsa.gov/traveler-information/prohibited-items
The TSA posted this ATL-seized 5.7×28 mm pistol on Instagram the same day that media outlets reported Waka Flocka Flame had been busted taking a gun on a plane, leading to TMZ speculation that the loaded firearm in question belonged to the rapper.
#TSACatch – This 5.7X28mm pistol was discovered in a carry-on bag today at the #Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson (#ATL) International Airport. It was loaded with 29 rounds plus one in the chamber. This could have been legally packed in checked baggage. Learn more about traveling with firearms at TSA.gov. A photo posted by TSA (@tsa) on
With 109 seized guns, Atlanta ranked second for confiscated firearms in 2014, ceding the top spot to Dallas-Fort Worth. “Four years running, Atlanta was number one. That it dropped while the rest of the country went up is saying something,” notes Howell.
This inert hand grenade was found in Atlanta. Grenades—real and novelty—frequently cause screening delays.
#TSACatch – This inert grenade was discovered in a carry-on bag at the Hartsfield-Jackson #Atlanta International Airport. Items such as this grenade can cause significant delays while the explosives detection professionals resolve the alarm. Grenades, real or otherwise, are prohibited from both carry-on and checked baggage. A photo posted by TSA (@tsa) on
A few other notable finds
#TSAGoodCatch – This loaded firearm was discovered in a carry-on bag at the #Atlanta (#ATL) International Airport. Travelers can be fined up to $11,000.00 for having a firearm on their person or in their carry-on bag. Learn how to properly travel with firearms in checked baggage at: http://bit.ly/TravelingWithFirearms A photo posted by TSA (@tsa) on
#TSAGoodCatch – These replica sticks of dynamite were discovered in a checked bag at the McCarran (#LasVegas #LAS) International Airport. TSA officers don’t know items such as these are inert until explosives detection professionals, along with law enforcement, remove the item and resolve the alarm. This most likely will cause a closure of our checked baggage operations, which will lead to delayed bags and/or flights. Dynamite, inert or otherwise, is prohibited from both carry-on and checked bags. A photo posted by TSA (@tsa) on
#TSACatch – TSA’s screening procedures, which are governed by federal law, are focused on security and are designed to detect potential threats to aviation and passengers. As has always been the case, if during the security screening procedures an officer discovers an item that may violate federal law, TSA refers the matter to law enforcement. This was the case after our officers discovered an anomaly inside a peanut butter jar in a checked bag at #Denver (#DEN) International Airport.
#TSACatch – These giant scissors and assorted knives were discovered in the carry-on bags of several travelers at the #Seattle #Tacoma (#SEA) International airport. While knives are not permitted in carry-on bags, you may pack scissors with blades less than 4″ long. #TSATravelTips A photo posted by TSA (@tsa) on
#TBT – In August 2011 at the #Miami International Airport (#MIA), seven small snakes (stuffed in nylon stockings) were discovered in a traveler’s pants. In addition to the snakes, he also had three small turtles. The snakes and turtles were found using TSA’s Advanced Imaging Technology which allows TSA officers to find potential threat items concealed from plain sight. @USFWS officers arrived on the scene and took custody of the reptiles. The passenger was arrested and charged with violating the Lacey Act.
And to lighten the mood, here’s a TSA dog at work
This article originally appeared in our April 2015 issue.