How the TSA became an Instagram star

The cult account has a following of over 210,000

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.”

Throwing star
A Bat Signal–shaped throwing star was the first item to go viral. This year, credit card knives are trending, says Howell.


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.


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.

A few other notable finds


And to lighten the mood, here’s a TSA dog at work

This article originally appeared in our April 2015 issue.