Nation & World

Swords? Lobsters? Movie corpse? TSA Instagram shows what people try to take on planes

The TSA's funny, cheeky Instagram account recently won three Webby awards for its work informing and educating air travelers.
The TSA's funny, cheeky Instagram account recently won three Webby awards for its work informing and educating air travelers. Instagram/TSA

Earlier this month, someone tried to board a plane at the Greater Rochester International Airport in New York with a crucifix.

Only it wasn't just a crucifix. It was a pocketknife, too. The blade popped out from right under Jesus' feet.

The Transportation Security Administration confiscated the blade and posted this warning to its Instagram page: "All knives, no matter their size or denomination, are prohibited from being carried onto the plane."

Last month, the TSA used its social media to remind travelers that swords are a no-no when it comes to carry-on items.

"We expected this would happen once they started offering direct flights from San Antonio to Gondor," the agency's Instagram snarked.

If you haven't noticed, the TSA's Instagram has gotten downright cheeky, using humor and snark to offer travel tips, including what can and can't take be taken aboard a plane.

Live lobsters? Allowed.

Aunt Blanche's knives? Come on now.

The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences has noticed the TSA's work on Instagram, where it has more than 885,000 followers.

Last week the association, for the first time, gave three of its Webby Awards for internet excellence to the TSA's Instagram account for Marketing/Corporate Communications, Social Content Marketing/Weird and the People’s Voice Award: Social Content Marketing/Weird.

“When people come to our account, they’re surprised we’ve got an Instagram, first of all," Bob Burns, the man who started the account in 2013, told NBC News.

"Secondly, they’re kind of taken aback by the tone we use — in a good way. 'Is this really a government agency having fun and talking to me like I’m a human?'"

Burns, 47, the agency's social media manager, said in a statement that the TSA is not in the "entertainment business, but mixing humor with our messaging has been a very successful formula for us, and I’m glad IADAS as well as our followers have recognized and appreciated that."

TSA agent Bob Burns lists the weirdest things agents have found in carry-on and checked bags in 2017.

Last summer he had some fun at a lobster's expense when someone at Boston Logan came through a checkpoint with a live crustacean.

"This is proof that lobsters are allowed in carry-on and checked bags," Burns wrote on Instagram. "As you can imagine, they’re a popular item at New England airports. Just check with your airline first for packing guidelines. Oh, in case you were wondering, butter and cheddar biscuits are permitted as well."

Burns started at the TSA as a screener at Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport in 2002 and volunteered for any job he could. His work as spokesman for a TSA advisory council caught the notice of TSA bosses who asked him to start a blog for the agency in 2008, according to NBC.

"Around 2011 we started sharing some of the crazy things that people tried to, attempted to bring through TSA checkpoints," Burns explained in a Facebook Live interview in December. "And they were so popular. And I had been using Instagram personally and I knew there was a love of quirky images on Instagram.

"Sure enough, I started sharing the images on Instagram and it just kind of blew up."

The account got a boost after late-night host Jimmy Kimmel talked about it on his show, teasing that the TSA uses "more hashtags than a 13-year-old girl."

"We're actually changing the conversation from 'I had to wait in this line, TSA is so horrible,' to 'Did you see what TSA is finding? Now I understand why I have to wait in these lines. There's all this crazy stuff,'" Burns told NBC.

All the photos on the Instagram account are taken by TSA supervisors at airport checkpoints. The lighting isn't the best.

Burns confirmed in his Facebook Live interview that the photos show real items that real people really tried to get past security. Nothing is staged.

One of the craziest items brought to a checkpoint was a life-size corpse, a movie prop from the "Texas Chain Saw Massacre." A passenger in Atlanta wheeled it right up to the checkpoint and it fit on the conveyor belt.

The TSA's Instagram isn't all just shock-and-awe, though. Burns likes to spotlight the TSA's four-legged employees, too.

"It's a very important balance," he told NBC. "There's a cheekiness to it, but I also try to educate and provide travel tips. A lot of officers say that they appreciate that, that it makes their job easier."