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Is it a gun or a knife?Is it a gun or a knife?*

The Ten Weirdest Things People Have Tried to Take through TSA at Airports

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People try to get away with taking ridiculous objects on passenger airplanes all the time. The reason it is even more ridiculous than in the past is because we have such extreme security measures nowadays. Sure people will attempt to sneak the occasional 16 oz. bottle of water but that is not so outlandish as what I am about to discuss. Thanks to, TSA workers have shared their stories of the strangest stuff people try to bring on board. Ironically passengers do it all the time.


People try to smuggle exotic animals (mostly fish and birds) through security on a surprisingly regular basis. Many of these happen when a traveler is taking an international flight. The most common perpetrator seems to be water filled plastic bags filled with rare fish. We all know liquids are forbidden from planes yet some people seem to forget that rule.

Two instances involving birds consist of a flamingo snugly concealed amongst many pillows and a raven! My personal favorite story is of a passenger who snuck their hermit crab on the plane as a child and the little guy rode in their pocket the entire flight unnoticed.

This little guy is trained to sniff out explosives.  Yes I'm exploiting how cute he is.This little guy is trained to sniff out explosives. Yes I'm exploiting how cute he is.*People

This slightly more disturbing item usually comes in the form of adults trying to stow away children small enough to fit into suitcases to avoid paying for airline tickets.

One case in particular dealt with a baby being secured inside of a suitcase. When questioned about this the parents reasoned the flight was only 45 minutes and they did not want to suffer the pains of having to keep the infant quiet during the flight. What about keeping it alive?


For various reasons this happens more than one may assume. A TSA worker handled a bag from Haiti filled with different kinds of human remains—bones, teeth, vials of blood and dried skin. The strangest instance was a family carting their dead relative in a suitcase. They said he was sleeping.

Dead creatures

As it turns out animals are pretty popular to smuggle on board regardless of their living condition. Dead pets, bones and teeth (for scientific) research tend to be the most common of these types. The more unexpected side leans to hunters carrying parts of the deceased animals in special meat containers to keep them frozen.

Sharp things

The most typical offender for this category is Asian swords. Tourists are likely to bring them as decorative relics which may explain why it is easy for them to overlook that they are still weapons!  Clearing it through customs is hard but recommended for safety precautions.

This is a hatchet confiscated at Boston Regional.This is a hatchet confiscated at Boston Regional.*
Aside from the culture appreciating tourist, live action role players occasionally bring replicas of assorted blades and metal plated armor.

Once in a while however the sharp items lovers will consist of some random guy who thinks bringing things like hatchets and axes to an airport is perfectly fine. Perhaps they forgot they are not on that dusty trail anymore.


Guns are probably the most frequent item found in security that has to be confiscated. Although this fact is quite scary when you think about it many times the item turns out to be a plastic toy belonging to a wee tyke of a traveler.

Despite these being perfectly safe even toy guns and weapons are not allowed as carry on luggage. If I had to guess why I would say it is probably due to the risk of bystanders mistaking them for real guns and one can imagine the pandemonium that would ensue.

Side Note** My dad (who thinks he is real funny) answered that he had a gun when he was asked if he had any dangerous items before boarding a plane. This was back in the '80s when airport security consisted of people asking questions instead of x-ray scanners and chemical detectors. Needless to say they took him seriously, searched him and he missed his flight. The moral of the story is sarcasm does not pay.

self explanatoryDon't be that guy.*
When I say food I do not mean the occasional bags of pretzels or blow pops someone tucks away in case they get hungry. I am referring to large amounts of food. It is usually only one type of food and the only thing in the bag. Interestingly people are known to bring entire frozen turkeys during the Thanksgiving season. It gets a little weirder with some passengers carrying nothing but entire bags of stuff like Jell-O powder.


Believe it or not having an empty (or almost empty) bag will raise suspicion among bag checkers and you will get
searched for having one. One story from Reddit described a man who decided not to bring even clothes with him since he was not going to need them where he was headed (shopping spree!) but he did remember to bring a box of children’s books as a gift to friend. Apparently that explanation was not good enough for TSA workers and demanded to know why he was traveling without a darn thing.

Plastic Things

Where do I start? Mannequin pieces, eerily realistic looking human faces, “phallic devices”, play food, pretty much imitation anything. I particularly enjoyed the story of a man traveling with a bag full of female mannequin parts. Security assumed he was trying to smuggle drugs within the mannequin pieces. In the end after no drugs were found they came to the conclusion that he just really liked mannequins…I don’t think I want to know why.

Consider this a ninja failure.Consider this a ninja failure.*Finery

A handful of stories have popped up about flyers stuffing thousands of dollars of cash in their carry on bags. Anywhere from six thousand to forty grand has been discussed on Reddit. TSA workers will check bags with large amounts of cash because who would not find that suspicious?

The most amusing story I read was a man traveling from Italy with thousands of dollars worth of illegally imported Italian linens. I fail to come up with what “illegally” means outside of outright stealing it from someone.


These items do not account for the harmless items people have innocently thrown into their bags in a hurry that TSA has mistaken for potential threats. One funny anecdote relays a security worker seeing what he thought was a stick of dynamite in a 13 year old girl’s bag but it was just a bundle of unwrapped tampons held together with a hair tie.

Another odd story tells of a supervisor taking his new promotion way too seriously and having a stern 15-minute conversation with passenger of how their shirt was offensive and unacceptable to wear on the plane. The shirt had a picture of a pistol. He was made to wear his shirt inside out (at least until out of site from the micro-managing supervisor.)

*All photos courtesy of TSA Instagram

For more information visit Weirdest Items in Airport Security on Reddit
Jamie Kimmel

Jamie Kimmel
is currently an anthropology major at UMass Amherst.  As a very active member of the belly dance club and SPIRALS, she loves all things magickal and artistic. She writes about both of these things in more detail on her blog IamWiccanHearMeRoar.

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