Most airline passengers pack a toothbrush and fresh underwear in their luggage, while others carry land mines, grenade launchers, swords and mortar shells.
Not only does the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) confiscate four handguns a day among the contraband it takes from airline customers, its agents once seized a stun gun concealed as lipstick and found a dagger hidden inside a hairbrush, according to weekly updates on The TSA blog.
"If I'm going with the weirdest, it would have to be the guy who had all the snakes in his pants," recalled Bob Burns, 41, who writes online for the agency as Blogger Bob.
Some of the deadly weapons are a real threat to airline safety, he said, but in other cases it's simply a matter of cluelessness. "The first incident occurred at the Miami International Airport (MIA) and involved a gentleman with seven small snakes in his pants ..." Burns wrote in August 2011.
"The passenger was arrested on the federal charge of 'harboring reptiles in an unnatural habitat.' I made that up ... the individual was actually charged with violating the Lacey Act," the blog said, referring to the law that combats trafficking in illegal wildlife, fish and plants.
Chainsaw Not a Problem, But Gas – That's Another Story
In a post last month about a western New York airport, he wrote, "Believe it or not, the chainsaw found at Elmira (ELM) was not the problem here. You can travel with your chainsaw as checked luggage, however, gassing it up is the problem. You know... Gas? Highly flammable liquid."
When a 350,000-volt stun gun disguised as a tube of lipstick was found in a carry-on bag Burns wrote, "This particular lipstick is known to leave your lips looking stunning."
Some confiscated items are used as evidence or sold for revenue for the state.
Burns used to train security screeners at the Cincinnati airport as part of the newly created TSA, designed to strengthen security of U.S. transportation systems in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks.
When TSA superiors decided the agency needed a blog, he got the job. Burns also uses the post to refute some of the bad press the TSA gets.
Responding to claims of a cancer cluster among TSA employees at Boston Logan International Airport related to body scanners, he blogged that there is no link. "In fact, there were no body scanners at BOS when the complaints were filed," he wrote.
The items gathered from passengers are shipped to their homes, used as evidence or sold for revenue for the state, said TSA spokesman Greg Soule. No figures are available for the number of items seized or people arrested, he said, but the TSA's 60,000 employees are busy most days.
Burns recently signed off on this post: "Paging Captain Ahab: Another spear gun was discovered in a carry-on bag at Newark (EWR). The passenger assumed spear guns were good to go. Nope."