An inert hand grenade is seen along with other banned items taken from passengers at Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoints at Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Va., Tuesday, March 26, 2019. TSA’s social media presence has been something of a model for other federal agencies _ striking a tone is humorous, but still gives travelers informational dos and don’ts.(AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
An inert hand grenade is seen along with other banned items taken from passengers at Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoints at Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Va., Tuesday, March 26, 2019. TSA’s social media presence has been something of a model for other federal agencies _ striking a tone is humorous, but still gives travelers informational dos and don’ts.(AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
The items include a guitar shaped like a semi-automatic rifle, an inert grenade, and a stun gun. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
The items include a guitar shaped like a semi-automatic rifle, an inert grenade, and a stun gun. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

TSA’s social media director David Johnston stands over a table full of peculiar items confiscated at Dulles International Airport: a glittery clutch with brass knuckles as a clasp.

 A perfume bottle shaped like a grenade, rusted circular saw blade, a guitar shaped like a semi-automatic rifle and pocket-sized pitchfork are a few of the unusual things people travel with.

Johnston, TSA’s social media director, showcases the weirdest stuff travellers pack in their carry-ons:

The quirky photos combined with a hefty dose of dad humour helped lure in more than a million followers on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, who would then see important messages about the dos and don’ts of airline travel.

On their blog, he shares a weekly count of firearms that TSA officers found at checkpoints nationwide. He does a summary of knives and all matter of other bizarre and sometimes scary items that travellers had stuffed into their bags, pockets, purses or briefcases.

Johnston sent out a Valentine’s Day post that showed off a throwing star, axe and double-edged dagger confiscated from a passenger’s carry-on bag. (“Safe travels, you romantic fool!”) 

TSA is growing its social media staff — bringing in three more workers to expand its social media presence. The staff will continue to use fodder sent in by officers around the country, who seize all manner of unusual items people try to bring onboard. But it’s hard to find people who have both the government know-how and a sense of humour that resonates.

At Dulles, in the prohibited items section, Johnston sees a few possibilities for TSA’s YouTube series called “They Brought What?” a large bullet from Afghanistan that has been altered to be a cigarette lighter and pen.

“The things people think of,” he says. Turning more serious for a moment, Johnston notes the importance of showing off these items, especially to people who aren’t well-travelled and might not understand why something is prohibited if it’s not actually a weapon.

“The bottom line is our social media page makes travelers better informed so they have a better experience and it frees up our officers to do what they need to do — look for the bad actors,” he says.