7 Things We Learned From Bob Burns, the TSA's Hilarious Social Media Guru

Courtesy of Bob Burns
Courtesy of Bob Burns

Fans of the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) social media pages—particularly its Instagram account, which has more than 820,000 followers—know and love Bob Burns’s wit, even if they don’t know his name. The airport screener-turned-social media maven began engaging travelers around the world with his laugh-out-loud content on the organization's official blog, which launched in 2008. Five years later, in 2013, the TSA's Instagram debuted. Within one week, Burns's hilarious captions and bizarre pictures of "crazy things people attempted to bring through the TSA checkpoint,” as he put it in a recent interview, had attracted the notice of late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel.

Today, Burns is the TSA’s social media lead, which means he’s the one posting the photos and coming up with the captions that regularly make you chuckle. In less than five years, the account has gained more than 800,000 followers, one-upped Beyoncé, and helped countless airline passengers stay safe and prepared while traveling.

In a Facebook Live interview on Monday, December 18, Burns shared some of his favorite airport anecdotes, offered advice on how to build a social media following, and busted some common myths about his organization.

1. BURNS BECAME INSTA-FAMOUS BY POSTING "INTERESTING CONTENT," BUT SHOCK VALUE DIDN'T HURT.

Burns, who initially began his career with the TSA in 2002 as a screener, “never would’ve guessed in a million years that my job would lead me to being a social media specialist for a governmental organization,” he said. With no official training in social media, he attributed his success to shock value, stating that “People don’t come to a government Instagram account and expect to see humor." The TSA’s international reach and, above all, strong content have also helped the account develop a dedicated following.

Burns advises aspiring social media mavens to “make your content interesting. Choose pictures that are going to get people's reaction and make them comment, and don’t just post because you feel like you have to post something.”

2. TSA OFFICERS DON’T TAKE (OR POST) THE TSA’S INSTAGRAM PHOTOS.

“Some people think we have our officers taking pictures and just posting them to Instagram, which is not the case,” Burns said. “I can’t imagine the kinds of things we’d see if we did that. I have access to all the incident reports, so I can kind of cherry-pick the best pictures and share the best content.”

3. THE CARRY-ON ITEMS AREN’T FAKE, EITHER.

"Some people will actually wonder, ‘Was this a test? Were you testing your employees?’” Burns said. “No, we don’t post those kinds of things on our Instagram account. Everything we post is actually something that someone tried to bring on a plane.”

4. A LIFE-SIZED FAKE CORPSE AND A SANDWICH SLICER ARE JUST TWO OF THE STRANGER ITEMS PEOPLE HAVE TRIED TO GET PAST AIRPORT SECURITY.

When asked about his favorite checkpoint mishaps, Burns recalled the time someone tried to bring a sandwich slicer through security, “like the one you see in a deli,” Burns said. “It’s got the huge blade on it that spins around and cuts super thin slices of roast beef. “

Another time, someone tried to bring a movie prop from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre onto a plane. “This guy’s going around the airport with this life-size corpse in a wheelchair, wheeling it around the airport,” Burns recalled.

5. PEOPLE REGULARLY BRING GUNS AND KNIVES THROUGH SECURITY.

“Knives are always a daily occurrence,” Burns said. “Firearms are pretty much almost always a daily occurrence.”

The TSA finds around 70 guns per week in carry-on bags, “and the majority of those are loaded,” Burns says. "The main reason is, ‘I forgot it was there.’ My favorite [excuse was when] someone blamed it on their mom ... ‘My mom put it in my bag.' It’s like, ‘What kind of mother do you have?!’"

Burns suspects that some travelers “might think if they have a conceal and carry permit, that allows them to bring it on the plane, which is not the case,” he explained. “No firearms whatsoever. But you can travel with them in checked baggage, as long as you follow our procedures, which you can find at tsa.gov.”

6. THE TSA DOESN’T CONFISCATE BIZARRE ITEMS.

Contrary to popular belief, “we don’t confiscate anything,” Burns said. “We give travelers options. If you have time, you can take it out to your car. You could actually put it in your checked bag and have it shipped to you. If you have somebody waiting for you, you can take it out to them and they can get it to you at a later date. We give everyone all the options we can to allow them to keep the item as long as it’s not a firearm.”

And yes, that includes the sandwich slicer. “We try to let you keep your sandwich slicer,” Burns added. “We know you need to slice your meat."

7. AT LEAST ONE PERSON ACCIDENTALLY PACKED A PET.

One time, officers opened up a checked bag and “a Chihuahua popped out,” Burns said. “Imagine the officer’s face when that happened. But it turns out the Chihuahua happened to just crawl into the bag when the woman was packing. She didn’t know, and she zipped up the bag and it wasn’t a carry-on bag, it was a checked bag.”

The Chihuahua incident was immortalized on the TSA’s Instagram page. (Not surprisingly, the dog was “not happy” in the photo, Burns said.)

10 Tips for Stress-Free Holiday Travel

iStock.com/grinvalds
iStock.com/grinvalds

Anyone who has traveled during the holidays knows how taxing it can be. Traffic is slow, airport security lines seem to move even slower, and your fellow travelers aren’t always patient. While we can’t promise that your journey to grandma’s house this November and December will be enjoyable, we know of a few travel tips to make it less stressful.

1. TRY TO TRAVEL ON THE ACTUAL HOLIDAY.

The day before Thanksgiving is one of the busiest days of the year for holiday travel by air, and this year is expected to be especially bad. Drivers will face a similar situation if they head out on Wednesday, if Google’s analysis of road conditions last Thanksgiving are anything to go by. For these reasons, it’s always wise to travel several days before the holiday or on the holiday itself when possible. Sure, the latter scenario is less than ideal, but the flights are cheaper and the crowds smaller. And since Thanksgiving is such an unpopular day to start your journey, you might even be upgraded to first class.

If traveling day-of isn’t an option, here are a few more travel tips: Try to book a flight early in the morning or late in the evening. Morning fliers tend to enjoy fewer delays, but you’ll beat the crowds if you wait until the evening to fly out.

2. PACK LIGHT FOR HOLIDAY TRAVEL ...

A suitcase with men's clothing inside
iStock.com/mikkelwilliam

If you’ll only be out of town for a few days, there’s no reason to lug around a 60-pound suitcase. The lighter your suitcase, the better you’ll feel—and you won’t have to worry about excess baggage fees, either. We understand that packing light can be challenging, though. If you’re struggling to zip your suitcase shut, try layering up before you head to the airport. Remove the heaviest and bulkiest clothing items from your bag (think boots, winter coats, and big sweaters) and wear them instead. You can always remove them once you get through airport security and store them in the plane's overhead bin.

3. ... AND PACK YOUR LAPTOP LAST.

One more travel tip for packing: If you’re traveling with a laptop, pack it in your carry-on last, along with your liquids. That way, when you head through the dreaded airport security line, you can remove them quickly without having to rummage around.

4. DON'T CARRY WRAPPED GIFTS.

Wrapping gifts in advance and stowing them in your suitcase might seem like good planning on your part, but you might end up creating more work for yourself. According to the TSA, wrapped presents are permitted, but security officers might need to unwrap them if something requires closer inspection. “We recommend passengers to place presents in gift bags or wrap gifts after arriving to avoid the possibility of having to unwrap them during the screening process,” the TSA wrote on its website. “Another good option is to ship them ahead.”

5. RESERVE AIRPORT PARKING IN ADVANCE.

Airport parking lots can fill up pretty fast around the holidays. To avoid having to loop around the lot for 45 minutes, log onto your local airport’s website to see if you can secure a parking spot in advance. Booking online might even save you some money, and you can also check out ParkRideFly’s website for discounted parking rates.

6. CARRY AN EMPTY WATER BOTTLE.

A man holds a water bottle at the airport
iStock.com/ajr_images

It’s important to stay hydrated if you have a long flight ahead, since drinking plenty of fluids can help stave off jet lag. But why pay $4 for a bottle of water at the airport when you can bring your own reusable bottle and fill it up for free at a water fountain near your gate? Just make sure it starts out empty until you get through airport security—you wouldn’t want to hold up the line and get side-eye from your fellow passengers.

A few other travel tips for packing your purse or carry-on: Bring a phone charger, toothbrush, other must-have toiletries, glasses and contacts, medications, an extra pair of underwear, headphones or earplugs, hand sanitizer, and wet wipes (after all, those airport security bins are germ-infested cesspools).

7. TAKE A PICTURE OF YOUR SUITCASE.

If you need to check a bag, snap a photo of your suitcase before you hand it over to the airline. That way, if it gets lost, you won’t have to rack your brain trying to remember whether it’s black or navy blue while describing its appearance to airline staff. If your suitcase is rather nondescript, consider tying a colorful ribbon around the handle to set it apart. This will come in handy when you go to retrieve your bag from the luggage carousel.

8. SWAP BELONGINGS WITH A COMPANION.

You and another traveler in your group—be it a spouse or a sibling—may want to swap a few belongings while you're packing. If you put a few essential items in their bag, and let them put a few must-haves in yours, you won’t feel so helpless if one of your bags gets delayed or lost.

9. USE APPS TO FIGURE OUT WHEN TO LEAVE YOUR HOUSE.

Domestic travelers are generally advised to arrive at the airport two hours before their flight. However, if you’re traveling close to a major holiday, you’ll want to factor traffic and long airport lines into the equation. So when should you leave the house? Google Maps can help you figure it out. After plugging in the airport address, you can select the Traffic feature (on both the desktop version and within the app) to see a color-coded map of the fastest and slowest routes. The app can even remind you to leave at a certain time depending on when you want to arrive. Waze is another useful app for travelers to have on hand. It provides updated traffic information in real-time and relies on user-submitted data about traffic jams and accidents.

10. TRY TO AVOID AIRLINE COUNTERS.

Curbside check-in at an airport
iStock.com/Jodi Jacobson

The ability to check into a flight online is one of the greatest gifts given to travelers. Take advantage of that by printing out your boarding pass at home, having it sent to you in an email, or saving it to your smartphone’s Apple Wallet or Google Pay app. If you don’t have to check any luggage, you can head straight to your airport's security checkpoint and save yourself a lot of time. Plus, you might end up in an earlier boarding group or get better seats, according to Smarter Travel. If you do have to drop off a bag, that’s no problem either. Curbside check-in tends to be faster than the airline counters inside most airports. If that isn’t available, some airlines also have an expedited “bag drop” line you can hop into if you’ve already checked in.

This Ultra-Comfy Travel Onesie Has an Inflatable Hood and Neck Pillow

Onepiece
Onepiece

If you’re preparing to take a 10-hour flight, you’re probably going to reach for the comfiest outfit in your closet rather than the trendiest one. So, in an effort to design the “ultimate travel apparel,” Norwegian brand Onepiece has created a unisex line of Inflatable Travel Jumpsuits—otherwise known as onesies.

The outfit, spotted by Travel + Leisure, boasts over 15 airplane-friendly features that frequent travelers will appreciate. The hood inflates to form a cushion, and a built-in neck pillow also puffs up to provide some extra support. Use the “snooze cap” to shield your eyes, and if you really want to block out all the light, you can cover your face by zipping the hood down (there’s still plenty of breathing room). Finally, to prevent any awkward contact with your neighbor while you nod off, you can strap yourself into your seat by using the sleeping mask and adjustable head stabilizer.

Different features of the onesie
Onepiece

There are also plenty of pockets. One is large enough to fit a tablet or magazine, while double-zipped kangaroo pockets are designed to protect your valuables. The pants also sport cargo pockets, and additional velcro pockets inside the chest area of the onesie can be detached and placed in a tray while you go through airport security.

Perhaps most importantly, there’s a zippered “Rear Exit Solution” on the butt of the pants, so if you need to do your business, you won’t have to get half-naked to do so.

We get that most people probably stopped wearing onesies after their seventh birthday, but the fact that the shirt and bottoms are connected is actually pretty subtle. Check out the company’s Kickstarter video below to see it being modeled, and if you’re interested in sporting this look, you have until November 12 to back the project and secure your onesie for $149.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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