TSA becomes unlikely Instagram star

Bob Burns serves as lead social media specialist in the Transportation Security Administration's Office of Public Affairs.

"One of my favorites was a potato. Someone just said: Hey, can I bring my potato? Yeah, sure. Bring your potato," Burns said. "I was part of a team that launched the TSA blog in 2008."

Through that blog, Burns shared images of prohibited items bold, foolish, or careless travelers attempted to carry through airport security checkpoints around the country. The blog quickly earned critical acclaim and a sizeable following, but Burns dreamed of bringing its pictures to a younger demographic.

"I was an Instagram user personally and I knew that these images would be Instagram gold," he said. So Burns launched the TSA Instagram account and posted pictures of gun-shaped knives, flashbangs, and other oddities recovered from this nation's TSA checkpoints.

"The craziest one would have to be in Atlanta, someone brought in a moving prop of a rotting corpse," he said. The passenger rolled that rotting corpse up to security in a wheelchair.

"It's not in our manual how to screen a rotting corpse mummy, so we had to huddle and figure out how we were going to screen it and it just so happened it fit through the X-ray," Burns said.

The TSA requires its agents to file reports with photos for the larger items it confiscates, such as samurai swords and live hand grenades. Burns combs through those reports for 'gram material but also solicits fliers to ask the TSA with what they can and can't fly via the administration's Twitter account.

Burns then posts the more absurd or sarcastic of those questions to Instagram as well, sprinkling his captions with puns, facts, and humor.

"It's a warm welcome from people who are happy to learn that the government is human," Burns said.

Rolling Stone recently named the TSA with its taxidermy alligator head Instagrams and collection of confiscated hatchets the fourth-best Instagram account in the world. Burns said he believes the account is gradually changing the way passengers think of the TSA and the tasks it performs.

"Now you're hearing comments: 'Oh, I can't believe the things people are traveling with through checkpoints. No wonder lines are long. I didn't know people traveled with up to 70 firearms a week,'" Burns said.