Instagram team screens, shares funniest TSA stories


When the Transportation Security Administration comes to mind, it’s usually in relation to metal detectors, pat-downs and being told that your bottle of sunscreen has to be trashed because it is larger than 3.4 ounces. Charged with, in its own words, “protecting the nation’s transportation systems to ensure freedom of movement for people and commerce,” the agency’s officers screen millions of passengers each week and are not known for their sense of humor.

But the TSA’s Instagram account is. The agency’s profile describes itself as the “Princess of Puns,” “Teller of Travel Tips” and “Admirer of Alliteration.” One recent post of a cat inside a traveler’s clear plastic backpack featured the caption, “We let the cat out of the bag … on our Top 10 Catches of 2021!” It went on to explain that TSA officers found some pretty “a-mewsing” items. “We’d call them a-paw-ling if not packed correctly,” it went on.

Who follows the TSA account? More than 1 million people and, according to comments on a recent post about a bazooka rocket launcher found by TSA’s Threat Elimination officers in North Carolina’s Raleigh-Durham International Airport, the page is followed by (and receives thousands of comments from) travelers across all races, genders, political persuasions and senses of humor.

In 2021 alone, the page reached 54 million users on Instagram. The “cat out of the bag” post received more than 27,700 likes and 545 comments. Recent TSA posts have been featured on “The Tonight Show” and the “Today” show and shared by well-known leadership expert and motivational speaker Simon Sinek, who has cited the agency “as a great example of how government can have a good relationship with the public on social media.”

According to Daniel Velez, a spokesman for the New England region of TSA’s Media Operations team, the agency’s Instagram page has enjoyed consistent, considerable growth since it began its humor-based approach about two years ago, when Janis Burl took over as the social media branch manager.

Burl started as an airport transportation security officer (TSO) and now oversees the social media team from her home office in the Washington, D.C., area.

According to Burl, her six-person Instagram team “posts odd finds, information about what you can and cannot bring through TSA, and travel-related answers to questions we may get” on a daily basis.

And though Burl no longer works the X-ray machine, when she travels, she said, “all of my senses as a former TSO never turn off.”

This interview is based on two conversations that have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Q: Why so many puns?

A: Nobody remembers what was on the news in the morning, but they’ll remember the joke you told them. If it takes humor to help you remember what you can and cannot do when traveling through security, then humor is what we will provide. Whatever the public is talking about, we want to talk about, and we want to provide the public with a travel tip in the process.

Q: Where do you get ideas for your posts?

A: My team does their own research, searching hashtags and trolling social media. “Trolling” is a terrible word, but that’s really what they do on any social media platform out there — LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and even apps on their own phones like WhatsApp. I don’t ask them to go to any particular sites to look for anything; I give them freedom to roam. They are often looking on their personal social media accounts to see what’s trending. Ideas are then shared among the team to determine if there is something we can do with it. We are constantly looking for an interesting post that’s trending on any platform, and we also use photos that our followers share. We spend each morning collaborating to determine what is trending and whether there’s an opportunity for an educational moment.

Q: Where do you get the pictures of guns, grenades and rocket launchers travelers have packed in their luggage?

A: If we stop something in the airport, a picture of it is taken because reports have to be filed. When we hear about the incident, either through TSA spokespeople or from the airports themselves, then we ask for the picture. We have a vast network, and many of the members of the TSA social media team have been on the team for years, so we also hear about these incidents directly from TSA officers on the ground.

Q: Are that many people really packing guns in their carry-on luggage?

A: You’d be surprised. When we catch or detect a firearm, we contact local law enforcement, who will determine if the individual has a permit to travel with the gun since rules vary dramatically from state to state. In Connecticut, nine times out of 10, you’ll be arrested if you bring a gun to the airport; but in Texas or Florida, if you have a permit, you may not get through security, but more than likely, you’ll just be asked to give your gun to a friend or asked to secure it in your vehicle.

Q: Do you have a favorite post?

A: One of my favorites is the @dudewithasign guy (7.8 million followers) holding up a sign that says “Let me bring my toothpaste on a flight.” Well, you can bring your toothpaste on a flight, so we answered him with a post in the same manner in which he asked the question. He is not affiliated with the TSA in any way but has made several travel-related posts that have given us an opportunity to respond with signs.

Q: Who is the TSA guy holding up cardboard response signs in your posts?

A: That is a real TSO located down in Houston. We got permission from him and from his federal security director, who is in charge of TSA at that airport. He’s just holding up blank cardboard, and then we will write whatever message we want to get back out. Since they trust that I’m not going to do anything to embarrass TSA, I don’t typically have to get a message preapproved.

Q: Who is on your social media team?

A: We have what I call “two sides of the house” — six people on the proactive side who work on Instagram posts and 12 people on the reactive side who answer questions on Facebook and Twitter.

Q: Can you tell me about Ask TSA?

A: The 12 social media team members on the reactive side work on Ask TSA, answering questions pretty much “Johnny on the spot” on Ask TSA Twitter and Ask TSA Facebook. For instance, if you’re waiting in line at the airport, wondering if you can get through security with a bottle of frozen water that’s beginning to melt, you can send a message to Ask TSA, and they will instantly let you know that you need to drink all the melted water because everything has to be frozen. They typically answer within less than two minutes.

Brooklyn is a freelance writer. This article appeared in The New York Times.





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Another holiday, another travel surge: TSA screens more than 1 million passengers ahead of long Presidents Day weekend – USA TODAY



Another holiday, another travel surge: TSA screens more than 1 million passengers ahead of long Presidents Day weekend  USA TODAY



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TSA screens record number of travelers on Thanksgiving eve


The busiest air travel day of the coronavirus pandemic came on Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, with 1,070,967 passengers clearing airport security.

It was the third time in one week that the Transportation Security Administration reported screening more than 1 million daily passengers — a milestone that airports have rarely seen since the pandemic slashed air travel in March.

“It’s the highest volume since March 16 and only the 4th time passenger throughput has topped 1 million since that date,” TSA spokesperson Lisa Farbstein said in a tweet. The first million-passenger day since March occurred Oct. 18.

In the past week, covid-related hospitalizations in the United States rose by more than 12 percent, according to data tracked by The Washington Post.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a health warning against Thanksgiving travel last week: “Travel may increase your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. Postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others this year.” Health experts such as Anthony S. Fauci have also reminded Americans about the risks of indoor gatherings and household mixing, and discouraged travel.

The number of travelers flying Wednesday was half of what it was on the day before Thanksgiving in 2019, before the coronavirus was a threat in the United States. Last year, 2,602,631 people were screened on Thanksgiving eve.

During the pandemic, the TSA has been installing plastic barriers and touch-free ID scanning technologies at security checkpoints to allow for better hygiene and distancing as airports become more crowded.

Thanksgiving eve crowds surpassed Sunday’s busy passenger levels by 23,000. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is typically the busiest travel day of the year, closely followed by the Sunday after the holiday.

Read more:

Canceling holiday flights? These are the latest airline policies.

These 3 tools can help you navigate quarantine and testing policies by state

Why TSA PreCheck is a better idea than ever





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