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.)

15 Amazing Places You Can Tour Virtually

AndrewSoundarajan/iStock via Getty Images Plus.
AndrewSoundarajan/iStock via Getty Images Plus.

From National Parks to the Louvre, you can check out these 15 different places from the comfort of your own home.

1. The National Museum of Natural History

Outside of the Smithsonian.

Jupiterimages/ Photos. com via Getty Images

Take a look around the stunning exhibits at this Smithsonian museum in Washington, D.C. You have the option to tour past exhibits like “Against All Odds: Rescue at the Chilean Mine” or “Iceland Revealed,” along with what's currently on display.

2. The Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal.
R.M. Nunes/ iStock via Getty Images Plus

You can explore the exterior of the famous Indian mausoleum with Air Pano’s virtual tour. It allows you to easily jump to different vantage points of the Taj Mahal and see them from a bird’s eye view.

3. The Great Wall of China


aphotostory/ iStock via Getty Images Plus

Constructing this massive piece of architecture took more than 1800 years. You can visit this historical landmark without leaving your couch by heading here.

4. The J. Paul Getty Museum

Outside of the Getty Museum
Wikimedia // Public Domain

Google Arts & Culture lets you take a peek inside this art museum in Los Angeles. With the zoom feature, you can probably get even closer to the artwork than if you were to visit the Getty in person.

5. The Louvre

Le Louvre at night.
Freezingtime/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Looking at fine art has never been so simple. On the Louvre’s website you can choose to explore several different exhibits such as “The Advent of the Artist,” “Remains of the Louvre’s Moat,” and more.

6. The Vatican's Museums

The Vatican
TomasSereda/ iStock via Getty Images Plus

Now you can skip the crowds and still tour inside the Vatican. This virtual tour allows you to see the landmark's museums such as the Pio Clementino, Raphael's Rooms, and others.

7. The Sistine Chapel

A painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
Jupiterimages/ Photos. com via Getty Images Plus.

You can't take a photo of the Sistine Chapel in person—it's not allowed—but you can tour it virtually. Click here, and look skyward to see Michelangelo’s masterpiece.

8. Route 66

A photo of Route 66.
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Route 66 was the United States’s first all-weather highway, running from Illinois to California. Now you can get your kicks on Google Street View of Route 66.

9. The Colosseum

The Colosseum
Anton Aleksenko/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Are you not entertained? You will be as you click around this virtual tour of this ancient arena.

10. Palace of Versailles

Inside the Palace of Versailles.

Myrabella, Wikimedia Commons// CC BY-SA 3.0

Constructed in 1624, the Palace of Versailles contains countless rooms you could easily spend hours walking through. And now you can spend hours leisurely meandering through the halls—without the crowds—by heading here.

11. Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

A volcano in a National Park in Hawaii.
Vito Palmisano/iStock via Getty Images Plus.

If you’ve ever wanted to journey to two of the world's most active volcanoes, now is your chance. After a short video introduction, you can take a guided virtual tour of Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.

12. Stonehenge

A view of Stonehenge.
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There's still a lot of mystery surrounding Stonehenge, a prehistoric stone monument near Wiltshire, England, whose construction dates back to 3000 CE. When you visit the site virtually, you can get a close-up view of the stones, zoom in on carvings, and watch educational videos about them.

13. The Musée d’Orsay

Musée D'Orsay in Paris.
encrier/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Built in an old railway station, the Musée d’Orsay in Paris is the place to go to look at work by Vincent Van Gogh, Edgar Degas, Gustav Klimt, and many other artists. Check out their work by heading here.

14. Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park
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If you’re sitting on your couch, do yourself a favor and take a minute to roam around Yosemite National Park. You can hike to the top of Half Dome, see Nevada Falls, and even star gaze in the park.

15. The Pyramids

The pyramids
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Survey the awe-inspiring achievement of the Great Pyramids at Giza from above.

Dreaming of Your Favorite City? This Website Will Create a Personalized Haiku Poem About It for You

OpenStreetMap Haiku will capture the colorful character of your hometown in a few (possibly silly) phrases.
OpenStreetMap Haiku will capture the colorful character of your hometown in a few (possibly silly) phrases.
vladystock/iStock via Getty Images

You no longer need to spend all your free time struggling to capture the vibe of your favorite city in a few carefully chosen syllables—OpenStreetMap Haiku will do it for you.

The site, developed by Satellite Studio, uses the information from crowdsourced global map OpenStreetMap to create a haiku that describes any location in the world. According to Travel + Leisure, the poems are based on data points like supermarkets, shops, local air quality, weather, time of day, and more.

“Looking at every aspect of the surroundings of a point, we can generate a poem about any place in the world,” the developers wrote in a blog post. “The result is sometimes fun, often weird, most of the time pretty terrible. Also probably horrifying for haiku purists (sorry).”

The results are also often waggishly accurate. For example, here’s a haiku describing Washington, D.C.:

“The same pot of coffee
Fresh coffee from Starbucks
The desk clerk.”

In other words, it seems like the city runs on compulsive coffee refills and paperwork. And if you thought life in Brooklyn, New York, was a combination of alcohol-fueled outings to basement bars and traffic-filled trips into the city, this poem probably confirms your suspicions:

“Getting drunk at The Nest
Today in New York
Green. Red. Green. Red.”

The website’s creators were inspired by Naho Matsuda’s Every Thing Every Time, a 2018 art installation outside Theatre Royal in Newcastle, England, that used data points to generate an ever-changing poem about the city.

Wondering what OpenStreetMap Haiku has to say about your hometown? Explore the map here.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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