TSA officer
Joe Raedle / Staff / Getty Images News / Getty Images

Ridiculous Things People Have Tried to Bring on Planes

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TSA officer
Joe Raedle / Staff / Getty Images News / Getty Images

You Packed What?!?

It's everyone's least favorite part of travel: Waiting in long security lines, emptying our pockets, and shuffling through metal detectors. As much as we hate it, most of us are well aware of the things that will get unwelcome attention from screeners. Still, that doesn't stop some travelers from heading to the airport with all sorts of contraband, from fake weapons to illicit animals to dead bodies (yes, really). Here's just a sample of the nutty things that have raised officials' eyebrows — including an outrageously expensive Picasso sketch that a passenger tried to smuggle into Spain. 


Related: Tourists Behaving Badly Around the World

Pablo Picasso
Wikimedia Commons

A Smuggled $461,000 Sketch

An almost half-million-dollar Picasso sketch may be standard in the exclusive world of fine art, but trying to hide its value when you cross borders turns heads. The Picasso, which came from a sketch book from 1966 and is titled Trois Personnages, was seized by authorities from an airplane passenger in Ibiza, Spain. The passenger came from Switzerland and tried to smuggle the pricey sketch with a fake $1,500 receipt alleging it was just a copy. But customs agents, tipped off by their Swiss counterparts, searched the passenger's things more thoroughly and found the actual receipt for the equivalent of $461,000.


RelatedCool Under-the-Radar Destinations for Art Lovers

Turtles hoarded
Brevard Zoo

109 Live Animals

Two women traveling through Bangkok were caught with 109 live animals in two suitcases. The smuggled animals were found in an X-ray inspection of the luggage, and included a staggering 50 lizards, 35 turtles, 20 snakes, two white porcupines, and two armadillos — but no partridge in a pear tree. They were due to board a flight to Chennai, India, but were arrested and charged with violating wildlife and customs laws.


RelatedAmazing Animal Rescues You Won’t Believe

large aerial bomb
Buzun Maksimilian/istockphoto

An Unexploded Shell

While vacationing in Israel, an American family found an unexploded shell in Golan Heights and, instead of backing slowly away and alerting authorities, decided to pack it up to take home. When they arrived at Ben Gurion International Airport, they at least had the common sense to declare the shell — which prompted an emergency evacuation at the airport and sent people running for cover, even leading to one injury. The family was interrogated but ultimately allowed to board the plane — without, of course, their would-be souvenir.


Related: 20 Mistakes Americans Make When Traveling Abroad

Slow Cooker
powerofforever/istockphoto

A Slow Cooker Stuffed With Cash

No, there's nothing illegal about putting a small appliance in your luggage, but when you load it up with wads of cash, you're going to attract some unwelcome attention from the authorities. TSA recently discovered $10,000 neatly rolled inside a slow cooker at Boston's Logan Airport, a find that subjected a passenger to some extra screening. The discovery of "bulk currency" triggered the involvement of local police, but after an investigation, the passenger and their cash-laden slow cooker were judged to be in the clear. 

 

Related: Most Outrageous Airline Incidents

Tarantula
FluidMediaFactory/istockphoto

200+ Tarantulas

How's this for some nightmare fuel? In December, Colombian officials were stunned to find 232 live tarantulas packed away inside a suitcase when German travelers attempted to fly out of Bogota's El Dorado airport. But wait, there's more: 67 cockroaches, nine spider eggs, a scorpion, and seven scorpion babies, to be precise, according to CNN. The travelers reportedly wanted the creepy crawlies for academic research, but lacked any of the proper permits.


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chihuahua
dahuang1231/istockphoto

Icky the Stowaway Chihuahua

A Texas couple checking in for a flight from Lubbock to Las Vegas got an unpleasant surprise in late September when they were told their bag exceeded weight restrictions. When they opened up the bag to lighten the load, they discovered their Chihuahua, Icky, quietly hiding in a cowboy boot. The Washington Post reports that 5-pound Icky — a rescue dog known for burrowing under blankets and in laundry baskets — was unharmed, and made it into the hands of a relative while the couple went on to Vegas.

 

Fresh raw chicken
Coprid/istockphoto

A Clump of Raw Chicken

Passengers in Seattle recently got a shock when they saw a huge clump of raw chicken making its way down the luggage conveyer belt, unencumbered by any sort of packaging. TSA shared video of the chicken, which is believed to have fallen out of a cooler in transit. Though TSA had fun making light of the "fowl" situation, whoever had to pick up a bag covered in raw chicken juice probably wasn't as thrilled. TSA's advice: "Don’t wing your travel packing. In order to keep from ruffling any feathers, meat should be properly packaged. Ice or dry ice is permitted to keep the flock chilled."


 

Giant African Land Snail
CN__Photography/istockphoto

Giant Land Snails

A Nigerian traveler to Houston brought 15 of these animals — also known as banana rasp snails — onboard with her. Alive and packed in plastic freezer bags, the snails were confiscated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and turned over to the Department of Agriculture. Officials noted that these types of snails are capable of causing rare forms of meningitis in humans caused by a parasite they carry known as the rat lungworm. No word on why the woman brought them with her, but at least one news source notes that the snails are consumed as bar snacks or served in stews in Nigeria.


Related: Carry-on Essentials to Pack for Your Next Flight

peacock in city
scaliger/istockphoto

An Emotional Support Peacock

Emotional support animals have long stirred controversy in the air, but United Airlines was faced with a particularly unusual would-be passenger in Newark in 2018: An emotional-support peacock named Dexter. The bird’s owner, a Brooklyn artist, offered to buy Dexter a ticket, but United quickly nixed that idea, emphasizing that Dexter didn’t meet weight and size requirements to fly. Dexter was eventually forced to hit the road instead.

Old anti-tank rocket-propelled grenade  (RPG), a shoulder-fired anti-tank weapon system that fires rockets equipped with an explosive warhead. Most RPGs can be carried by an individual soldier.
Kwhisky/istockphoto

A Missile Launcher

Pro tip: Anything that can bring a plane down is usually frowned upon at the airport. The Transportation Security Administration at Baltimore Washington International Airport found a missile launcher in a man’s checked luggage in July 2019. Turns out the man was a soldier returning home from Kuwait who just wanted a unique souvenir from his service in the Middle East. Though he was released after questioning, his prize missile launcher was confiscated by the fire marshal. 


Flying Green violetear hummingbird, Colibri thalassinus
OGphoto/istockphoto

Live Hummingbirds

In 2011, transportation officials in French Guiana found something that surely kept them buzzing for years: More than a dozen hummingbirds sewn into pouches in a Dutch man’s underwear. It wasn’t even the man’s first attempt at smuggling the birds, which were taped into the pouches but alert. He was arrested.


Moose resting in grass
Tempau/istockphoto

Moose Poop

TSA officials would probably be the first to tell you that they deal with a lot of crap, but it’s usually not the literal sort. However, in 2019, a man showed up at the airport in Juneau, Alaska, with a large bag of moose poop in his carry-on. Because there is no official poop prohibition (really), the man got to keep his smelly souvenir, which he told agents he intended to give to politicians with whom he disagreed. 


Batarangs
Amazon

Batarangs

Holy bad idea, Batman! So many people have tried to board planes with batarangs — the sharp, bat-shaped metal weapons favored by the Dark Knight himself — that the TSA has confiscated them at several airports. After discovering them in a passenger’s carry-on in Salt Lake City, agents issued this helpful reminder: “They can be placed in your checked baggage along with your grapple gun, bat-saw, collapsible bat-sword, and other utility belt items.” 

Close-up of Young Man Holding Ball Python in Hand Outdoors in Nature
kmatija/istockphoto

A Python in a Hard Drive

Granted, it doesn’t have the simple, impactful ring of “snakes on a plane,” but the TSA indeed discovered a young ball python inside an external hard drive at the Miami airport in 2018. The snake, which was Barbados-bound in a woman’s checked luggage, was confiscated, and the traveler was cited by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. (Samuel L. Jackson would be proud.) 

Pipe Bomb
Wikimedia Commons

A Fake Bomb

What’s almost as bad of an idea as trying to bring a real bomb onto a plane? Trying to bring a fake bomb on a plane. TSA agents in Newark busted a film crew from CNBC for doing just that in 2018. A pipe-bomb-like device made up of PVC pipes, wires, and a motor had been planted in a carry-on, prompting the arrest of nine people, who were also fined. “There is simply no excuse for trying to do something like this knowing it had the great potential to cause panic with the intention of turning that panic into a reality show,” a TSA spokesman said. Oops.

Giant Ribbon-Cutting Scissors
Amazon

A Giant Pair of Ribbon-Cutting Scissors

Considering you’re only allowed to have the smallest of scissors in your carry-on, it’s not exactly surprising that the TSA confiscated a massive pair of ribbon-cutting scissors stuffed in someone’s carry-on in Nashville in 2018. How big were they, you ask?  “It wasn’t by ‘shear’ luck that our officers discovered them,” the TSA said. “They’re huge. To paraphrase Douglas Adams, these scissors were big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big they were.” 

Weekend at Bernie's
Amazon

A Corpse

In the sequel to “Weekend at Bernie’s” that we absolutely never, ever needed, a woman plunked her dead husband in a wheelchair, put sunglasses on him, and tried to roll him aboard a plane in Liverpool, England. The woman, who was later arrested, said she was just trying to get him home to Germany “to find his last resting place.” 

Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2
Amazon

A ‘Corpse’

Interestingly, it turns out fake corpses in wheelchairs are totally welcome on planes. In 2016, the TSA let a prop for “Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2” pass through security in Atlanta, though they did thoroughly X-ray the gruesomely decaying “body,” named Nubbins, before sending it on its merry way. Our only question: Did Nubbins fly coach or first class?

Travel kit. Set of four plastic bottles for cosmetic products. Gray background with shadows.
TanyaJoy/istockphoto

Two Dozen Cocaine-Filled Shampoo Bottles

Drug smugglers are a dime a dozen, but drug smugglers this brazen? Not so much. Customs officials in Houston found a whopping 24 shampoo bottles filled with 35 pounds of liquid cocaine in a Colombian man’s checked baggage in November 2019. The man was quickly returned to Colombia, and the drugs — valued at $400,000 — were turned over to local law enforcement. 

slumbering little tiger
Fly_dragonfly/istockphoto

A Tiger Cub

When Thai airport officials opened a suitcase at the Bangkok airport in 2010, they thought they were going to find a stuffed animal. What they actually found: A drugged 3-month-old tiger cub that a woman was attempting to take to Iran. The woman was arrested on animal smuggling charges, and the “exhausted, dehydrated” tiger cub was sent to a wildlife conservation center to recover. 

Shuriken (throwing star), traditional japanese ninja cold weapon stuck in wooden background
Sergii Zyskо/istockphoto

Throwing Stars

Even ninjas have a hard time foiling the TSA. A Connecticut man was arrested in 2016 after he tried to board a plane in New York City with a laundry list of martial arts weapons, including throwing knives, a dagger, and throwing stars. Even more strangely, it wasn’t an isolated incident: Officials apparently confiscate a mind-boggling number of throwing stars every year. 

carry on bags
jchizhe / istockphoto

Maggot-Infested Meat

Unfortunately for passengers aboard a USAir flight in 2010, there’s no rule prohibiting folks from flying with spoiled, maggot-infested meat in their carry-on. The maggots wormed their way out of the overhead bin while the plane attempted to take off from Atlanta, causing passengers to panic and sending the plane back to the gate for a thorough cleaning. The offending passenger was put on another flight — presumably sans spoiled meat. 

M80 Firecracker
Michael Burrell/istockphoto

M-80 Fireworks

Explosives are generally as unwelcome as firearms on planes, but that didn’t deter one Pennsylvania man from putting fireworks and flash powder in a carry-on before he attempted to catch a flight in Philadelphia. The fireworks weren’t just your average sparklers, though: They were homemade M-80s, which are so powerful that amateurs are banned from using them. The man, who claimed he forgot the fireworks were in his bag, was arrested and charged.

Fresh eels in Vietnamese market.
vlad_karavaev/istockphoto

A Bag of Eels

We’re not quite sure what the fascination is with sneaking wildlife onto planes, but it happened again in Miami in 2012, when the TSA found a literal bag of eels in a checked bag bound for Venezuela. Also attempting to make the trip: 163 tropical fish. The aquatic critters were turned over to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 

WW II Grenade
mstahlphoto/istockphoto

A ‘Monster’ Holding a Grenade

Look, art is in the eye of the beholder. But don’t expect airport security to share your appreciation for kitschy metal sculptures, especially when said art is a toothy metal “monster” ready to lob a (thankfully inert) grenade. The TSA stopped just such a gremlin from making it onto a flight at a regional Colorado airport in 2015, prompting this reminder: “Grenades, inert or otherwise, are prohibited from both carry-on and checked bags.”

Chainsaw
Fertnig/istockphoto

A Chainsaw

We’re not sure what’s more unbelievable: That someone thought it was kosher to bring a chainsaw onto an airplane, or that someone actually managed to fit a chainsaw into their carry-on. Either way, in 2014, the TSA stopped a traveler in Albany from hopping a flight with everyone’s favorite horror-movie trope. The passenger was mum on the reason for their intimidating cargo. (Interestingly, the TSA says chainsaws are allowed in checked bags, as long as there’s no fuel or fumes.)

Exploding Vest
Wikimedia Commons

A Replica Explosive Vest

As if a fake bomb wasn’t bad enough, TSA discovered what appeared to be an explosive vest, two guns, and a “manual on incendiary devices” in a traveler’s checked bag at Richmond International Airport in 2016. No biggie, the traveler insisted: It was just a prop for a role-playing game. Of course, it was a definite biggie to the explosives experts and airport security team who raced to respond to the discovery. “It has yet to be determined if the officer who searched the bag needed a change of clothing,” the TSA deadpanned