This interview is based on two conversations that have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Why so many puns?
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.
Where do you get ideas for your posts?
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.
Where do you get the pictures of guns, grenades and rocket launchers travelers have packed in their luggage?
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.
Are that many people really packing guns in their carry-on luggage?
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.
What sort of posts do especially well?
Any picture that has something that you would not expect to see every day, whatever that may be. For instance, we just did a post about a mannequin’s parts being folded up and put onto a plane — who’s going to see that every day? Or the guy skateboarding through the airport — literally, while on his phone! — that was priceless. I feel like I should have paid the guy if I could have found him.
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Do you have a favorite post?
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.