You know about separating your toiletries when you’re going through airport security and to keep your carry-on liquids to a minimum, but what are some of the strangest prohibited items to be picked up by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents – like pepper spray camouflaged as lipstick or a pocket knife that looks like a credit card? Knowingly or unknowingly, people try to fly with some pretty crazy things. From strange weapons to live eels, TSA agents may have, quite literally, seen it all. To understand how often these prohibited items are picked up by TSA and how often the items make it through, we surveyed 1,000 people across the country to find out how many times they accidentally brought prohibited items through airport security and how often they deliberately snuck their contraband past. Want to know how many people are bringing things like knives, illegal drugs, and alcohol onto their flights? Read on to find out.  

Forbidden Flying

When you’re trying to get through airport security and you hear the alert go off as your bag passes through the scanner, you might start to wonder what you forgot was tucked away that’s causing you to go through extra measures now. Of the 1,000 people we polled, more than 1 in 4 travelers told us they’d had non-alcoholic liquids confiscated by TSA while they were trying to get through airport security. While a majority of snacks and meals are allowed by TSA regulations, some don’t pass regulations. One in 10 who planned on bringing food on the flight also had their items removed before being allowed to pass through security. While other cargo, like toiletries or significant quantities of alcohol, has caused our respondents to hold up the checkpoint lines more than once, we found that some more dangerous items were accidentally carried through airports and sometimes even made it through TSA Precheck. According to the TSA, a record 3,391 guns were confiscated from airports in 2016. According to our survey, less than 1 percent of people admitted to having firearms, ammunition, and explosives confiscated, while more than 9 percent of men and nearly 7 percent of women said they’d been caught with bladed items (like a knife or pair of scissors) at the TSA checkpoint. Flyers traveling with contraband aren’t always caught, though. More than 8 percent of men and 6 percent of women admitted to unknowingly carrying bladed items onto an airplane, and less than 1 percent of male and female passengers told us they subsequently realized the mistake of having accidentally traveled with firearms, ammunition, or explosives.

Just Gotta Have It

There are a number of things you might be surprised to learn you can’t travel with on an airplane – like gel shoe inserts, or snowglobes. Regardless of the rules, we asked 1,000 people if they’d ever deliberately snuck contraband onto a plane despite the potential consequences if caught. Our survey found that millennials were more likely than Gen Xers to disregard the rules for security screenings – nearly 1 in 5 told us they’d knowingly traveled with something in their carry-on bags that wasn’t allowed. Less than 15 percent of Gen X respondents told us they’d done the same. While it could cost you up to $12,856 in fines to smuggle prohibited items onto a flight, we found that both men and women, with or without postsecondary degrees, were roughly just as likely to admit to bending (or breaking) the rules during their travels.

Accidental Smuggling

The list of items prohibited by TSA is fairly long and can be confusing. Even if you do your best to pack a contraband-free carry-on bag, there may just be a few things you didn’t know were banned (like snow globes). Our survey found that more than 1 in 4 millennials said they’d unknowingly boarded a plane with something that wasn’t allowed. Whether that was a self-defense item like pepper spray or even a pocketknife they forgot was tucked away at the bottom of their bag, nearly 29 percent of millennials told us they got away with traveling with a few prohibited items. Nearly 1 in 4 Generation X respondents told us they also flew with unauthorized items, and our survey found that women were more likely than men to end up having accidentally packed items they weren’t supposed to bring. We also discovered that respondents with postsecondary degrees were more likely to have unknowingly flown with these prohibited items.

Frequent Flyers

People who travel frequently – especially for business – are fairly seasoned at the whole process (so much so that they might just have some advice for you on how to beat jet lag or score free upgrades). What they might not tell you is how often they sneak prohibited items through security. Respondents who flew more than seven times a year were the most likely to both knowingly and unknowingly travel with things on the no-fly list. On average, these jet-setters admitted to knowingly packing banned items into their carry-on bags more than 16 times and unknowingly traveling with prohibited items nearly 11 times over the course of their lifetimes. Men, married people, and those with postsecondary educational degrees also admitted to knowingly traveling with contraband between six and seven times, while millennials, those in relationships, and those without postsecondary degrees did it more than five times.

It’s All in the Numbers

It’s no secret that getting through airport security can be a headache. Moreover, the relationship between travelers and TSA agents has always been a bit strained. While we may regularly blame TSA agents for the long lines and slow process that is baggage check and body scannings, you might be surprised to learn how often they come across some fairly dangerous items. Every day, more than 1.9 million travelers pass through TSA security – accounting for more than 700 million people a year. Along with these passengers, 4.9 million carry-on bags and 1.3 million checked bags are screened every day to check for explosives and other forbidden items that may have been knowingly (or unknowingly) packed away. Despite ample warnings at nearly every stop along the way to the security line about what you can and can’t fly with, TSA security agents still detect an average nine firearms in luggage every day.

Flights Without the Worry

Whether it’s on purpose or by accident, some of your fellow travelers might be flying with some questionable baggage. Our survey found that between 20 and 30 percent of those we polled admitted to having either knowingly or unknowingly smuggled prohibited items onto an airplane without being caught by TSA. At Stratos Jets, we put safety first, every time. From the critical checks we make on our aircraft, to the operators we entrust to screen our planes, we believe in giving our passengers a worry-free flight from beginning to end. You also get the epitome of service when you fly with Stratos Jets, in addition to membership privileges, free Wi-Fi, and complimentary catering. Visit us online today at to learn more about our elevated travel experiences today.


We surveyed over 1,000 people about the prohibited items they’ve knowingly and unknowingly brought onto a plane. We also asked questions regarding what items were most commonly confiscated by TSA. We pulled TSA statistics from the most recent fact sheet report.

Fair Use

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