The banned items that TSA security fails to detect will blow your mind

TSA security fails to detect many banned items

Did you hear about the guy who tried to spirit a .40 caliber rifle past Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents in Baltimore? He blamed his mother for packing the weapon in his carry-on bag. True story.

Then again, maybe he was one of the thousands of air travelers defying the TSA by smuggling a weapon on board. After all, it was also the 26th firearm confiscated at BWI this year. Kinda makes you wonder how much the TSA security fails to detect, doesn’t it?

If you’re worried about how much the TSA screeners miss, there’s a new survey that puts the issue into troubling perspective. The research, conducted by Stratos Jet Charters, found that a shocking 88% of passengers smuggled prohibited items onto domestic flights. Among the most popular items: marijuana, alcohol and unauthorized weapons like the .40 caliber rifle Mom packed.

“One of the biggest surprises in our survey revealed that 15.2 percent of men and 8.5 percent of women admitted to bringing weapons or ammunition on board a plane,” says Stratos spokeswoman Stephanie Buzano. “Having the small Swiss Army knife that you use to clean your nails is a minor infraction; however, possessing a firearm, ammunition, or long knife is an entirely different matter.”

Here’s a full list of prohibited items, in case you’re not sure.

The TSA, created after 9/11 to protect America’s transportation systems, is mostly focused on airport security. It has a long record of failing security audits. Travelers admit to regularly testing the TSA’s resolve. But the real problem, the research suggests, is that more and more passengers think they can get away with it. All of which makes you ask: Who else thinks a plane would make an easy target?

Yes, TSA security fails — and yes, travelers are defying the TSA

When it comes to airport security, TSA screeners miss a lot of contraband. Back in 2015, internal tests showed TSA employees missed an eye-popping 95% of prohibited items, which led to the “reassignment” of the agency’s head. It’s unclear if those tests have been repeated, and if so, whether the agency now catches more contraband. But what is clear is that the Stratos Jets numbers are comparable.

It also suggests that air travelers know that the likelihood that they’ll get caught with a prohibited item is so low that they’re willing to take a chance. But mostly, air travelers find the TSA’s porous security unsettling. I spoke with several air travelers who admitted to inadvertently packing illegal items. Discovering them later led to a disturbing realization about the TSA’s capabilities.

Corey Law accidentally packed a wine opener, with a corkscrew and a sharp blade, on a flight from Charleston, S.C., to New York. Screeners found it on the return flight.

“I was extremely embarrassed since I had completely forgotten about it – but then I realized that I had made it through completely unchecked out of JFK,” says Law, who works at a communications company in New York. “It definitely made me nervous about how stringent the TSA is.”

Michelle Ligon, who works for a tourism agency in Boone, N.C., accidentally packed a pocket knife on a flight from Charlotte to Fort Myers, Fla. The screeners never found it in her hand luggage.

“Needless to say, I’m not a fan of TSA, nor do I have much confidence in their ability to keep travelers safe,” she says.

Accidentally taking banned items through TSA security

Chris Moreno, a retired flight attendant from Lakewood, Colo., echoes her sentiments. Moreno has packed contraband in the past, too, and the TSA didn’t find it.

“I have loads of stories,” she says. “But once I had visited my mother-in-law and took her a pear to eat. I also took a knife to cut it up with. After sharing it, I put the 4-inch, sharp knife back in my purse and never took it out.”

She commuted between Washington and Chicago with the knife in her bag for weeks. The TSA never discovered the blade.

Bottom line: TSA’s vaunted 20 layers of airport security are missing a layer or two if these numbers are to be believed. But a closer look at what people do suggests several even more disturbing trends just as the holiday travel season begins.

You won’t believe what passengers admit to bringing on the plane and what TSA security fails to detect

A closer look at the Stratos Jets research reveals how inept air travelers think the TSA is, despite the agency’s many social media trophies. Consider what happens when screeners discover a firearm. It triggers a loud alarm, and TSA calls airport police. TSA does not have the power to arrest passengers but hands them over to law enforcement for questioning. Travelers may face state or local charges, and the TSA can also levy civil penalties up to $13,000.

Unauthorized prescription drugs rank high on the list, too, with 25% of men and 19% of women admitting to smuggling medical contraband on the plane.

Another common smuggled item: banned alcohol.

While TSA allows passengers to bring alcoholic beverages of between 24 to 70 percent alcohol content in carry-on baggage as long as it’s in mini-bottles, the bigger bottles and the ones containing stronger drink are a no-no. But 12% of men and 8% of women admitted to packing it anyway.

Why are passengers playing TSA Roulette with airport security?

But why are passengers playing a dangerous and potentially expensive game of TSA Roulette?

When asked why they packed these illegal items, more than one-third said they “just wanted to have it” on the trip. Apparently, they know TSA screeners miss a lot. The pollsters didn’t ask about items packed accidentally, but if they had, it probably would have ranked in the top tier. In most of the TSA cases I handle as a consumer advocate, passengers pack forbidden items without realizing they’re not allowed.

I admit it’s happened to me. I’ve accidentally packed a knife, corkscrew, toothpaste, and shampoo on flights. Often, they’ve made it through.

It’s easy to get confused by the TSA’s long list of banned items. They include liquids and gels as well as a long list of oddities like insecticide. To date, no aircraft has been bombed using shampoo or bug spray, a fact well known to most air travelers. So it’s likely they’ll defy the ban — or just not know about it.

But the Stratos Jets survey, which comes just a few weeks before the start of the Thanksgiving travel season, seems to underscore a widespread fear among travelers. Airport security is notoriously lax, and air travelers have always packed illegal stuff by accident. TSA screeners miss a lot. Now passengers are openly — and successfully — defying the rules.

Maybe it’s just a matter of time before travelers with darker motives do the same thing, with devastating results.

And if you want to make sure that you aren’t one of the passengers pushing the security limits, check out Michelle Couch-Friedman’s article (What can you bring on the plane? Here’s how to find out).


Underwritten by

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by

With nearly 20 years in the industry, over 128 airport covered in the U.S. and Canada, and over 1,000 Hotel and Parking Partners-we provide travelers the best options on how to get to the airport when flying. Whether you want to; drive yourself and park near an Airport (Airport Parking), stay the night before your flight at an airport hotel and leave your car (Hotel and Parking Package), or take a shared Shuttle/Private Car/Limo to the Airport- we got you covered. The best deals can be found online, and booking a reservation has never been easier. You can explore all of our options by visiting us at,,, and

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Generali Global Assistance

Generali Global Assistance has been a leading provider of travel insurance and other assistance services for more than 25 years. We offer a full suite of innovative, vertically integrated travel insurance and emergency services. Generali Global Assistance is part of The Europ Assistance (EA) Group, who pioneered the travel assistance industry in 1963 and continues to be the leader in providing real-time assistance anywhere in the world, delivering on our motto – You Live, We Care.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Seven Corners

Seven Corners has helped customers all over the world with travel difficulties, big and small. As one of the few remaining privately owned travel insurance companies, Seven Corners provides insurance plans and 24/7 travel assistance services to more than a million people each year. Because we’re privately held, we can focus on the customer without the constraints that larger companies have. Visit Seven Corners to learn more.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by

Since its inception over three decades ago, G1G has continued to revolutionize the travel insurance industry by being the only aggregator to operate a customer portal, placing all of the user's primary needs in one place. We have continued to innovate and disrupt the market by reimagining the way travel insurance can be delivered to the end user in ways no competition can. Simply put, no one knows the market as well as its founders and no one else shares G1G values and mission.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Arch RoamRight

Arch RoamRight is one of the fastest growing, most-highly rated travel insurance companies in the United States. Travel advisors love working with us, and travelers feel protected with our trip cancellation and travel medical insurance coverage. We also make it easy to file a claim online with our fast, paperless claims website. Learn more about RoamRight travel insurance.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

VisitorsCoverage is one of the world’s most trusted providers of travel insurance for millions of global travelers in over 175 countries. Working with top-rated travel insurance partner providers, VisitorsCoverage’s award-winning search, compare and purchase technology simplifies the travel insurance process and finds the best deals for the coverage you need to explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at VisitorsCoverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International,, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.