TSA highlights top carry-on bloopers at airports — 6,000 guns seized in 2023

Cleavers, pepper spray, brass knuckles, pistols, hammers, credit-card knives.

You’d think nothing passengers put in carry-on bags would surprise U.S. Transportation Security Administration workers at O’Hare International Airport.

However, “I had a samurai sword come through once,” transportation security officer Andrea Cozma recalled Wednesday. “It was quite a shock.”

Last year was a record for the TSA, when more than 6,000 guns were detected at security checkpoints nationwide. At O’Hare and Midway International Airport, officers uncovered 72 and 50 firearms, respectively, in 2023.

On the heels of a supersized spring break at airports and with the summer travel season looming, TSA authorities pointed out some common packing bloopers in hopes of reducing them.

Unforced errors can have consequences ranging from having to discard a shampoo bottle to being arrested, not to mention slowing down fellow passengers.

“When you pack for your flight, you should start with an empty carry-on bag,” TSA Federal Security Director for Illinois Jim Spriggs advised at an O’Hare briefing.

It’s not uncommon for a traveler to throw belongings into a backpack for a new trip without removing items from the previous one, he explained. An ax used on a camping trip takes on a whole new meaning when it’s found in a carry-on at the airport.

“There’s a plethora of stuff that comes through daily,” Lead Transportation Security Officer Scott Lambert said. “A lot of the time, people will have ammunition or a gun part because they used that bag when they (went) to the shooting range and they didn’t fully empty it.”

Another typical mistake is leaving items used for self-defense, such as pepper spray, on key chains, authorities said.

Throw in a few oversize bottles of sun screen or alcohol, and it can spiral into security line gridlock.

“When everything is going smoothly, we can process 150 to 200 people per lane per hour,” Spriggs said. “But if someone inadvertently brings a weapon, we may have to close that lane completely, which has a big impact on our capabilities.”

The samurai sword had been recently purchased by two young men who thought it would clear security because it was boxed, Cozma said.

Instead, “I stopped my belt, called for a supervisor, and police were called because that is extremely not OK.”

One more thing — replicas are also prohibited, officials said, displaying a chocolate gun whose owner never got to consume it.

Got a question about what’s allowed in carry-on luggage? Information is available at

TSA Supervisory Officer Catarina Jacob holds a chocolate treat in the shape of a gun during a press conference Wednesday at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago.
Brian Hill/
TSA agents work with passengers in Terminal 1 Wednesday at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago.
Brian Hill/

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