A flight bound for Barbados on Sunday could have wound up with the same plotline as Snakes On A Plane if not for the scrutiny of the Transportation Safety Administration. That's when security staff at Miami International Airport discovered a python coiled inside an external hard drive after the suspected piece of luggage was run through a screener.
The drive was initially flagged for containing what was believed to be organic matter, which automatically had officials thinking a bomb was concealed inside. But when it turned that the object was more of the slithering variety, that's when staff dispatched U.S. Fish and Wildlife to take the animal. Security fined the owner of the snake and neither made it onto the flight.
The TSA didn't believe that had the snake made it past security, it would have posed an imminent threat, since it was packed into metal confines that would have prevented it from escaping. But animals that are banned because they either pose as a flight risk or are not considered to be emotional support animals have been successfully smuggled through before. Some have even escaped by chewing through wires or any other barriers containing them.
There have been two other Florida cases in recent years of passengers trying to get their questionable pets past security. One man in 2011 trying to board a flight from Miami was caught by security who discovered the passenger had strapped snakes and turtles to his body. The following year at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, a woman failed to get past checkpoints when staff found a snake in her bra.
Internationally, cases of animal smuggling onto flights are quite common, especially when endangered species are involved. One instance in Bangkok in 2011 involved a man who managed to pack suitcases containing two leopards, pathers and monkeys as well as a black bear. That same year, Argentinian authorities nabbed a man trying to sneak 247 spiders and reptiles.
The only known case where animal smuggling involved plane fatalities was back in 2010 on board a Democratic Republic of the Congo domestic junket crocodile that escaped from its luggage during mid-flight caused widespread panic, resulting in a crash that killed all but one of its 21 crew and passengers. Oddly enough, the crocodile survived.