The day airport security found a parrot taped to a woman's leg...

QUESTION: what have a flare, a glue gun, a catapult with ball bearings, a bag of fertiliser and a lump of animal fat all got in common?

Answer: all have been confiscated by security staff at Belfast International Airport.

Most travellers have absent-mindedly walked into the security channel at Aldergrove with a bottle of water or a tin of deodorant in our hand luggage.

But you might be surprised at some of the more unusual - and sometimes illegal, items which have been seized by shocked staff.

While you might not think of taking a cannabis grinder, a bag of spanners or some slug pellets onto a plane - somebody clearly did.

The more run of the mill items like hair gel, shampoo or creams are given to charity to bne distributed to people in need.

Local food banks also benefit from sealed drinks and unperishable items.

More dangerous items are taken away by the police or stored by airport security for staff training - but the rest finds its way to lost property, where it is stored for three months.

Like a real life version of the show Baggage Battles, suitcases are routinely left to whirl alone on the carousel. Phones, laptops and tablets have also booked in for an extended stay.

However, the onus is on the passenger to reclaim their items. To try and track down each careless visitor would simply be too time-consuming - not to mention expensive.

But the clock is always ticking and once the time is up, the suitcases will be opened. Clothes are donated to charity, as are computer and phones once wiped of personal data.

Before COVID grounded all but essential air traffic, the Antrim Guardian dropped in to get an insight into the hidden world of lost luggage - and it was an eye-opening visit!

A senior member of the team explained that it was occasionally a tricky task. Even a child’s plastic sword or a tacky ladies belt studded with obviously fake plastic bullets were fair game.

“If it could be perceived as a weapon, let alone used as one, we will take it,” said the well-placed insider.

“The catapult’s former owner claimed he was using it for target practice. However, it is an offensive weapon and was accompanied by a bag of ball bearings and bolts.”

Even something as innocuous as cable ties - or as ineffective as a pair of cheap furry handcuffs - will be confiscated, as they could be used as a restraint.

Other forbidden items included children’s band poles.

And with a surprising number of workers regularly flying to the mainland to work in the construction industry, there are a surprising quantity of expensive builders’ materials in storage - including an industrial sander still in its box.

“We can’t do much with the electrical items as the charities will not taken them unless they are PAT tested.

“These are mainly guys going to England and Scotland to work. They’re travelling light and they don’t realise that something as simple as a strap to restrain something on a van will be removed from them.

“We get a lot of box cutters and Stanley knives, multi tools, drill and socket sets, spanner sets, that sort of thing.”

There are also flammable items - butane gas for a camping stove - and Co2 cannisters carried by cyclists in their hand luggage.

Then there is a fire extinguisher and aforementioned flare.

More recently ‘hoverboards’ have been outlawed too, because of their proclivity to catch fire.

But many of the items gathering dust are there through simple forgetfulness. The sheer amount of cutlery clattering around the storeroom is testament to that.

“You get a lot of women who would take their lunch to work with them and then go on holiday and forget about all the knives and forks in the bottom of their handbag.”

And why the slug pellets and fertiliser?

“Fertiliser is, of course, a well known ingredient in home made explosives.

“However, there are people with holiday homes abroad who do not see the harm in taking these items with them to tend their gardens.

“We also have a bag of what is marked ‘animal fat’ which would probably be used for cooking. However, it looks so similar to plastic explosives that we had to detain it.”

Another item which had to be checked to ensure it was not explosive was a humble piece of ‘fadge’.

“We get a lot of people, mostly students, taking soda bread and potato bread with them from home or away with them on holiday.

“These items show up on the X-ray machine as organic material, so we have to swab them, as they look no different under the machine than would explosives.”

And stacked up in one corner of the room was a collection of abandoned prams and buggies.

“People buy a cheap pram when they’re on holiday and then just leave it on the carousel when they come back.”

It all adds to the bulging collection kept under lock and key.

But, naturally enough, there are certain items that are more memorable than others.

“We have so much jewellery. People put it on the tray and then walk off and forget about it.

“We also have holy items, anything from rosary beads to a prayer mat.”

At the other side of the airport items coming into the country - like the truncheons, stun guns and hand claws - are intercepted by the Customs and Border Force teams.

Things like pepper spray and stun guns, which can be legally carried in the USA, have been found in luggage at Belfast International.

And in true Monty Python style, one of the strangest things seized at Aldergrove was a parrot - though it was very much alive!

“The parrot was sedated and put into a drinks bottle which was taped to a lady’s leg which was covered by a long skirt.

“That has definitely got to be one of the more unusual ones!”

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