One night last summer I trimmed my hangnails in a hotel room 2,000 miles from my home, an act of anti-government rebellion that could’ve put my name on a terrorist watch list if anybody in the TSA knew that I’d smuggled a set of nail clippers in the single carry-on bag I bring along on business trips.
Eventually the Feds rescinded the ban, only to impose a new one on liquids and gels. That ban lasted a couple of weeks until they relented and said okay, you can have shampoo and hand lotion but only in those tiny overpriced trial-sized bottles sold in bins at the drugstore. And you have to carry the bottles in their own clear zip-locked bag, separated from the rest of your luggage.
Here’s a conundrum: we’ve reached the point where the government actually regulates how you carry toiletries when you travel. And yet if I say something like “these stupid rules aren’t meant to make us safer, but only train us in habits of evermore mindless obedience” I guarantee someone will accuse me of paranoia.
Fine. I won’t say it. I’ll just tell you about the latest reason you can be detained at the airport
A Wisconsin man who wrote "Kip Hawley is an Idiot" on a plastic bag containing toiletries said he was detained at an airport security checkpoint for about 25 minutes before authorities concluded the statement was not a threat.
Ryan Bird, 31, said he wrote the comment about Hawley -- head of the Transportation Security Administration -- as a political statement. He said he feels the TSA is imposing unreasonable rules on passengers while ignoring bigger threats.
A TSA spokeswoman acknowledged a man was stopped, but likened the incident to cases in which people inappropriately joke about bombs. She said the man was "a little combative" and that he was detained only a few minutes.
Exactly what words did this nameless spokeswoman use to compare “Kip Hawley is an idiot” to a comment (even a joke) about something that makes airplanes explode? Anyone with such a poor grasp of analogies probably can’t be trusted to reliably distinguish between “combative” and “rightfully annoyed.”
Bird, the vice president of a company that manufactures industrial equipment … entered the airport checkpoint with a see-through resealable bag containing small containers of toothpaste, deodorant, mouthwash and hair gel -- in keeping with new TSA requirements.
"My level of frustration with the TSA and their idiotic policies has grown over 2 ½ years," he said. "I'm frustrated that poorly trained TSA people can pull random passengers out of line and pat them down like common criminals. The average traveler has no recourse."
Bird put the marked bag in a plastic tray along with his shoes and cell phone. A TSA screener saw the bag and went to get a supervisor, who grabbed it and asked Bird if it was his.
"It was obvious that he was already angry," Bird said, adding that the screener told him, "You can't write things like that."
The supervisor told Bird he had the right to express his opinions "out there" -- pointing outside the screening area -- but did not have the right "in here," Bird said.
TSA called the cops. Bird wasn’t arrested, but “detained” until everyone in authority was satisfied that the words “Kip Howley Is An Idiot” written on a plastic bag (with magic marker, I presume) wouldn’t threaten the security of the airplane.
And yet if I say something like “these stupid rules aren’t meant to make us safer, but only train us in habits of evermore mindless obedience” I guarantee someone will accuse me of paranoia.
By the way, here’s what the police had to say about the incident:
A spokeswoman for the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office said the TSA did call the sheriff's office to report an upset customer at the checkpoint. A deputy went to the scene, interviewed all of the participants, ran a wanted check on the man, and referred it back to the TSA after determining no crime had been committed, Deputy Darice Landon said.
Landon said the original call came at 2:21 p.m., and it was unclear how long the man was detained. There is no indication that he was combative, she said.