Security Theater Nightmare – I Thought *I* Had it Bad Just Opting Out of Nude-o-Scopes Edition

Reid passes along the story of a cancer patient denied boarding on Delta because of his shirt.

His blog is extremely long, containing a tremendous amount of irrelevant details and complaints not central to the issue (like that when he was rebooked he initially didn’t have a seat and Delta had to take volunteers in order to get him one, but explained much less succinctly than that and as though it were an additional grievance).

But the story is still an interesting an important one. Admittedly it’s his side of the story only, but apparently he:

  • Was returning from a funeral, was at his connecting gate, and subjected to additional screening and questioning because of his shirt which he explains was poking fun at security theatre and overreaction to the threat of terrorism.
  • Received at least two rounds of additional screening, including questioning, having his shirt photographed, and an on the spot background check
  • Was told he would have to change shirts in order to fly
  • Was then denied boarding anyway, at the pilot’s discretion
  • Received additional questioning after that, and claims an officer described the justification for this as being because he “looks foreign.” He claims the questioning including justifying why his was, who was traveling with him, did not take his last name when they married.

He was rebooked to fly home the next morning, without any compensation or hotel voucher. He returned to the airport wearing a ppopstrong t-shirt.

I’m prepared to believe he acted inadvisably, and we have only his side of the story. And already we know from Southwest Airlines that it’s possible to be dressed too sexy to fly. But I do feel for the ordeal that this man, a cancer patient returning from a funeral, was forced to undergo.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. This guy had it coming. I can be obnoxious, but even I know there are five things you don’t discuss in polite company these days: money, sex, politics, religion, and the TSA.

  2. Let’s look at the fundamentals. First off, I would not wear that shirt.. But it is well within his right to do it. TSA, if they have an issue, they should notify the proper agency. Can they arrest you? Can they do a background check? Delta pilot, abused his authority. Sure he is in charge of the plane, but the passenger did nothing wrong! Delta did nothing wrong, the pilot should be fined and owes the passenger compensation. Fire the pilot! Sure the union would love that

  3. Play stupid games, win stupid prizes. In this case, wear stupid t-shirts, deal with the consequences… Wearing a t-shirt like his in an airport in this day-and-age is asking for an issue. Image what would of happened if he was transiting Tel Aviv! He deserved what he got…

  4. Holy crap (no pun intended), I just went to the website for the shirts and they’re great.

    Quite similar to the “Save the Tatas” campaign for breast cancer, only the colon cancer equivalent, except way less sexy.

  5. I followed the link and read the entire story. I went in with a neutral opinion and left with my own opinion.

    The guy obviously has a chip on his shoulder and is among those that feels obligated to “fight the fight”. It’s well known that calling attention to yourself in a solemn place is disruptive and disrespectful. It will get you noticed, and if that’s what you want, knock yourself out. But don’t cry about it!

    If you are wearing a sign of some sort on your shirt, people will read it (duh!). So, expect a reaction to the action.

    If that’s not your cup of tea, don’t wear a shirt with a “look at me sign”. Wear something else, and you’ll be fine.

    It annoys me that people hide behind the race or skin card. Don’t make excuses. I’m brown, and look very foreign – fellow FTU peeps will attest to this. I’ve never had any problems with the TSA. Not even an extra pat down or hand swab. I went through 24 TSA checkpoints in the past 20 days, 0 issues.

    Respect goes both ways.

  6. Kinda annoyed by both sides — by his logic, I should be able to wear a shirt that says ” I have a bomb ” and expect everyone to ignore me. Why would you wear a t-shirt like that to an airport… that’s almost asking for trouble. Even if it was a white, black or even asian wearing that t-shirt, I would still feel extremely uncomfortable if that pax was on my flight.

    On the other hand, the interrogation was unnecessary/complete over the top if it was indeed what happened. If you were going to be a terrorist, I don’t think you would be wearing a t-shirt claiming you are. They should’ve just booted him out of the airport without much fanfare.

  7. i fly all the time, and if i saw a jackass with a shirt like that first shirt, i would prefer he not be on board. who knows with all the idiots in the air? the second shirt, though, shows he is just a clown.

  8. I’m not very sympathetic. “Cancer patient” and “returning from a funeral” are irrelevancies.

  9. Rule Number One in dealing with security theater is “Don’t do anything to call undue attention to yourself.” Life is just easier. Save the commentary for a letter to a Member of Congress or a response on a blog like this one.

  10. Having said that, exactly what threat could the guy pose in the sky, once he has been properly screened? Do they think all their machines, searches and interrogations don’t work on a guy with a t-shirt that mocks them?

  11. I side with the pilot on this one. In this day and age, why take any chances of letting some guy on your plane that could in any way be disruptive? This dude had already proved he was a trouble maker. Nice job by the pilot on exercising his judgement to keep the 100+ other passengers safe!

  12. “This incident at BUF is an example of what happens when people are defeated by terrorists: they behave in the manner indicated by the harmless shirt worn by the Indian-American who was hassled there a few days ago.”

  13. When someone who wants to make a mild political statement about how our rights have been restricted is a “trouble maker” who deserves ill-treatment, then we really have been defeated by the terrorists.

  14. I should clarify that I am supportive of the selective use of non-violent civil disobedience tactics. I’m just not impressed when somebody chooses to do so and then whines about getting the rationally expected treatment.

    I could see the pilot thinking that somebody with this poor judgment might do something in the air that might require a diversion of the flight, regardless of the individual having passed through screening and therefore not possessing anything banned.

  15. Not to be the extreme scenario guy, but passengers wearing traditional muslim dress make me uncomfortable. Should they also be denied boarding?

  16. Yep, he deserved it. Like the guy above says, play stupid games, win stupid prizes. And like the other guy said, having cancer has nothing to do with it and does not give you a free pass to act like a jerk.

  17. if you don’t flex the muscles of freedom (speech, search and seizure, etc.), they atrophy. Good for this guy for not going down the slow road to serfdom like the rest of the sheeple.

  18. Not that I am trying to equate the two, but I wonder what the comment section would be to Rosa Parks not being willing to move her seat on the bus, or other major civil disobedience. It seems that people are just fine with “the squeaky wheel get the grease” without looking into the reason WHY hes being squeaky. SURE there could have been a better method of going out making a statement, but a TShirt is NOT a threat, and its not the job of your every day Joe to call everyone a terrorist. Someone pointed out that if you took someone from 1980 and plopped them into 2012 in an airport, they would think they were in Soviet Russia, or worse. We have become what we used to hate…and we don’t seem to have an issue with it!

  19. On the issue of “irrelevant details”, neither the passenger’s illness or destination are at all relevant to the case. It’s a straightforward first amendment question, and the question is “Is making the statement ‘terrorists will kill us all’ at an airport gate protected speech, or does it rise to the level of shouting ‘Fire’ in a crowded movie theater’?”

    I don’t know the answer, and I think reasonable people could disagree.

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