TSA Says United Is Lying, They Never Banned Comics From Checked Luggage at Comic-Con

This morning I wrote about customers at the San Diego airport being told — at the end of Comic-con — that they wouldn’t be allowed to put comic books in checked luggage.

The TSA reached out to me with the Shaggy Defense. Wasn’t them. They also responded to United on Twitter with this:

On the TSA’s blog they offer this explanation,

We’re always testing procedures to help stay ahead of our adversaries. We were testing the removal of books at two airport locations and the testing ran its course. We’re no longer testing and have no intentions of instituting those procedures.

That doesn’t actually say they didn’t ban comic books from checked bags at the San Diego airport. They’re answering a different question it seems about taking books out of carry on bags (not checked bags) at security checkpoints.

I spoke with TSA spokesperson Lorie Dankers who stated unequivocally that the TSA did not “restrict any comic books from passenger checked baggage.” She says the TSA did not tell United to do so. And that the TSA doesn’t know what would have caused United to make that statement.

To be sure airlines sometimes get ahead of themselves announcing security procedures. For instance Delta had signs made up and prematurely deployed announcing a broad extension of the electronics ban.

It seems unlikely however that:

  • United made this up out of whole cloth
  • United put out signage at the San Diego airport
  • TSA didn’t question the signage even though it was incorrect

United got the idea from somewhere. Where the screwup occurred is no doubt ‘sensitive security information’. But TSA maintains they didn’t insist on banning comic books, even if United had the impression that they did and passed along the instruction not to put comic books in checked bags to customers.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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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Comments

  1. What sort of lunacy is this? Who makes such ridiculous rules (or misinterprets them so outrageously)? What are “terrorists” supposedly going to do with comic books? Set them on fire? Bonk (wham/pow/kaboom) pilots over the head?

  2. Regardless of whether United is lying here — airlines do make a habit of blaming unfriendly policies on safety regulations. How many times have we all heard gate agents tell customers with excess carry-on bags that the airline’s own limitations are FAA policy?

  3. (To be clear, carryon limits are definitely not FAA policy, as they even differ between airlines — if you look them up you’ll find Alaska allows much larger bags than American, for example.)

  4. I don’t think United is lying.

    It’s a business, and there are hundreds(maybe even thousands) of comic-cons and cons held all throughout the year, all over the world. Thousands of people fly to them. Based purely on business, do you really think United wants to tell these customers that they can’t check comic books?

    I’m not a United fan, but this line of thinking makes absolutely no sense. The concept that United would decide on their own to ban comic books from checked bags, while their competitors allow is – Is absurd. Would be horrible for business….

    Hope this nonsense isn’t still happening in October, when I check my comic-book related costumes.. 🙂

  5. When the Super Bowl, the College Football Championship, and the Final Four have been in Phoenix the last couple years, PHX airport has always warned people to carry their event program books in carry-on bags and put in trays alone like laptops. This is because the books have “hologram” images (you know, the shiny reflective printing) on them that (I guess) screw with the checked bag screening equipment and require a hand-search.

    I’m sure that some comics or Comic-Con literature might have had hologram-style printing on it – perhaps United heard about what has happened in PHX (and I assume elsewhere) and preemptively asked that comics be put in carryons, to avoid slow luggage screening and delays?

  6. @Reed – very good point. I had experienced the instruction for Super Bowl or World Series programs, but I didn’t make the connection to comic books. I bet you’re right that it is the same issue, although I think you’re giving United too much credit for forethought.

  7. Given the fact that neither United nor TSA is very good at communicating my guess is that TSA issued an ambiguous and poorly worded directive and United went with the strictest possible interpretation figuring that people would just chalk it up to another nonsensical piece of security theater from TSA whereas they (United) would take the blame for all the delayed luggage and confiscated property had they gone with a more lenient interpretation than what TSA intended.

  8. @Mangar In October, the TSA will be testing a ban on costumes in all luggage (checked or carry-on). The only way to transport your costume will be to wear it.

  9. “We were testing the removal of books at two airport locations…”

    Oh hai from Kazakhstan’s international airport in Astana. It’s 3:30am here. Friendly check-in service, helpful agents, quick security and passport control, and nice espresso bar on the upper level. Nobody here removed books or even asked about books. Especially COMIC BOOKS.

    What the hell is going on in America? Seems like it’s becoming the new Soviet Union while Kazakhstan is the new Dubai.

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