There is a very interesting thread on FlyerTalk about one man’s attempt at ruffling some TSA feathers the other day.
This person, who goes by MKEbound on FlyerTalk, was traveling out of his home airport in Milwaukee and was clearly upset with the latest TSA rules allowing merely a quart-sized ziploc bag with toiletries. In protest, he decided to write “Kip Hawley is an Idiot” on the outside of the bag.
Who is Kip Hawley? Well, he’s the man on the left who runs the show at the TSA these days. Why is he an idiot? Well, I’m guessing the attack wasn’t meant to be a personal assault on this man’s IQ but more of a show of displeasure with the new liquid rules that he’s put in to place.
You can probably guess what happened. The TSA screeners didn’t think it was very funny at all. After the bag went through screening, MKEbound says this occurred:
[The TSA agent] grabbed the baggie as it came out of the X-ray and asked if it was mine.
After responding yes, he pointed at my comment and demanded to know “What is
this supposed to mean?” “It could me a lot of things, it happens to be an
opinion on mine.” “You can’t write things like this” he said, “You mean my First
Amendment right to freedom of speech doesn’t apply here?” “Out there (pointing
pass the id checkers) not while in here (pointing down) was his response.”
It’s fairly obvious that MKEbound was looking for a fight. You don’t just write that on a bag for fun – you write it to get a reaction. And, well, he definitely got a reaction. The initial response may have started out as the right one in theory, but the agent clearly went too far.
The TSA is supposed to be there as a last line of defense in order to keep threats off airplanes. Now, an insult thrown at the head of the TSA may not seem like an obvious threat to an aircraft, but it’s certainly a behavioral flag that would make me curious to follow up were I manning the checkpoint. I would probably send him through secondary screening and make sure that there were no real threats to be found. Then I’d let him go.
The TSA agent’s biggest mistake was in saying that the first amendment doesn’t apply. It clearly does, and MKEbound should have the absolute right to scribble that message on the bag if he wants to. As long as he’s prepared for further scrutiny, I have no problem with it at all. If he’s confrontational about it, he should be ready to spend even more time with the agents, because that’s their job.
I happen to agree that the new rules don’t make sense, and I admire those who are willing to challenge the system if they disagree. I do wonder, though, what MKEbound’s post would have looked like if he had merely been sent to secondary screening and then sent on his way. Would he still have objected to the treatment?
It’s most concerning to me to see the way the first amendment was disregarded by the TSA agent in a situation that did not involve any direct threat. Hopefully this incident will get enough press to encourage the TSA to train their agents better on constitutional rights.