A Little Civil Disobedience to Start the Day


kipThere 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.

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5 comments on “A Little Civil Disobedience to Start the Day

  1. Are you sure the whole first amendment applies? Leave aside the “fire” analogy – how about shouting obscenities (see: Lenny Bruce), or racial epithets, or reciting Irish Poetry even!

    No, some of the above are unacceptable.

    My gut is that the TSA was confrontd by a self satisfied jerk intent on seeing how badly he could disrupt operations at a busy airport on a work day.

    Tee hee. Glad I was in another airport that morning.

    Well, the TSA didn’t cover themselves in glory, but that was a lot to expect. I’m sure they’ll upgrade their procedure manual and do a better job next time.

    The flyer in question will still be an *sshole.


  2. I have to imagine the first amendment applies for something like this. I agree that some of those are unacceptable, and if you were to write “bomb” on the ziploc, then yeah, you better get ready for some trouble.

    But this isn’t an obscenity or racial epithet or even a limerick about Nantucket. In fact, most people wouldn’t even know who Kip is. So I don’t see how they can argue it’s not covered under the first amendment.

  3. Sure, the first amendment applies. The TSA guys were clearly wrong.

    But this guy is no Rosa Parks, and this isn’t a diner in Greensboro. He’s just gotten himself stirred up about the whole liquids thing and wanted a confrontation with the TSA.

  4. Anonymous —

    Are you sure the whole first amendment applies? Leave aside the “fire” analogy – how about shouting obscenities (see: Lenny Bruce), or racial epithets, or reciting Irish Poetry even!

    I call bullshit. This is the same level of a USC fan seeing somebody wearing a UCLA t-shirt and detaining him therefore. It’s a petty abuse of authority, the sort of thing that’s exponentially exploded since 9/11, and exactly the kind of thing we have to check every day if we’re going to have anything like normal lives again.

  5. If we don’t start with the small stuff, how can we ever complain when the big stuff happens?

    This was a mild protest, but a protest nonetheless. It was a commentary on the stupidity of regulations that do little to nothing to actually protect us. How about, instead of making sure my shampoo bottle is less than three ounces, TSA actually look for terrorists?

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