American airport security measures are an unfortunate fact of life that we’ve all begrudgingly come to accept. They’re presented to the public as a necessary measure to ensure safety and prevent terrorism. Ideally, TSA and airline workers are meant to be impartial facilitators of airline security, weeding out potential threats fairly and efficiently. Unfortunately, the reality remains far from the ideal.
The latest WTF tale of the inappropriate airport security comes courtesy of Delta Airlines. Arijit Guha, an Arizona State University Ph.D. student, was getting ready to board a Delta flight in Buffalo, New York with his wife. He was traveling back home from a funeral and everything was going the status quo until a Delta pilot decided to throw him and his wife off the plane. Definitely not the best way to end a funeral trip.
So why was he kept off? Apparently, it was because of the t-shirt Guha was wearing. Guha’s shirt featured a logo mocking the TSA. The internet lingo laden attire, shown here, sported the words “Bombs ZOMG/ZOMG terrists, gonna kill us all ZOMG ZOMG alert level bloodred run run take off your shoes moisture,” lined the circumference of a faux TSA logo. Guha was told that his shirt had made passengers and employees nervous. And of course, the logical next step was to keep him and his wife off their flight while airport agents grilled him with questions about the shirt. Red flags were allegedly raised because Guha wasn’t the one who bought the shirt and his wife didn’t share Guha’s surname.
Another win for Delta and the TSA; they’ve kept the country safe from another joke t-shirt. Maybe next week they’ll take out a party hat distribution ring.
Seriously though, at this point there are so many stories of crazy things done for the sake of airline security that most people don’t even flinch at them anymore. Back when this kind of insanity first began, a story like Guha’s could’ve made the front pages. Now it’s just another one for the pile.
In case you guys didn’t know already, making jokes at the airport isn’t illegal. It might be insensitive and/or occasionally in poor tastes, but the action doesn’t break any federal laws. But it doesn’t seem like the airlines or the TSA care much about clarifying this unfortunate legal myth.
While any savvy flyer knows that airport security is free to perform a number of legal searches on you and your luggage, most aren’t aware that detaining you for bad jokes, even ones about bombs, isn’t necessarily legal.
You’ve no doubt seen signs and heard announcements at airports telling passengers that inappropriate jokes aren’t tolerated and can result in civil or criminal penalties. However, federal law only prohibits providing false information “willfully and maliciously, or with reckless disregard for the safety of human life.” In other words, it’s a prohibition against hoaxes that can cause public panic, like calling in a fake bomb threat. The law isn’t meant to punish people making jokes.
While one could argue that there’s little distinction between jokes and a fraudulent security threat report when it comes to airline safety, the fact is that the difference between these two things is quite apparent. Jokes are done spontaneously or in a moment of time in which the listener can clearly tell what’s being said isn’t meant to be taken seriously. Hoaxes on the other hand are premeditated to result in planned chaos. They are, by nature, meant to be malicious, whereas jokes aren’t.
In Guha’s case, the distinction is even more apparent. His alleged threatening action was, in essence, a passive one. After all, he made no verbal comment to passengers or airline workers, rather it was his t-shirt that stirred up the controversy. And nothing is more clearly meant to be a joke than a parody t-shirt. Also, if he really were a terrorist, would he really be dumb enough to advertise it on his clothes?
But maybe, that’s exactly why he wore that shirt. Because it would be so un-terrorist like that he’d be able to fly under the radar and carry out his diabolical plan to hijack an airplane and airport security thwarted his plan.
That, or he just thought his shirt was funny.