TSA Shares Blame With United for Fictitious Ban on Comic Books in Checked Bags

The agency, known for its puzzling decrees, blurred the line between a suggestion and an order.


Adi Chappo on Twitter

Fans returning from last weekend's Comic-Con International in San Diego were dismayed to learn that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) had banned books from checked luggage, forcing them to hastily remove their precious convention purchases and cram them into their carry-on bags. But the TSA says it never issued such a mandate, and United Airlines, which told "Comic-Con Attendees" in no uncertain terms to "remove all books from checked bags," says it misunderstood what was merely a suggestion.

As tempting as it may be to blame the passenger-dragging, bunny-killing carrier for this gratuitous hassle, the TSA bears a large share of the responsibility. "TSA recommended keeping comic books in carry-on bags, but not required," United tweeted yesterday. "We misunderstood this instruction and regret any inconvenience." The airline apparently was referring to a July 2016 blog post in which the TSA offered this advice to attendees at last year's Comic-Con:

Pack items such as stacks of brochures and assorted comic books in your carry-on bag. Place them in a bin prior to sending them through the x-ray. Packing these items in checked bags often causes alarms leading to bag searches which can cause a significant slowdown in the screening process leading to delays and bags possibly missing their flights.

If you're not attending Comic-Con International, this guidance applies to any collector or attendee of any comic-con.

The TSA did not explain why comic books cause alarms. But in fairness to United, this "guidance" sounds pretty firm, and it is just the sort of head-scratching dictate we have come to expect from the TSA. The "tip" was explicitly aimed at Comic-Con attendees, which may explain why United tweeted on Sunday that "the restriction on checking comic books applies to all airlines operating out of San Diego this weekend and is set by the TSA."

On Monday, responding to complaints from Comic-Con travelers, the TSA tweeted that "there are no TSA restrictions on checking comic books or any other types of books." By way of elaboration, it linked to a June 28 blog post that sought to "close the book on book screening rumors." That post said passengers do not have to "remove books from [their] carry-on bags prior to sending [the] bag through the X-ray." But the post did not address the TSA's 2016 instruction to the contrary, and it said nothing about whether books are allowed in checked luggage.

Furthermore, the "book screening rumors" were started by the TSA itself, which was "testing the removal of books at two airport locations." After TSA agents began instructing travelers at those airports to remove books from their carry-on bags for separate screening, it seems, people surmised that the TSA had begun requiring that books be removed from carry-on bags for separate screening—an entirely reasonable conclusion, more like an observed fact than a rumor. And if this was merely an experiment at two airports, why did the TSA, in a 2016 post that remains online and uncorrected, tell passengers to "place [comic books] in a bin prior to sending them through the x-ray"?

So yes, United should have double-checked with the TSA before telling travelers they could not put comic books in their checked bags. If the airline had simply looked at the TSA's list of prohibited items, which includes things that are allowed in checked luggage but not in carry-ons and possibly vice versa (although I did not notice any in the latter category), it would have seen that books are not officially banned from either. But the TSA invited the confusion about comic books by blurring the line between a suggestion and an order and by routinely forcing passengers to engage in arbitrary rituals aimed at creating the illusion of security.


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  1. Oh, good, let’s encourage people to put even more stuff in their carry-on luggage.

  2. Most of that shit was probably Capeshit. All of that shit belongs in the fucking galley.

    I only read Fantagraphics, like AN ADULT.

    1. “Do you see any Teletubbies in here?”

    2. You’re international and you expect to be delighted

  3. by routinely forcing passengers to engage in arbitrary rituals aimed at creating the illusion of security

    Is this a dig at the Pope?

  4. Unfortunately, they’ve come up with so much silly stuff in the past that anything seems believable.

  5. the “book screening rumors” were started by the TSA itself, which was “testing the removal of books at two airport locations.”

    I love it when the government experiments on the people!

    1. You know which other government experimented on people…?

      1. Is this a trick question?

        Is the answer every government?

  6. At this point if you’re attending Comic-Con in 2017 you should be ashamed of yourself.

    1. Are actual comics still a thing there? I thought it had been taken over by other interests.

      1. Yes, they are. The problem is that TV and Movies are so much more popular they just overwhelm the news about comics. I feel like NYCC has become the biggest one. But that one requires you to go to NYC.

        I’m gonna finally go to Emerald City though, so that’s a thing.

    2. I’m old enough to remember when Comic-Con was about comic books.

  7. You know who else wanted to remove books…

    1. You know who else wanted to remove books…

      Our fellow commentator, DenverJ?

      Methinks, he has, in his own idiom, taken a meme upon himself in this regard.

      Because I am often less clear than others (and perhaps everything in reality that cannot be seen through), this is meant to be a compliment to DenverJ.

    2. You know who else wanted to remove books…

      Shikha Dalmia?

  8. I initially thought that the TSA higher-ups had some self-awareness and were doing nerds a kindness. I thought the implication was, “Do not put your valuable swag in your checked luggage, ’cause our guys are gonna steal it.”

    1. Nice.

  9. >>> “TSA recommended keeping comic books in carry-on bags

    >>> “We misunderstood this instruction

    Dear TSA and United: these are the two most god-awful stupid things I’ve read today.

  10. Probably time to point out all the title IX madness is based on a ‘suggestion’.

  11. I wish people would stop flying whenever possible. It’s the government so they won’t respond to market forces, but maybe it stop conditioning people that it’s ok to be searched and molested just for using a form of transportation.

    1. That’d kill the airlines, but wouldn’t do shit for the TSA. As government employees, they’ll either earn their pension sitting idle at an empty airport or get shuffled to some other place in the bureaucracy – molesting Amtrak passengers, maybe.

      1. This is where I think the self-driving car industry could positively murder some businesses. Not only can the self-driving car competently shuttle to-and-fro in the parking garages, it rather directly up translates to long, seated trips down relatively clear and straight roads.

        I’d gladly spend an entire 24 hr. day not driving inside a Prius than spend the day sitting, getting patted down, jostling for power ports, eating expensive shitty food…

        1. Whoops, meant that in reply to target.
          /threading fail

    2. I try to do my part by loudly complaining and saying “fuck” a lot while waiting in security lines.

      1. That’s a good way to get sodomized.

        1. That would definitely make me say “fuck” a lot.

      2. Last time i flew, all i did was look surly and i got pulled out for the patdown. I thought about making a joke about “you really should buy me dinner first,” but decided i didn’t want to get taken to the prostate exam room.

    3. Too late. People have already been conditioned to this at public schools. We need to stop sending out kids to school if we want to reverse this.

  12. “The TSA did not explain why comic books cause alarms.”

    X-ray machines essentially measure the densities of whatever the target is. A tightly bound stack of comic books is probably of similar density to some type of explosive, or a brick of some other contraband.

    1. So three weeks ago the family is flying back from a weeklong vacation in Philadelphia (seeing the historic sites mostly). When we are on a long vacation, my wife likes to buy fresh fruit and vegetables for everyone to snack on. She had bought a small watermelon, but had not gotten around to cutting it up by the time we left. So of course we bring it as a carry-on. She then had to spend 5 minutes explaining this to the TSA because we had not realized that a watermelon is a really suspicious looking item on an X-ray screening machine.

      1. Five minutes to examine a watermelon? You must have encountered one of those TSA agents who grew up/lives in one of those famous fruit and vegetable ” healthy food deserts” that abound in Philly.

        1. They took 15 minutes debating on whether the telescoping inspection mirror and bolt retrieval magnet I carried with me for a job fell under their rules for tools (which meant they were banned due to their length) or were like a selfie stick which were okay… This happened three times before I realized that the large knife I had lost a couple weeks prior was in the bottom of my backpack.

    2. X-ray machines essentially measure the densities of whatever the target is. A tightly bound stack of comic books is probably of similar density to some type of explosive, or a brick of some other contraband.

      Inks and lettering also fuck with X-rays. I used to ship/carry colloidal ink and dye solutions and you’d get bottles of seemingly translucent/clear liquid going appearing opaque in the X-ray machines. regularly spaced and separated letters from a relatively standardized printing press are one thing. Comic books, layered, if not outright opaque, probably look like all manner of imaginary boogey packages full of wires and covered with arabic lettering.

      1. This begs the question, “So?”

    3. Its not. Its approximately the same density as a block of wood.

  13. This is ridiculous. The TSA instruction is pretty clear.

    If you don’t want us going through your shit, don’t put comic books in your suitcase. Put them in your carry on because we’re going to rifle through that anyway.

    United overinterpreting that as a ban is pretty silly. The sad thing is they were trying to help out their customers. Instead they just screwed it up, so the lesson here will be to not relay TSA information to their customers.

  14. Thinking about this some more, the fault all lies with United. They should have simply copied and pasted the TSA advice, and then referred all questions back to TSA.

  15. The airline apparently was referring to a July 2016 blog post

    . . .

    But in fairness to United, this “guidance” sounds pretty firm,

    Well, actually that doesn’t sound pretty firm at all. That sounds like *a blog post*. Which isn’t guidance. Its unsolicited advice with no legal standing at all, at best.

    Unless the TSA is following the President’s lead of announcing policy changes by just posting them on a website and *assuming* people are reading it instead of, you know, notification of actual responsible personnel.

    1. Its unsolicited advice with no legal standing at all, at best.

      So? It isn’t like telling the TSA groper that “You have no legal standing to do this” makes any difference.

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