The Transportation Security Agency (TSA) projects that a record 41 million people will fly this holiday season. If you're one of them, be warned: The agency doesn't have a great track record when it comes to…well, anything.
With that in mind, here are seven times the TSA made us shake our heads—either in mild disbelief or intense disgust—in 2018:
- TSA confiscated a pink, plastic, dinosaur-shaped hand grenade toy.
This is courtesy of the TSA's awarding-winning Instagram account (it's won more awards than the agency has caught terrorists), which regularly posts photos of confiscated items. In February, the TSA explained that it had found the toy in a carry-on bag in Denver. As you (or anyone with half a brain) can see below, it was clearly not a real grenade:
But it still wasn't allowed. The agency prohibits "replica firearms," including toys, in carry-ons. That policy apparently applies to plastic dinosaurs as well.
- A secret watch list for loiterers?
In May, The New York Times revealed a five-page directive regarding a watch list for unruly passengers. What kind of behavior could warrant a spot on the list? Anything that's "offensive and without legal justification" or that threatens "the safe and effective completion of screening."
If you think that's rather broad, you're right: The Times reported that "people who loiter suspiciously near security checkpoints could be put on the watch list." So you'd better keep it moving when you're traveling this holiday season, or you could end up on the TSA's naughty list.
- TSA agents spent five minutes searching a 96-year-old woman in a wheelchair.
"What the hell do you think she's going to do? Set off a shoe bomb?" Jeanne Clarkson asked as TSA screeners patted down her 96-year-old, wheelchair-bound mother. Clarkson filmed the encounter and posted the video to Facebook, where it racked up more than nine million views:
The agents in the video were very polite, and no doubt they were just trying to do their jobs. But sometimes, it's the job that's the problem. Groping an old woman in a wheelchair is security theater at its worst. Instead of robbing senior citizens of their dignity, perhaps the TSA should get better at identifying actual weapons.
- "Air marshals secretly followed an artsy Virginia mom on flights to make sure she wasn't going to destroy America."
It sounds ridiculous, but it's completely true. As Reason's Scott Shackford wrote earlier this year, federal air marshals (who operate under the TSA umbrella) started tracking Taylor Usry, a social media manager who had traveled to Turkey to take some art courses, after she returned to the United States. Air marshals followed her when she flew to Florida in July, tracking everything she did and even boarding the flight with her.
Usry was one of 5,000 passengers tracked by the TSA's "Quiet Skies" program from March to July. Those passengers included American citizens who were not under federal investigation and not on a terror watch list. The TSA never revealed how it decided who to target, and it's still unclear why air marshals felt the need to note such supposedly suspicious behaviors as using the restroom, sweating, and sleeping on a flight.
Thankfully, the TSA said last week it would stop tracking the normal movements of people who aren't suspected of wrongdoing—though Quiet Skies will still exist in some form or another.
- The TSA confiscated bullet-shaped ice cubes, because reasons.
Here's another gold-star effort from TSA screeners. In October, the agency posted a photo of some bullet-shaped whiskey stones they had confiscated at an airport in Idaho. Whiskey stones, of course, are used to chill drinks. Crucially, they are not bullets (which the TSA bans from carry-on luggage):
Again, the TSA does have a policy against bringing replica firearms through security. But in the post, the agency also notes that empty shell casings are fine "as long as the projectile is no longer intact, and the primer has been removed or has been discharged." In this case, the whiskey stones never had a projectile or a primer in the first place because, again, they're basically ice cubes. But you still can't pack them in your carry-on. Otherwise, the terrorists win.
- TSA puts the squeeze on a working mom.
As a working mother of two, Heather Gieseke, had flown enough to become familiar with the TSA's policies regarding breast milk. She knew she was allowed to bring her milk through security, and she knew she was within her rights to decline to a) have her bag of milk scanned by the X-ray machine, and b) open it.
She knew a lot more about these guidelines than the TSA agents at Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport did. Gieseke was flying home to Illinois in October when screeners asked her to open her bag of milk so they could test it. Worried that it might become contaminated, she declined. But agents told her she couldn't fly with the milk unless she complied. Eventually, Gieseke went on her way without her full day's worth of milk, which went to waste. "At the end of the day, it was the TSA agents versus me," Gieseke told Reason at the time, and "the mom is going to lose every time in that situation."