Free Minds & Free Markets

6 Reasons to Hate the TSA When You Travel This Christmas

Santa Claus is coming to town with all his liquids in a single quart-sized baggie.


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:

  1. 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:

TSA InstagramTSA Instagram

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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. "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.

  1. 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):

TSA InstagramTSA Instagram

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.

  1. 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."

Photo Credit: JASON REED/REUTERS/Newscom

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  • Rockabilly||

    Isn't the goober mint shut down ?

  • Earth Skeptic||

    Hmmm. If whoever plays the retard in Security Theater thinks the pink dino-grenade or full metal jacket whisky rounds are real, then I bet we can find other retatrds onboard a flight during Hijack Theater who think the same thing.

  • cjcoats||

    The cost imposed by the TSA should be measured properly: in terms of the total fractions of lives wasted by its behavior.
    With 41,000,000 passengers this holiday season, the arithmetic is quite simple: this holiday season, the TSA murdered about 75 people "on the installment plan."
    When you do this arithmetic on an annualized basis, you see that over the last decade the TSA is responsible for 7300-10700 deaths per year, making it one of the deadliest terrorist organizations on the planet.

  • Sevo||

    cjcoats|12.22.18 @ 9:38AM|#
    "The cost imposed by the TSA should be measured properly: in terms of the total fractions of lives wasted by its behavior.
    With 41,000,000 passengers this holiday season, the arithmetic is quite simple: this holiday season, the TSA murdered about 75 people "on the installment plan."
    When you do this arithmetic on an annualized basis, you see that over the last decade the TSA is responsible for 7300-10700 deaths per year, making it one of the deadliest terrorist organizations on the planet."

    Pretty sure I've got the arithmetic in a file somewhere on the desktop; I got roughly similar numbers and have posted this many times:
    TSA is far worse on the merits than any possible terrorism it is supposed to prevent, ignoring the loss of liberty, the outrageous costs and the inconvenience.
    There is one justification for TSA: It exists.

  • LynchPin1477||

    I'm legitimately curious about where these numbers come from. Can you explain?

  • cjcoats||

    (41,000,00 passengers)*(45 minutes/passenger)/((60 minutes/hour)*(5840 waking hours/year)*(70 years/lifetime))

    ... and at holidays, 45 minutes/passenger is extremely conservative.

  • Sevo||

    I used and hour delay and 75 year life-span; close enough for government work.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    "Jurassic'n for a bag search..."

    You gotta admit, it's a good line.

  • Leo Kovalensky II||

    Now we know who you *actually* work for.

  • Rich||

    "people who loiter suspiciously near security checkpoints could be put on the watch list."

    With all due respect, that's a fair number of TSA employees.

  • Longtobefree||

    Not to mention, the only way not to loiter near a checkpoint is to jump the line. Which will get you a lot more than on the watch list.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    the TSA's awarding-winning Instagram account


  • lap83||

    Crusty, your dumpster-themed Instagram account will probably never even be nominated. Just accept it and move on already!

  • Sevo||

    Only 6?!

  • RussianPrimeMinister||

    "But sometimes, it's the job that's the problem."

    Yeah, softball it. That'll show 'em.

  • esteve7||

    I'd rather have 1,000 reasons to hate SJWs. Their ideology truly is cancer

    Matt Christiansen's Call With Patreon

  • Tony||

    The right-wing idiot media must have really ramped up its agitation recently. Trump's having all these problems and suddenly half the internet is in a spitting rage about "SJWs" and other boogeymen.

  • OpenBordersLiberal-tarian||

    They're getting nervous because they know Mueller is reaching the final stages of his investigation. The walls are closing in. This is the beginning of the end. Especially now that Drumpf wants to withdraw from Syria and Afghanistan, proving he's the dangerous lunatic we in #TheResistance have been calling him all along. I bet Mueller's working extra hard now!


  • Tony||

    The US envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition just quit in protest, after the defense secretary quit in protest.

  • OpenBordersLiberal-tarian||

    As a left-libertarian Clinton voter, I favor a more aggressive policy of bombing and killing America's enemies overseas. We have to fight them over there so we don't end up fighting them here, as the saying goes. Clinton, with her years of foreign policy experience and successful tenure as Secretary of State, would obviously not be pursuing a course of action as reckless as Orange Hitler's.

    That's why I'm counting on Mueller more than ever now. There's still a chance Hillary Clinton can become President and reverse Drumpf's unconscionable strategic errors.


  • Tony||

    Alas, as much as restoring President-in-Exile Hillary to her rightful station, as always this country must contend with the whiniest bunch of retards in the western world who for some reason can't ever find an excuse to shut up and stop inflicting their idiocy on the rest of us. But maybe it's a mistake to constantly look over our shoulders and wonder what the rednecks are thinking. It's not like they're in any kind of physical shape to actually participate in an uprising.

  • OpenBordersLiberal-tarian||

    It's not like they're in any kind of physical shape to actually participate in an uprising.

    Be careful about shaming people for their body size. After all, 57% of African American women are obese, and they are a crucial component of #TheResistance.


  • Tony||

    I was speaking merely in practical terms. But have you ever seen an obese black woman in a physical altercation? I'd rather have them on my side. You've got the electric wheelchair brigade and the skinny-ass alt right delta males. Good luck.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Watching OpenBordersLiberal-tarian and Tony go back and forth is hilarious.

    One of them is a parody, and the other one is a joke.

  • Nardz||

    You beat me to it, Ken.

    This OBL-Tony exchange was the most enjoyable thing I've ever read on this site

  • BlueStarDragon||

    "Ken Shultz|12.22.18 @ 3:22PM|#

    Watching OpenBordersLiberal-tarian and Tony go back and forth is hilarious.

    One of them is a parody, and the other one is a joke."

    Damn I actually got this. Crap now i know I've spent to much time reading the Reason comment sections. I need to do something more useful with my life. Like work harder and play more video games.

  • Weygand||


  • David Welker||

    If you don't like Trump, you shouldn't like Hillary either. She was such a poor candidate, that she actually lost to Trump.

  • Tony||

    Just recently they ogled my naked body, I kid you not.

    Oh they do that to everyone?

  • OpenBordersLiberal-tarian||

    Drumpf's irresponsible foreign policy is already having terrifying consequences.

    Taliban greets Pentagon's withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan with cries of victory.

    Since Drumpf is a Christian extremist who literally wants to create the Handmaid's Tale here in America, it's not surprising he's handing Afghanistan over to another group of misogynists. President Hillary Clinton would absolutely not be doing something this crazy, which is one of the many reasons I voted for her.


  • OpenBordersLiberal-tarian||

    Great news! David Hogg is going to Harvard!

    Of course conservatives will pounce and say his 1270 SAT score is shockingly low, especially for a privileged white male, by the standards of a school that often rejects people with a perfect 1600. But that's beside the point. His activism for common sense gun safety legislation surely earned him a spot at our nation's most prestigious institution of higher education.


  • Cjmar462||

    Y'll are so dumb it ain't even funny. Funny how everyone has forgotten about 9/11 and other terrorists plots that were actually foiled. I also don't understand why people say "TSA has never caught a terrorist." Doesn't a terrorist have to come through in order to be caught? Getting upset because an elderly person had to get pat down. If any of you actually read other stories around the world, people do use the elderly to make sure plans go through. You don't see everything in the news. In 2005, somewhere in South America, a teenage boy used his grandpa to bring in grenades into an airport. At that time, all they did was a visual check on the elderly. They came through, the boy used the grenades. People always mention the test failure rate. That was a handful of airports. Not all 400+. Look around people, anybody can be a terrorist now. Is TSA great? No. Are they a deterrent? I believe so. Not one plane has gone down since 9/11. Something is working. However I laugh at the day when people get their way and we go back to pre 9/11 and then another 9/11 happens again. I will sit back and eat my popcorn while laughing even though it be no laughing matter and say. "Well, this is what people wanted."

  • Logics_Iknowitshardforsom||

    Well said. What people don't understand is that TSA makes it safe for them to write stupid ass articles like this. The reasons why they do what they do is because someone boarded a plane somewhere, with explosives, and blew the plane up. Shoe bomber, bomb in a computer, explosives in a bra. They even went as far as trying to assemble the bomb while in the air. So before that write dumb stuff like this, read up on why. I appreciate them for making me safe when I fly.

  • Ken Shultz||

    "What people don't understand is that TSA makes it safe for them to write stupid ass articles like this."

    This is horseshit.

    Questioning something that may or may not make us marginally safer at too much cost, too much inconvenience, and too much intrusion on our constitutional rights is perfectly appropriate.

    The difference isn't between safe and unsafe. There are people who care about safety more than anything else. They're called "paranoid agoraphobes", and they never leave their homes for years at a time.

    The rest of us make rational choices that compromise our safety every day. And if you think the only alternative to non-stop terrorism by way of airplanes is an out of control, outrageously expensive, bureaucracy that keeps us safe from terrorism by randomly feeling our daughters' junk, then maybe you need to go see a psychiatrist about your paranoia.

    Your inability to think clearly certainly doesn't make the rest of us dumb.

  • BigT||

    "randomly feeling our daughters' junk"

    Um...words elude me.

  • Ken Shultz||

    It isn't just kids.

    They needed this 95 year old woman to remove her diaper.

    Thank goodness the TSA is there to save us from harmless 95 year old women wearing diapers? I don't think so.

    Get a warrant.

    Another solution is for the airlines themselves to finance their own security and leave the taxpayers out of it.

  • Sevo||

    Cjmar462|12.22.18 @ 1:28PM|#
    "...Is TSA great? No. Are they a deterrent? I believe so...."

    I believe you're an idiot who can't do a arithmetic, along with being a slaver.
    Fuck off.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Denmark has a problem. They have all these refugees who have been convicted of various crimes in Denmark, serious crimes like rape, etc., but since they came into the country illegally and committed crimes before they became legal, they can't get papers to stay in Denmark--and who wants to keep convicted rapists, etc. in their country anyway? Meanwhile, these prisoners can't be repatriated to their home countries after they finish their sentences either because they would be tortured or executed So what to do with them?

    Escape from New York! They're going to keep them on an island.

  • OpenBordersLiberal-tarian||

    Once Robert Mueller and House Democrats remove this white nationalist government in 2019, the US should take them. It's the ideal solution from a Koch / Reason open borders perspective.

  • Rich||

    Lindholm is used as a laboratory and crematorium by scientists researching swine flu, rabies and other contagious diseases. ... Under the plan, the criminals can leave the island during the day but will have to report their whereabouts to authorities and return at night.

    What could *possibly* go wrong?

  • Ben_||

    I agree the TSA sucks and should be ended.

    But also, enumerating "reasons to hate" is not a sign of good mental health.

  • Ken Shultz||

    If it's okay to hate anything, surely it's useless bureaucrats who fondle our private parts for our own safety.

  • Ben_||

    Go ahead. Just don't be a "grievance collector". Google it if you want to know why not. It's a real problem.

  • Rich||

    "Oh, very well. We'll enumerate 'reasons to love the end of the TSA'."

  • Ben_||


  • Earth Skeptic||

    Or just unfriend them on FB.

  • gerry||

    Calling it your job don't make it right, boss.

  • Longtobefree||

    Right. I thought Nuremberg settled that one.

  • Rockabilly||

    Self Service TSA kiosks are being tested in Manchester, NH.

    You can grope your own naughty bits and the kiosks have porn feeds for any fetish

  • Tony||

    I had to fly through Newark last week, and to be honest after all the horror of that airport, I was just happy to be touched.

  • Fats of Fury||

    Ugh!. Now you'll have everyone sympathizing with the poor TSA agent.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    I'll see your EWR and raise you a LGA.

  • Fats of Fury||

    The old John Wayne movie "The High and the Mighty" had a character board a plane intending to shoot another character. That issue rose to a climax and ended amicably. When it was over they handed the gun back to the first character. That's back in the day when it was glamorous to fly.

  • Liberty Lover||

    How about Trump hires Michelle Obama to improve prison food. I mean look what she did for the school lunch program!

  • Longtobefree||

    Only need one. It is unconstitutional.

  • Trainer||

    I had my jewelry making tools taken from me. They were three pairs if teeny tiny piers for making chains and stuff. I was told tools were not allowed. All I could think of was that they were afraid someone was going to take the wiring in the seat arm rests and build a bomb.

  • I'm Not Sure||

    More likely, they've never seen tools like that before. And, Einsteins that they are, used that as a reason to confiscate them.

    Rule #1 of Bureaucracy Club... there is no downside to saying "No".

  • Longtobefree||

    In fairness, "no" is the correct answer 64% of the time.
    And it is trivial to change a "no" to a "yes", it is almost impossible to change a "yes" to a "no".
    Management 101.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Transport Sozialist Arbeiterpartei goons haven't changed a bit, I see... Creation of this bureaucracy was Saudi Islamic Statism's greatest strategic victory--likely to wreck U.S. capacity to produce airplanes and drive us back into the Railroad Era.

  • Uncle Jay||

    Reason Number Seven: Its an unnecessary, costly and out-of-control bureaucracy that thinks it can do anything it wants just because a lot of their employees carry guns.


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