Delta Boots Traveler for Satiric T-shirt

If you believe freedom of expression extends to mocking TSA’s paranoia, you have not flown lately. On August 18th Arijit Guha was barred from a Delta flight from Buffalo to Phoenix because of a t-shirt.

This is a new twist on a phenomenon Care2 bloggers have addressed before. The Transportation Security Administration has disabled insulin pumps, barred breast milk pumps, confiscated a cupcake because of its frosting, put a toddler and a student on a “no fly” list, and stopped blacks and Hispanics because they fit racist stereotypes.

As Arijit details on a blog, now a t-shirt can get you banned from a flight. A pilot may be the one who makes the call. He and his wife attended a family funeral.

On the way back, they flew through Atlanta without incident. Things changed in Buffalo, when a Delta supervisor told Arijit he was making passengers and employees “very uncomfortable” with his satiric t-shirt’s TSA logo and message about “ZOMG Terrorists.” (Cory Doctorow designed it and made it available via Creative Commons.)

Although initially cleared to fly, and willing to change shirts, he was ordered to wait until all other passengers boarded. He says the pilot decided he did not want him on the plane, so Arijit and his wife were refused boarding. The ordeal continued as transit police kept up the questioning until the couple missed the last flight of the day.

After a long drive to spend the night with relatives and an early morning return to the airport, they finally caught a flight home. Although Arijit says the lead TSA agent treated them with the respect, he called the transit police “thuggish brutes.”

Next: What Does It All Mean?

A warning on the shirtwoot! site says, “Don’t wear this shirt to: an airport security checkpoint, or anywhere near a secure federal installation.” Arijit had to have been aware the combination of his brown skin and the t-shirt’s message would trigger racist paranoia and TSA over-reaction. He was likely fed up with both. Contemplating the meaning of the episode, he writes:

There are certainly some reasonable questions one can ask of this entire incident. As a friend asked via Twitter: where should we draw the line when it comes to what people can and can’t say in airports and what counts as “crying fire in a theater” territory?

The distinction I would make is the same one that was made by the Supreme Court in Cohen vs. California (h/t Matthew Davis for reminding me of this case in a comment on my Storify account of this incident). In that case, the majority of justices were willing to distinguish between speech and conduct. I was doing nothing more than wearing a shirt that poked fun at our national willingness to give up our freedoms in the face of fear. A satirical t-shirt doesn’t constitute a threat, and the TSA officers who interrogated me conceded as much. My shirt was speech, not conduct.

So far mainstream media have ignored Arijit’s story, though it has been picked up by numerous blogs. He is not the first to question homeland security’s intrusions into personal freedoms nor the public’s willingness to endure the erosion of civil rights. In “Smoke Screening”, published in the December 20, 2011 Vanity Fair, Charles C. Mann wrote of the $1.1 trillion the U.S. has spent on anti-terrorist measures:

To a large number of security analysts, this expenditure makes no sense. The vast cost is not worth the infinitesimal benefit. Not only has the actual threat from terror been exaggerated, they say, but the great bulk of the post-9/11 measures to contain it are little more than what [cryptographer and security technologist Bruce] Schneier mocks as “security theater”: actions that accomplish nothing but are designed to make the government look like it is on the job. In fact, the continuing expenditure on security may actually have made the United States less safe.

When Arijit wore the t-shirt on his flights, he must have known it could set off the security machine. On the other hand, that machine will keep rolling over civil rights until enough people stand up to it to grind it to a halt.

Until that happens, travelers can expect more of the current anti-terrorist measures Mann characterizes as, “So much inconvenience for so little benefit at such a staggering cost. And directed against a threat that, by any objective standard, is quite modest.”

Related Care2 Stories

TSA Forces Mom to Pump Breast Milk Before Boarding Plane

TSA Disables Diabetic Teen’s Livesaving Insulin Pump – Take Action

TSA Confiscates Cupcake Because of Frosting

Toddler Put on TSA’s “No Fly” List, Taken Off Plane

Racial Profiling Rampant at Boston Airport

American Student on ‘No Fly’ List Forced to Walk across Border

Graphic by Cary Doctorow via Creative Commons; photo from Thinkstock

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Dr Clue
Dr Clue3 years ago

Bringing down a complicated device like an aircraft dependent on many inputs while considering the many opportunities to thwart the needs of such a device is but intellectual childs play that need never pass through the terrorism theater is childs play, the planes keep flying.

It's of the same reality of border protection that finds no shortage of illegals to mow your lawn , drugs to make a sex session unique but deafens the world with the silence of terrorist bombs.

Fear sells , fear is profitable, yet the unreality fills theaters with bullets of death, Oklahoma with chairs of morn , and the promise of more destruction born not of some foreign force but native born mental defects of unreality filling our nightly news.

Born not of defective genetics or defective nature , but rather a sales force of fear in count of coin.

J.T. SMITH3 years ago

I can think of a few alternative meanings for what TSA really stands for. Since they're not in the least polite, I'll let you fill in your own blanks.

As for post 201-09-11 airline security, all the US really had to do was follow the lead of El Al (Israel Airlines). This is an airline that has yet to have one single plane hijacked EVER. Their security measures were strong enough that they never had to change any of them after the kamikazes hi the towers, unlike the panic that ensued throughout what the majority of the rest of the airlines. I flew on El Al when I went to Israel in 1989, and flew them again when I returned to the US. The entire time, they treated their passengers with dignity, they were completely professional, and they weren't in the least intrusive. You really felt safe flying their airline. (Bear in mind that while this was obviously before 9/11, this was still the time when you were nearly asked if you were flying armed or unarmed, and suggested that in case of hijacking, a 9mm would drop from the ceiling and you should take it to the cockpit in the name of Allah. IOW, there were a LOT of hijackings constantly making the news, and my previous sentence comes from Robin Williams' take on the entire situation.)

devon leonard
Devon Leonard3 years ago

It's too uptight here to write, so I'll wish you all a peaceful goodnight.
One thing I will say is that life does not have to be this hard..... on the airline, or here on care2.
There's only one thing any of us has any control over...and that's our self.

Dr Clue
Dr Clue3 years ago


ZOMG abbreviation informal
(used especially on electronic message boards as a sarcastic comment on an inexperienced or over enthusiastic poster) oh my God!:

usage example : ZOMG!! I finally managed to reformat the file

Jessica Larsen

Nothing new about this. Some years ago, someone was denied flying because of his Bush shirt
At least it hits all T-shirts, so that at least makes it fair.

For the record I understand if Arjit made other passengers nervous.. You never know

Dr Clue
Dr Clue3 years ago

@Daniel D [Also, did somebody lose a closing tag somewhere? Everything I see is bold.]

It would appear the unclosed element would be in the article itself as going to page (2) of same makes the bold artifact go away.

Imagine the shock of all if Care2 actually hired one of it's fans here to fix the boatload of functional problems with this site. There is confidence here that within the first few weeks of effort the site would have about half the server load and a noticeable performance boost.

Having applied on more than one occasion , there has yet to be any response, yet the site keeps suffering from seriously bad voodoo coding.

Dr Clue
Dr Clue3 years ago

@Veronica C. [It's interesting that someone can wear whatever they'd like, but someone can't post their opinion on this site without criticism. Ironic.]

That's the thing about the 1st Amendment, that you don't seem to understand, which is that EVERYONE is entitled to express their opinions.

What , you thought that only you had a 1st amendment right to post a comment and that nobody else has the 1st amendment right to counter your expression with their own?

There indeed is a popular political party out there with a "I've got mine , screw everyone else" philosophy , and you can even vote for them if you like, I won't.

Dr Clue
Dr Clue3 years ago

@Sandra L. [If you can't SAY "Bomb the US", why should you be allowed to wear the words on your chest?]

Really Sandra , if you're going to try and photoshop reality , you really should not try to do so when the actual T-Shirt in question is right there in front of us.

NOWHERE on the T-Shirt does it say "Bomb the US".

Of course when did reality ever matter to the Photoshop-ers of reality eh?

There are absolutely ZERO threats on the t-shirt ,just satirical jabs at a pointless agency that preys upon the feeble minds of those that worship fear.

Daniel D.
Daniel D.3 years ago


The shirt doesn't have a direct threat; I'd guess it's supposed to be a parody of the mindset required to actually think the TSA procedures are necessary. (Incidentally, "TERRIST" is the bit all the people complaining about not seeing the word "terrorist" on the shirt are missing - it's deliberately misspelled.)

The *really* outrageous part is that the TSA actually cleared him to fly, and he was willing to change shirts to deal with people being "uncomfortable", but then the pilot wouldn't let him on even then. While he shouldn't *have* to change shirts, he was willing to, but wasn't even allowed the opportunity, and it wasn't even the TSA officials making the call.

Also, did somebody lose a closing tag somewhere? Everything I see is bold.

Sandra L.
Sandra Lane3 years ago

If you can't SAY "Bomb the US", why should you be allowed to wear the words on your chest? I hate that we are all subjected to the security measures, inconvenient and humiliating, but wearing shirts that provoke the people who are responsible for passengers' safety is just asking for trouble. I say keep the guy off the plane unless he removes the shirt. If I were a passenger on his plane and saw his shirt, I'd think twice about boarding.