While trying to board a flight out of Buffalo, New York recently, a PhD student at Arizona State found out the hard way that being on a no-fly list isn’t the only way to attract the attention of the TSA — wearing a funny shirt will do the trick, too.
In a post published to his personal blog on Tuesday, a 31-year old doctoral candidate named Arijit recounts the horrors he experienced while attempting to fly from Buffalo-Niagara International Airport to Phoenix over the weekend after attending a funeral. In around 3,000 words he goes into great detail about being booted from a domestic flight, getting stuck renting a car and scrounging for overnight accommodations — something he argues most likely wouldn’t have happened if authorities didn’t make such a big fuss over his t-shirt.
The article of clothing that caused such a concern was a red t-shirt that featured a mock-up of the US Department of Homeland Security’s seal, surrounded with phrases such as “Bombs ZOMG,” “ZOMG Terrorists” and “Alert level bloodred — run, run take off your shoes.”
Arijit says he made it through the Transportation Security Administration’s standard screening routine without incident and that he was only questioned after arriving at his departure gate. There, he says, a supervisor from Delta Airlines started inquiring about the clothing, and soon after Arijit was quickly interrogated by others. He writes that he was then surrounded by agents with both the TSA and a crew from the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, the law enforcement agency that patrols Western New York’s mass transit system.
“I politely explained that it was ‘mocking the security theater charade and over-reactions to terrorism by the general public,’” Arijit writes. A supervisor for Delta Airlines, however, argued that it had made numerous passengers and employees “very uncomfortable.”
After being vigorously screened and questioned multiple times, Arijit says he was finally given permission, once more, to board his plane. The pilot of the aircraft, however, had had enough of the whole ordeal and asked the Delta supervisor to relay the message that, due to the discomfort the shirt had caused, neither Arijit nor his wife would be allowed to board the aircraft.
“Passengers on the plane supposedly felt uncomfortable with my very presence on the flight,” Arijit writes, “And the Delta manager went out of his way to point out that he wholeheartedly agreed with the pilot’s decision.”
“You’re f------ kidding me,” Arijit says he responded. “Why can’t I board? What’s the concern?”
“Just use your imagination,” the Delta supervisor informed him.
On his blog, Arijit says his reaction is still the same a few days later: “Wow.”
“Whatever I do, I am suspicious. Why?” he asks. “[It’s not] because the shirt I’m wearing presents some sort of legitimate threat. Not because I have weapons or potential bomb-making tools in my luggage. And not because I’ve shown any other indication of any sort that I’m a potential terrorist.Rather, the pilot and some Delta rep can project upon me their worst fears of what I am possibly capable of.”
“If that’s the case,” he continues, “why even bother with the bloated security apparatus — since Delta pilots have discretion to kick off passengers who've passed multiple checks, after all?”
By the time his entire ordeal was over, Arijit and his wife were forced to rent a car and find a place to stay for the evening on their own — they were rebooked for a flight the following morning.
Not before being interrogated further, though, and this time by local law enforcement officers with the NFTA. Even after being booted, Arijit says that transit cops questioned him relentlessly, asking him about where he got his shirt and for details about his family.
According to Arijits account, an NFTA officer named Mark radioed in on his walkie-talkie for permission to further interrogate the dangerous potential terrorist.
“He gave a stupid answer,” Arijit recalls hearing the officer say to a supervisor. “And he looks foreign.”
“Certainly he wasn’t implying that dark-skinned people are not real Americans and that white people are the only true Americans,” Arijit writes in part of his snark-filled synopsis. “Fortunately, Mark’s request was denied. Apparently, someone at NFTA recognized this bigoted meathead for the bigoted meathead he was and that nationality is simply a concept that exists solely on paper and cannot be discerned from just looking at someone.”
In the end, though, the alleged racism on the part of the NFTA was just a sliver of a seriously troubling ordeal that Arijit could assume is likely to occur again and again. On his personal Twitter account, he writes that that, although he might not agree with it, he certainly learned a lesson: “mock the security charade or offend racists by being brown and @Delta won't let you fly.”