'Idiot' bag gets passenger detained
Mike M. Ahlers / CNN | September 28 2006
A Wisconsin man who wrote "Kip Hawley is an Idiot" on a plastic bag containing toiletries said he was detained at an airport security checkpoint for about 25 minutes before authorities concluded the statement was not a threat.
Ryan Bird, 31, said he wrote the comment about Hawley -- head of the Transportation Security Administration -- as a political statement. He said he feels the TSA is imposing unreasonable rules on passengers while ignoring bigger threats.
A TSA spokeswoman acknowledged a man was stopped, but likened the incident to cases in which people inappropriately joke about bombs. She said the man was "a little combative" and that he was detained only a few minutes.
The incident has ignited some chatter on Internet travel Web sites. More than 83,000 people have clicked on a FlyerTalk.com forum devoted to the episode, and the forum has grown to include 30 pages of comments.
Bird, the vice president of a company that manufactures industrial equipment, said the encounter occurred at Milwaukee Airport on Tuesday, the day the TSA eased restrictions on carry-on liquids, gels and aerosols.
Bird entered the airport checkpoint with a see-through resealable bag containing small containers of toothpaste, deodorant, mouthwash and hair gel -- in keeping with new TSA requirements.
"My level of frustration with the TSA and their idiotic policies has grown over 2 ½ years," he said. "I'm frustrated that poorly trained TSA people can pull random passengers out of line and pat them down like common criminals. The average traveler has no recourse."
Bird put the marked bag in a plastic tray along with his shoes and cell phone. A TSA screener saw the bag and went to get a supervisor, who grabbed it and asked Bird if it was his.
"It was obvious that he was already angry," Bird said, adding that the screener told him, "You can't write things like that."
The supervisor told Bird he had the right to express his opinions "out there" -- pointing outside the screening area -- but did not have the right "in here," Bird said.
The supervisor called a sheriff's deputy, who checked to see if Bird had any warrants for his arrest, Bird said. Bird asked the officer if he was under arrest, and was told that he was being detained, he said.
A supervisor said he was going to confiscate the bag, but after Bird refused, he just photographed it, Bird said.
Bird said he filed a complaint about the incident with the TSA.
A TSA spokeswoman said she could not confirm whether Bird had filed a complaint, but described the incident as insignificant.
Screeners looked at the bag to "make sure it wasn't anything like a bomb threat," she said. She said the man was "a little combative" and that a law enforcement officer came over, briefly interviewed him and determined that he hadn't broken any laws.
"Everyone's entitled to their own opinion," she said.
A spokeswoman for the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office said the TSA did call the sheriff's office to report an upset customer at the checkpoint. A deputy went to the scene, interviewed all of the participants, ran a wanted check on the man, and referred it back to the TSA after determining no crime had been committed, Deputy Darice Landon said.
Landon said the original call came at 2:21 p.m., and it was unclear how long the man was detained. There is no indication that he was combative, she said.
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