Overreacting Airport Security
"Many airports have signs telling us to avoid humorous remarks... For instance, never tell a ticket agent, 'As a matter of fact, I DID accept items from persons unknown to me! A nice man in a chadar gave me this awesome luggage freshener with a clock attached!' Federal regulations require them to have no idea you're joking as they riddle your body with bullets.
So you're off to see the Honorary Uncle
in New Jersey
, and your flight leaves in 15 minutes. As you get to the terminal, you bend down to tie your shoe which has come undone. To your left, you hear someone scream something about a shoe bomb, and instants later, 20 security guards have dogpiled on you NFL style. Minutes later, you've been strip-searched and have to justify the fact that you have a pair of scissors in your carry-on bag. You have encountered the Overreacting Airport Security.
In the wake of 9/11, airport security in the United States has been ramped up significantly, and while random luggage checks, X-ray machines and Metal Detector Checkpoints
have been routine for a while, some feel that it reached ridiculous levels when water bottles and nail clippers were banned from flights.
In fiction, this phenomenon is almost always Played for Laughs
. May involve He's Got a Weapon!
or Police Are Useless
(see also Suicide by Cop
Anime and Manga
- In Zatch Bell!, a minor villain sets off a metal detector and is hauled away. Meanwhile, two other people are hauled away because they "look funny."
- An advertisement has a guy explaining to airport security that his phone is so powerful, it's basically a computer. Completely Missing the Point, they respond with a curt "Which is it? You seem to be changing your story...", ending with an implication that he's about to be strip-searched.
- In For Better Or For Worse, the family gets in trouble when the kids play with toy ray guns, which no one in their right mind would confuse for real weapons. Luckily, a more reasonable security officer defuses the situation.
- In Samowar In Atlantis, Björn encounters them on his return from Judea where he "overslept" quite interesting times. Things didn't escalate as Björn didn't hesitate to open his suitcase with a big samovar, a tea cooker, and he knew too well what happened, but he still found their faint of heart puzzling and quite unprofessional.
- Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa: King Julien tries to keep Mort off the flight by shouting "Watch out! He's got scissors and hand cream!" The guards, who had just been lounging until that moment, dogpile on him.
- Of course, when Mort crawl out of the dogpile, he's carrying scissors!
- In Kangaroo Jack: Charlie gets strip-searched when they find his hair dressing scissors in his bag.
- It's also because he's a terrible actor. His Black Best Friend is naturally friendly and is able to easily charm his way through security. When Charlie tries to do the same, the cutaway shows him being strip searched.
- Parodied in Airplane! 2. A man walks through a security checkpoint carrying a machine gun and the guards pay no attention. An old lady walks through and the guards grab her and push her against a wall.
- There's also the Airplane! scene where someone says "Hi, Jack" and the guards descend on him.
- In the 2008 film Get Smart, Maxwell Smart tries to scrape gum off his shoe while on a plane. Another passenger sees this and thinks that he's trying to "light" it. Max tries to explain that it's just gum. Unfortunately, another passenger thinks he said "gun". After this, Max is tackled to the ground by security and is forced to spend the rest of the flight tied up and under close watch.
- In Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, an old lady on the plane sees Kumar as a raving Arab potential terrorist; when he puts his bong together in the restroom, he gets caught and says, "it's just a bong," but she (and others) think he says "bomb".
- It doesn't help that the guy in charge of Homeland Security is a complete nut who can't tell an Indian from an Arab and assumes that every person of Korean descent is a North Korean agent. Hell, he can't even figure out that Harold and Kumar's parents were born in the US and tries to talk to them through an interpreter.
- Part of a Humiliation Conga in Meet the Parents; subverted in the sequel.
- A particularly nasty version in Anger Management, justified in that everyone, except the air marshal, who was just having a bad day himself, was in on it to piss off the protagonist.
- In the Muppets Christmas special Letters to Santa, Fozzie is told by a security guard that telling bad jokes on an airport terminal is against security regulations. After Fozzie tells him that he has better jokes and takes them out to show him, the guard shouts "He's got index cards!" and poor Fozzie is tackled and taken away.
- In the first episode of Bones, Brennan gets accosted by security (who didn't initially identify themselves so she beat them up), but it turns out it was just Booth messing with her.
- It gets better: One of the guards searches her carry-on bag... and finds a human skull.
- A subplot was scripted for Friends in which Chandler, en route to his honeymoon with Monica, makes a joke about bombs at airport security, but is hauled in and interrogated. The subplot had to be quickly scrapped and replaced, because it was due to air mere weeks after 9/11.
- In the Drake & Josh made for TV movie, Drake And Josh Go Hollywood, Drake and Josh put their sister Megan on the wrong plane. After they discover this, the two attempt to run onto the plane and get here before it takes off. They are stopped by security. Afterwards, the boys are released and one of the officers tell them that they take airport security "very seriously", to which Josh voices his concern on whether or not the strip search was really necessary.
- On an episode of Modern Family, Manny, who is age 11, is questioned by the Homeland Security Department because his name appears on the "do not fly list". From his and his mother's reactions, this isn't the first time this has happened.
- On Would I Lie to You?, Lee Mack once claimed that he received a strip search at Miami Airport after making a joke about Ronald Reagan. It wasn't true. He went on to complain about the show forcing him to come up with a plausible joke on the fly.
- Double Subverted in Monty Python's Flying Circus with the watch smuggler sketch. The guard refuses to recognise the smuggler's obvious (and confessed) guilt. Then at the end he arrests an obviously innocent clergyman.
- An episode of 7th Heaven has two characters held up and frustrated by airport security. It doesn't help when, in their frustration, one of them sarcastically mentions having a bomb on their person, which results instantly in outright detaining. They're let go but warned that they have to take every threat seriously regardless of how obvious the sarcasm is.
- Inverted in Community, where the security agents look through Abed's stuff before he's done anything, but eventually let him get away with making a joke about a bomb on a show that was aired across campus.
- A mild example in the Lie to Me pilot, where Lightman is at the airport with Foster and carrying a briefcase. He is waiting in line at a security checkpoint and steps out to look past the line (possibly to see how long he'd have to wait). He is immediately approached by a female security officer who asks him to step aside and open his briefcase. He does and reveals that it's full of cash. He then proceeds to question her about what clued her in that something was up and reveals that the whole thing is an impromptu audition for her to join the Lightman Group. The cash is a starting bonus. She becomes a regular cast member.
- A rail version on Gavin and Stacey, when Gavin decides at the last minute to bite the bullet and propose to Stacey before she gets the train home, and jumps the barrier to do so. He ends up getting held at gunpoint by multiple transport police when he reaches into his jacket for something, and just manages to get the proposal out before he's tackled.
- Allegations about the physicalness of security procedures put into place by the Transportation Security Administration in November 2010 were parodied with this Saturday Night Live sketch.
- Inverted in Big Trouble: two incompetent terrorists easily bring a nuclear bomb onto an airplane (they claim it's a garbage disposal). The guard is too disinterested to bother stopping them. Ironically, this was part of the reason The Film of the Book got a huge delay slapped on its shortly-after-9/11 release date.
- The Ronnie Johns Half Hour has a sketch where Chopper has to go through airport security. After making numerous terrorism jokes involving his nail clippers, he throws a teatowel over a dark skinned man and accuses him of being a terrorist. The airport security officers cart the innocent man away and Chopper gets on his flight. His plan was successful because, "they're always gonna pin it on some poor bloke who looks like an arab."
- In one episode of Mitch Benn's Crimes Against Music, Mitch is planning to tour America, but is stopped at airport security because he's on a list of un-American satirists. When he tries to demonstrate that he's going to sing nice songs, they panic. "He's reaching for the guitar!"
- Robin Williams riffed on this in his HBO special Robin Williams: Live on Broadway (which aired less than a year after 9/11):
"Airport security used to be like, (imitates someone going through a metal detector) BEEP! 'Okay, get on the plane. What's that? Oh, that's a gun. Okay, get on the plane.' You could carry a four-inch blade on a plane. That's about that long. (demonstrates) Now, you can't even take a nail-clipper on a plane. What, are they afraid you're gonna go 'ALL RIGHT! Hand over the plane or the bitch loses a cuticle! I have a nail file! I can be irritating!'"
- Dara Ó Briain tells a story about a guy who is planning to ask his girlfriend to marry him on their vacation and thus hesitates to open that one little black box when he's asked to, leading to a showdown and eventually a proposal in the security line.
- Magic, but close enough. Penn And Teller sell metal cards inscribed with the Bill of Rights after their Las Vegas shows to help make a point; they think this is one of those anvils that needs dropping, at least.
- xkcd did one on this. The scene was of a guy and his wife being stopped by the TSA with the guy explaining to the officer that his laptop battery contained as much stored power as a hand grenade and if it went off, then there would be a pretty bad explosion. As the man is being arrested, he exclaims, "You can't arrest me if I prove your rules inconsistent!", which just goes to show he doesn't really understand how people work.
- Least I Could Do used this as the cap to an Escalating Prank War between main character Rayne and his Jerk Ass brother Eric. After weeks worth of material of the two trying to outdo each other, when Eric is leaving Rayne tricks him into saying bomb in an airport. Eric immediately recognizes his mistake and congratulations Rayne on the cleverness of it as he's led away by security. Link.
- Ozy from Ozy And Millie doesn't get dogpiled, but he does have all his fur shaved off because his name happened to pop up on a list.
- On King of the Hill, Hank was bringing a turkey to [wherever they were going] for Thanksgiving/ Christmas but it got the attention of the bomb-sniffing dogs, so the bomb squad blew it up.
- The airport security in the South Park episode "The Entity". They Killed Kenny for carrying a nailclipper.
- Parodied in "Reverse Cowgirl" with the Toilet Safety Administration.
- Truth in Television
- Word Of God: Airline executives cheered on 9/12 because (they thought) it spelled the death of the pending Passengers Bill of Rights at airports and on airplanes (that didn't stop the executives from demanding bailouts when people stopped flying, however, the passengers blamed fear of terrorists rather than thuggish mistreatment by the airlines and airports themselves).
- While traveling to Belfast for a promotional screening, Matt Smith (aka the Eleventh Doctor) was stopped by security at Heathrow Airport after a scanner revealed a "potential weapon" in his luggage. The "weapon" in question? His sonic screwdriver◊. The joke really writes itself.
- The main point here is that the guards didn't recognise him and therefore had no idea what the funny metal thing was, so it's reasonable enough that they would want to inspect it visually - which is all they did.
- Another Real Life example: TSA agents at the airport in Phoenix, Arizona stopped retired Marine Corps General (and former Governor of South Dakota) Joe Foss and attempted to confiscate his Medal of Honor (yes, you read that right... the man earned the highest award the United States can give someone during World War II). While the agents in question claimed that they "thought it could be used as a weapon", General Foss himself has stated that he's pretty sure they were trying to find a way to steal it from him.
- After the "Shoe Bomber" incident, writer Calvin Trillin was being interviewed on The Daily Show and suggested that the perpetrator was the one terrorist in his cell with a sense of humor and had made a bet with his co-conspirators that he could get everybody taking their shoes off at airports. He concluded that if the main player in the next highly publicized foiled terror plot was known as the "Underwear Bomber," then we'd know he was onto something.
- Sad examples of this include the 95-year-old cancer patient forced to take off her diaper and the baby given a pat down.
- Senator Rand Paul, son of the increasingly well known congressman Ron Paul, was detained by TSA agents when flying to D.C. which many felt was a retaliation for his constant criticisms of the TSA's excessive and invasive searches. While the TSA claimed he was "irate" and being uncooperative they rather quickly dropped any claims when video surveillance showed him acting completely calm during the incident.
- Another incident is where the TSA thought that cupcake icing could be used as a bomb.
- Not to condone the unrestrained debauchery of the blatantly sociopathic personalities at the TSA, but interestingly there is in fact a type of plastique, developed all the way back in World War II, that can be disguised as cake and is even edible.
- Among the most jaw-dropping of abuses, in April of 2012, TSA screeners separated a 4-year-old child from her family and screamed at her, calling her an "uncooperative suspect" and threatening arrest. The child's parents have since reported that she wakes up screaming or crying almost every night due to nightmares brought on by this incident. TSA's actions were in response to the child hugging her grandmother.