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Overreacting Airport Security

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"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.

Depending on the media, you can pretty much guarantee that any instance of this will have someone show up with a handheld scanner, complete with the iconic chirping noise playing when in use.

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. Many feel security is too paranoid in the modern day, and as a result, tend to drive or take Amtrak instead.note  This trope combined with the arrival of High Speed Rail and the growing awareness of the environmental impact of air travel has also spelled the end of "commute" flights on many corridors in Europe and Asia.

This phenomenon has become infamous, and in fiction, it's almost always Played for Laughs and Exaggerated. May involve He's Got a Weapon! or Police Are Useless (see also Suicide by Cop), as well as the security having Skewed Priorities in particularly extreme cases.

Not to be confused with Overacting Airport Security.


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  • An advertisement has a guy explaining to airport security that his phone is so powerful, it's basically a computer. Comically 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.

    Anime And Manga 

    Asian Animation 
  • In Happy Heroes and the Magical Lab episode 5, Careless S. is helping out at the airport's security scanner when the security machines aren't working forces people to check baggage for dangerous items manually. Doctor H. comes along with a box of milk cartons, and Careless S. has him drink all those cartons to prove they're just milk.

    Comic Books 
  • Fantastic Four: The Thing is told he can't bring nail clippers on an airplane because they might be dangerous. He gives the guy a magnificent "are you kidding me" look and they let him through.
  • Spider-Man and Aunt May were traveling through an airport to visit Mary Jane in California when they discovered his webshooters in one of the bags. At this point, Aunt May still knew that Peter was Spider-Man, so she bluffed the agents by claiming that the webshooters were something her gynecologist had her using (and looked like she was about to give them a detailed description of their use). The agents hurriedly packed the webshooters back up, but then one of them rebuked Peter for having, you guessed it, nail clippers.

    Fan Fic 
  • 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.

    Films — Animated 
  • 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 crawls out of the dogpile, he's carrying scissors!

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Kangaroo Jack: Charlie gets strip-searched when they find his hairdressing scissors in his bag. He actually is smuggling something into Australia ($50,000 in undeclared US currency), and his attempts to appear casual arouse so much suspicion because of how nervous he is. Meanwhile, his friend slides past by acting like a typical American tourist, despite the fact that he is the one with the 50 grand in his pocket.
  • There's the Airplane! scene where someone says "Hi, Jack" and the guards descend on him.
  • Parodied in Airplane II: The Sequel. 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. A few more heavily armed men go through the checkpoint while they're so occupied.
  • Zig-zagged in Big Trouble: the security officer in charge of doing baggage checks completely overlooks the fact that the "garbage disposal" the Stupid Crooks are carrying is actually an (incredibly obvious) small nuclear warhead and also doesn't notices that they brought a gun with them (they passed it by the metal detector with the other metal objects on the regular tray when she wasn't looking) and makes them move along out of annoyance. But when a cop without a badge (it's a long story) arrives to tell the security officers to be on the lookout for said crooks, out come the gloves and the strip-searching. This is one of several jokes in the film that, unfortunately, felt too soon in the aftermath of September 11th.
  • 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 (who wasn't even able to understand that the parents were speaking English despite their having a Midwestern American accent).
  • Meet the Parents: Greg has a horrible experience with the airline he used to fly to his in-laws' home, as they lost his luggage and also forced him to wait to be seated even though there were no other passengers present to board. He tries to avoid losing his luggage again by taking it with him on the plane, but when the flight attendant tries to take it from him, Greg snaps and yells at her that, among other things, it's not like he's carrying a bomb in his bag. Cut to the next scene, where he gets dragged off by the security for saying "bomb" on an airplane.
    Officer: I got a plane full of people saying you threatened that stewardess!
    Greg: I was not threatening her. I was just trying to get my bag into the overhead storage bin-
    Officer: You were acting like a maniac and you threatened her with a bomb.
    Greg: NO! I said I didn't have a bomb!
    Officer: You said bomb.
    Greg: I said "It's not like I have a bomb!"
    Officer: You said bomb on an airplane.
    Greg: What's wrong with saying bomb on an airplane?
    Officer: You can't say bomb on an airplane!
    Greg: Bomb bomb bomb! Bomb bomb ba-bomb! Bomb bomb bomb bomb bomb bomb bomb bomb!
  • 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.
  • We're the Millers: When the TSA officer is checking the "Millers'" IDs, he doesn't see anything suspicious about David and Casey's driver licenses (David is unshaven and has a different haircut in the photo, while Casey has a dozen piercings in hers), although their pictures look very different from their current looks. Kenny looks exactly like his picture... and he gets strip-searched for that.
  • Hot Bot: While chasing Huffy and Bardot into the airport, Agents Frazier and Koontz make the mistake of trying to charge their way past a security checkpoint. Flashing their credentials doesn't impress the security officers, and things go from bad to worse when the officers discover Frazier and Koontz are carrying guns. Huffy and Bardot get clean away, and a post-credits scene shows Frazier and Koontz still in the airport, being strip searched and with security preparing to do a cavity search.


    Live-Action TV 
  • 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 tea towel 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 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.
    • When the gang first meets Emily, she's in an extremely bad mood because, among other things, on arriving in the USA she was stopped and strip-searched because security mistook her for a drug mule.
      Emily: Apparently to you people I look like someone who's got a balloon full of cocaine stuffed up their bum.
  • 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 her before it takes off. They are stopped by security. Afterwards, the boys are released and one of the officers tells them that they take airport security "very seriously", to which Josh voices his concern on whether or not the strip search was really necessary.
  • One episode of The Big Bang Theory has Raj bemoan that, as a foreigner, he canít remember the last time he got through airport security without a cavity search.
  • 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 & 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.
  • Saturday Night Live:
    • Allegations about the physicalness of security procedures put into place by the Transportation Security Administration in November 2010 were parodied with this sketch.
    • John Mulaney's "Airport Sushi" musical sketch features a weird guy in pajamas (Jake Gyllenhall) singing (to the tune of "Defying Gravity") about how he wants the TSA to search him and his... "cavity."
  • In the Australian Border Security, an entire section of Sydney International Airport is cleared and shut down because an x-ray scanner revealed a grenade in a suitcase. It turns out to be a belt buckle, which is then confiscated. The thing is, this is fairly justified - it's now heavily advised against bringing anything which looks like a weapon, especially anything which looks like an explosive, because the X-Ray machine could set off the real thing in certain situations. This can also cause massive delays to prevent anyone from being killed but could cause hundreds of people to miss their flights if it happens.
  • Played for laughs in one episode of NCIS, where the team grabs a terrorist trying to leave the country by staking out an airport and catching him in the airport security line. As the perp is taken away, DiNozzo holds up the man's water bottle and calls out "When say no fluids beyond this point, we mean it!"
  • One Foot in the Grave: In the first episode of Season 2, this happens to Victor offscreen; when an airport customs official asked him how he was today, he replied that he was "fine apart from the crack in [his] bottom". (He suffers from an anal fissure.) Apparently the drugs officers then spent two and a half hours searching for it. (It's described in more detail in the novelisation, which observes that saying it wasn't a pleasant affair would be "like saying a rhinoceros was not a set of fitted wardrobes".)

    Newspaper Comics 
  • 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 another strip, April has all her belongings searched when they find a pair of nail scissors in her bag.
  • A FoxTrot strip also has the Fox family get busted because Jason packed several toy guns. When asked why he did so, Jason answers his dad just told him to not pack nail clippers.
  • Generally averted if not inverted in the comic strip Drabble. Ralph Drabble is an airport security man, and while he and his coworkers often annoy passengers, they're largely out to amuse themselves.

  • Cabin Pressure: At the end of the second episode, Captain Martin Crieff, feeling flush with success after getting through a situation with airport paramedics, starts getting overconfident and picks an argument with airport security after they try confiscating his nose-hair trimmer, including bringing up the fire ax on the jet, and the fact he could crash the jet if the mood takes him, even as his co-pilot and boss are telling him to shut up. He gets arrested.
  • 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!"

    Stand Up Comedy 
  • 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 & 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.
  • Hannibal Buress has a bit saying that nowadays it's probably easier to get cocaine on a plane than a bottle of water.
  • Jeff Foxworthy mentions how the list of items that are forbidden on airplanes includes leaf blowers and Coleman lanterns.
    "So if you are an international yardman who likes to work nights, you are S.O.L., buddy."
  • Jeff Dunham
    • One sketch with Walter has them explain how they once pranked a TSA agent who asked him to open the case Walter was in. So Jeff opened the case and Walter promptly went, "Hey, shut the damn door!"
    (audience laughs, Walter continues in a vaguely Indian accent) "'I do not want to go to Los Angeles!' We were detained. Those airline guys have no sense of humor."
    • Another opener has Jeff commenting about an overreacting airport security system. He went through security where they had to hand-check things rather than an automated process, so they have to pick-and-choose who to search, and "apparently [Jeff] looked like a terrorist with a trunk." Point A: the guard pulls out Peanut where other passers-through can see. Point B: he swabs Peanut's butt, instead of somewhere more reasonable. Point C: when the swab goes in the machine, the alarm goes off and Jeff finds himself against the wall, receiving a background check, getting his ID inspected.
    Jeff: What the hell was on Peanut's butt that labelled me as a potential terrorist?
    Guard: Plastic explosive. [...] The machine sometimes mistakes lotion for that...

    Tabletop Games 
  • One of the black cards in Cards Against Humanity is "TSA guidelines now prohibit _____ on airplanes." Depending on which white cards are played that round, you might find straight examples ("A really cool hat" is dangerous how, exactly?) or inversions (What took us so long to ban "Kamikaze pilots"?).

    Video Games 
  • Parodied in MARDEK, where you have to go through 10 security guards every time you want to use a teleporter, all of whom ask you ridiculous questions. If you answer a question incorrectly, the guards will yell "TERRORIST!!1" and transform into a nigh-invincible "security demon".
  • An announcement in the background of Zeldrin Spaceport in Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal informs travelers that thermonuclear devices and nail clippers are not allowed in carry-on luggage.
  • Borginia is a fictional country from Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney and is where the illegal "Borginian Cocoon" grows. Borginian customs officials are so concerned about stopping the smuggling of Borginian cocoons that they spend upwards to a day on security checks and confiscate marshmallows (which look just like the cocoons). Possession of cocoons results in immediate execution. The non-Borginian characters Lampshade this trope and justify it at the same time: a highly deadly poison can be easily extracted from it.
  • Inverted in Saints Row 2, where radio advertisements for the local airport claim that passengers are actively encouraged to bring their own weapons as a means of security. Training for the actual security guards consists mostly of memorizing the phrase "You're fine, go ahead through", evidently.
  • Mass Effect 2: A minor quest at the Citadel has Shepard helping out a pair of asari who've been denied passage because of new security measures to prevent geth infiltrators. As Shepard has to point out, the lack of flashlight heads is a dead giveaway. For added bonus, Shepard can be doing this with a geth standing right behind them.
    Legion: Geth do not infiltrate.
    Security official: You'll have to leave your synthetic assistant here. They're not allowed on the Citadel.
    Legion: ... geth do not intentionally infiltrate.

  • xkcd did one on this. A guy and his wife are 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 Jerkass 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 congratulates 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.
  • When the cast of Concession go on a trip, the TSA's reactions might have been justified, what with Rick hitting on a female agent, Matt having a baggie of something green (catnip, and not his), and Joel packing a whip, handcuffs, and a bunch of dildos.
  • Carry On: Corporal Taffy is having a hard time at the metal detector.
  • Sluggy Freelance: Torg gets tackled by the TSA and sent to Guantanamo after they overhear him trying to talk Riff out of blowing up his ex-employer's offices. Fortunately he gets released pretty quickly thanks to his Viking heritage.

    Web Video 
  • Code MENT has this exchange:
    Lelouch: I got stuck at the airport.
    Diethard: You haven't left yet?
    Lelouch: No, I told a TSA agent my underwear was the bomb.
    Diethard: Why would you tell him your underwear is a bomb?
    Lelouch: I didn't say it was a bomb, I said it was the bomb. Now I can't go.

    Western Animation 
  • In All Hail King Julien "Empty is the Head" Clover puts up a security checkpoint in front of King Julian's air plane and searches everyone. Anyone even remotely suspicious gets an intense security examination by Mort who puts up a rubber glove up his head. Even lemurs that are just passing by are getting searched.
  • On King of the Hill, Hank was bringing a turkey to Montana for Thanksgiving with Peggy's family, but it got the attention of the bomb-sniffing dogs, so the bomb squad blew it up.
  • South Park:
    • The airport security in the episode "The Entity". They Killed Kenny Again for carrying a nail clipper and motivated Mr. Garrison to invent an alternative form of cross-country transportation (which got banned by the government to protect the airlines).
    • Parodied in "Reverse Cowgirl" with the Toilet Safety Administration.
  • Bojack Horseman: Todd gets trapped inside Bojack's suitcase. The TSA agent watching the x-ray machine ignores the bag containing Todd and a bag full of guns... but sets off a full lockdown when she finds a small bottle of shampoo.
  • The Simpsons: One episode has Bart and Lisa distract airport security in order to get onto a plane by having Lisa loudly declare she's going into a lounge she doesn't have the proper pass for. Two guards draw assault rifles to deal with one eight-year-old girl.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic: In "Three's a Crowd", one line in Discord's song goes "Take tweezers out of my valise" while being checked by airport security. And in the background you can see a pony with bracelets unable to go past the metal detector.
  • Inside Job: Even the Shadow Government has to go through the TSA, which is depicted as a bunch of bitter control freaks who claim to be a branch of the military and detain Glenn for saying they're not. But when they try torturing his friends to make him say they're a branch of the military, Glenn demonstrates why they're not.