- An expanded version of my experience is recounted at my blog, Arijit vs. Delta, and can be seen here: arijitvsdelta.blogspot.com/
The story begins on Saturday, August 18. (The tweets date from the following morning, however, since my phone was low on charge Saturday evening.)
My wife and I arrived at Buffalo-Niagara International Airport to fly home to Phoenix after attending my wife's grandfather's funeral, flying via a layover in Atlanta on Delta #1176. While at the gate, a Delta supervisor informed me my shirt (this one here, designed by Cory Doctorow, @doctorow: http://shirt.woot.com/offers/threat-level-doctorow …) had made numerous passengers and employees “very uncomfortable.”
- I was then questioned by TSA about the significance and meaning of the shirt (“It's mocking the security theater charade and over-reactions to terrorism by the general public — both of which we're seeing right now, ironically.”) and was told I would be able to board the plane, but only after acquiescing to an additional security check of my and my wife's belongings and changing my shirt (“It's not you, it's the shirt,” as noted in a tweet below). We would then be the very last two people to board the plane. I agreed to these stipulations.
Soon afterwards, the Delta manager pulled me aside again, this time accompanied by not only three TSA agents, but also multiple Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority transit police. I was questioned some more, our bags were searched, and the TSA agents were satisfied we had nothing suspicious and posed no threat. At this point, however, the Delta manager informed us the pilot had decided, regardless of the outcome of the multiple TSA screenings and my willingness to change shirts, that due to the discomfort my shirt had caused, my wife and I would not be allowed to board the aircraft.
- Apparently, the fact that I was deemed not to be suspicious and we had no threatening objects in our baggage was irrelevant to Delta. Instead, the fact that someone had used their imagination to make the determination that I posed a threat was paramount. And appeasing those bigots by preventing us from flying was their preferred response.
Well, two of us can play that game. I can come up with completely unjustified imaginary scenarios about why other passengers might do, too. Of course, using my imagination about the threat posed by white passengers just doesn't carry the same weight with Delta as irrational fear-mongering of white bigots — Delta apparently takes pride in catering to their irrationality.
- At this point, the transit police began to aggressively question us. I was asked where my brother lives (he was the one who gifted me the shirt). A bit surprised by the irrelevant question, I paused for a moment before answering. “You had to think about that one. How come?,” I'm asked. I explained he recently moved. “Where'd he move from?” “Michigan,” I respond. “Michigan, what's that?,” she says. At this point, the main TSA agent who'd questioned me earlier interjects: “He said ‘Michigan’.” Unable to withhold my snark, I respond, “You've never heard of Michigan?”
This response did not please her partner, a transit cop named Mark. Mark grabbed his walkie-talkie and alerted his supervisor and requested that he be granted permission to question me in a private room. His justification?: “First he hesitated, then he gave a stupid answer.” Michigan, my friends, is a stupid answer. (As a lifelong Ohio State Buckeye fan, I suppose I could've already told you that.)
And then, he decided to drop any façade of fair treatment: the veil was lifted, this was about who I was and how I looked:
- Fortunately, his request was denied. Apparently, someone at NFTA recognized this bigoted meathead for the bigoted meathead he was.
- But the questioning from the transit cops continued. And the questioning on completely irrelevant topics, too, continued.
- In the world of NFTA transit police, women are the chattel of their husbands. And to indicate such, they must take their husbands' names! My wife's unwillingness to give in to this convention is clearly a sign of my swarthy suspicious character.
Eventually, after more questioning and being sniffed by drug-seeking dogs, we were rebooked on a flight the following morning at 7 am.
- Meanwhile, Delta didn't find it necessary to give us a place to stay for the night. Instead, we had to rent a car and drive to my in-laws' place, some one-and-a-half hours away. And then leave at 3:45 am to ensure we'd be able to make it to our morning flight after returning the rental car.