This sounds like something out of a dystopian novel such as Fahrenheit 451 or 1984: The TSA is asking passengers to remove books from their carry-on luggage when going through security.
That’s right, books. On Wednesday, author Roxane Gay tweeted, “Today at the airport TSA said we have to remove books from our carry one and put them in a bin. I. Refused.”
Today at the airport TSA said we have to remove books from our carry one and put them in a bin. I. Refused.
— roxane gay (@rgay) March 1, 2017
Gay responded to comments beneath her tweet that she was allowed to proceed to her gate with her book. It’s unclear whether she placed her book in the security bin or left it in her carry-on.
According to other travelers, removing books from carry-on bags is a common request.
I got searched at TSA on the way back into US for having "too many books." 🤘
— Ross Kerr (@rosscampk) January 19, 2017
in possibly the most me thing that ever happened, i just got stopped by the tsa because i was carrying so many books it was suspicious
— cassidy (@ohcassiebee) January 7, 2017
TSA asked us to pull books out of our bags before they were scanned at security over the weekend. Kinda weird.
— Andrew Moore (@yandrewmoore) February 22, 2017
Why Are Books Being Screened by the TSA?
It’s surprising to see books being added to the list of security precautions. Travel can be frustrating enough thanks all the inane things we must do just to get onboard a plane: Empty water bottles. Take off our shoes and jackets. Unpack toiletries. Remove laptops.
Adding another step to that list, unpacking something as innocuous as books, seems like a step too far.
It’s hard not to joke that an authoritarian agency like the TSA has nefarious reasons for screening books. Are they cracking down on knowledge? Suspicious of people who read? Has the TSA become the Thought Police?
The TSA’s reason for screening books may simply be logistical. Some travelers have tweeted that they were told books can’t be properly scanned by the X-ray machines or may look like bombs when placed near electronic cables.
There’s no mention of removing books from carry-on bags anywhere on the TSA’s website. Books do not appear in the Prohibited Items list, the Travel Checklist that documents the 3-1-1 liquids rule and other packing requirements, or the Frequently Asked Questions that address everything from body piercings to breast milk.
I emailed the TSA to find out if there’s an official reason why books are being placed in bins to be scanned. A spokesperson named Michael England responded, “Books are generally permitted in carry-on bags. However, even if an item is generally permitted, it may be subject to additional screening or not allowed through the checkpoint if it triggers an alarm during the screening process, appears to have been tampered with, or poses other security concerns. The final decision rests with TSA on whether to allow any items on the plane.”