ASU Student Says He Was Kicked Off Delta Flight Over Shirt Mocking the TSA

UPDATE: Delta's statement has been added below.

An Arizona State University Ph.D. student says his tee-shirt mocking the Transportation Security Administration led to him and his wife getting kicked off his flight returning to Phoenix over the weekend.

It wasn't the TSA that kicked them off the plane, though -- Arijit Guha tells New Times it was a Delta pilot's decision to keep them off the flight from Buffalo, New York.

While waiting at the gate, Guha says, one of the airline's supervisors told him his shirt made employees and passengers "uncomfortable."

The shirt logo makes a play on the TSA's logo, with the eagle holding untied shoes and pouring out a bottle of liquid. Around the seal, it says, "Bombs ZOMG/ZOMG terrists," and "Gonna kill us all ZOMG ZOMG alert level bloodred run run take off your shoes moisture." ("ZOMG" means "Oh my God," for those curious.)

Guha says he was told by the Delta supervisor that he'd have to deal with another security check, and he'd also have to change his shirt. Guha agreed, but after jumping through all the hoops, he says the pilot decided to make the final call -- Guha and his wife were not getting on that plane. (You can read his detailed explanation of events on his blog.)

Guha says the Delta supervisor said, "It's not you, it's the shirt" that caused the passengers to feel "uncomfortable." Since the Delta pilot allegedly prevented him from getting on the flight after he agreed to change his shirt, Guha says it went beyond the t-shirt.

"It's because I'm not white," Guha tells New Times. "I don't like to just assume racism in all cases...but the fact is that we'd taken the shirt out of play, but people still felt uncomfortable with my very presence on the flight. What else can it be?"

Guha says he's been "randomly selected" for extra security screenings at airports way too many times for his liking over the years, and he says what a transit policeman told him after he was booted from the flight confirmed his belief that this whole ordeal was race-related.

He says a Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority officer questioned him, and while asking a supervisor to question him in a private room, Guha says the officer gave his boss some reasons why -- among them, he "looks foreign."

Despite the Delta supervisor's telling Guha that the whole situation was "not you, it's the shirt,"  Guha says that turned out to be a "straight up lie."

Although the TSA shirt wasn't threatening, it may seem to some people that this could've been avoided without the garment. Guha emphatically denies this, telling us he was "not willing to accept the premise of that question."

"Some people who don't have to deal with this crap forget; whatever I would've been wearing, it didn't matter," he says. "Suit and tie -- I get pulled out; 'scary ethnic garb' -- it doesn't matter. I can't win."

Guha added later, "[T]he 'he had it coming for what he was wearing' comments are also indicative of a certain sense of privilege -- it's easy to say that if you're not constantly being profiled for Flying While Brown."

Guha and his wife eventually were put on a flight back to Arizona the next morning, but not until after he had to deal with the authorities (again, thoroughly detailed in his blog) for what? A shirt? Looking foreign?

What Guha's concerned with, at least, is that he was kicked off the flight because passengers were "uncomfortable" with him being on it -- which he claims the Delta pilot must have agreed with, and kept him off the plane.

We called Delta's corporate media-relations office; a woman took down some of the details and said someone would get back to us. If that happens, we'll let you know.

UPDATE: Delta e-mailed us the following statement:

Safety and security will always be our first priority and most fundamental obligation. Delta doesn't discriminate or condone discrimination of any kind against our employees or customers.

Meanwhile, Guha's complaining to officials to hold them responsible for how he was treated and is urging others to do the same.

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Matthew Hendley
Contact: Matthew Hendley