J.K. Rowling Challenges Airport Security

September 14th, 2006

British author J.K. Rowling says she won an argument with airport security officials in New York to carry the manuscript of the final ”Harry Potter” book as carryon baggage.

 Love, C.

40 Responses to “J.K. Rowling Challenges Airport Security”

  1. Erin Underwoodon 14 Sep 2006 at 12:49 pm

    That’s absurd and Ridiculous!

    Check out Neil Gaiman’s thoughts on the TSA List. It gave me a good chuckle.


  2. Muneravenon 14 Sep 2006 at 12:58 pm

    So a manuscript is now a weapon of mass destruction?

    “Take me to the cockpit or I’ll decimate you with paper cuts, dammit!”

    Don’t those security guys know a book is only dangerous when someone reads it?

  3. David Louis Edelmanon 14 Sep 2006 at 1:17 pm

    I think I must be the only person in the science fiction/fantasy world that doesn’t think these air travel restrictions are so ridiculous. I hope that TSA will review and revise them periodically — but, well, given that there’s a group that just a few weeks ago was involved in planning such an attack, doesn’t seem that ludicrous. To me, at any rate.

    George R.R. Martin had a very interesting thread in his blog recently about this issue too. Check out:
    http://grrm.livejournal.com/5804.html, http://grrm.livejournal.com/6138.html, and http://grrm.livejournal.com/6231.html.

  4. Madeleine Robinson 14 Sep 2006 at 1:34 pm

    I don’t find all the restrictions particularly objectionable, but…books? manuscript? Granted, the HP books have been getting bigger ‘n bigger, but I still don’t think Rowling could have done much damage, even if she slugged someone with the ms. Finished bound book, maybe, but not the ms.

  5. Erin Underwoodon 14 Sep 2006 at 4:36 pm

    I don’t find all of the restrictions objectionable either. In fact, I agree with a great many of the items on the TSA list, well, except for the corkscrew. I’m not sure why they are on the “allow” list. In any case, the restrictions on reading material, certain electronics, and a handful of other items sure make it difficult to fly. I find flying to be sheer torture without a book, a computer, a notepad, or something else to keep me occupied.

    Personal Opinion Alert –
    The terrorists don’t really need to blow up a plane to inflict pain and torture on us, all they have to do is instill such a deep seated fear in us that our daily activities are irreparably obstructed and redefined. We are now living in the Age of Terrorism and terrorism is beginning to take on a new and insidious definition. When a terrorist is able to make a county’s government confiscate a fiction novel from a traveler, I begin thinking that perhaps blowing up a plane wasn’t really the terrorists end goal – but this is just my opinion.

  6. David Louis Edelmanon 14 Sep 2006 at 5:52 pm

    Erin: If you’re interested in knowing what the terrorists’ goal was in slamming airplanes into the World Trade Center, just ask Osama bin Laden. He says his goal was to provoke the United States into invading the Middle East and thereby spark a Muslim holy war. Good thing that hasn’t happened.

  7. Grace Roeberon 14 Sep 2006 at 6:49 pm

    Recently came back on a flight from Canada.

    Love the country. I went to Toronto, simply wonderful.

    But, I couldn’t help but wonder how I managed to convince customs to approve my ‘takeout’ chinese supper through security to eat while I waited for my flight?

    Should I be frightened?


    Satiated? (It was yummy)

    And I later washed out my mouth with the small bottle of mouthwash had tucked away in my purse.

    Minty fresh, full tummy and wondering if Canada wouldn’t be a favorite port of entry in the future for other …….’visitors’.


    Just a thought.


  8. Erin Underwoodon 14 Sep 2006 at 7:44 pm

    David, don’t get me wrong, I fully acknowledge the physical aspects of terrorism that result in the horrible violence that we’ve seen in the world. However, it seems like there is also a growing amount of psychological terrorism that we’re beginning to see … or perhaps it’s always been there, and I am just now becoming aware of it.

  9. Sherwood Smithon 14 Sep 2006 at 10:01 pm

    I figure if ol’ J.K. got too much flak from the airline officials, she could just buy the entire airline (and the airport), toss them all off, and fly in comfort. Pocket change for her! She could probably write it off as a necessary business expense.

  10. A.R.Yngveon 15 Sep 2006 at 6:45 am

    Since no one else has done it, I will. Here goes…






  11. kateelliotton 15 Sep 2006 at 12:55 pm

    I like the “hand baggage of secrets.”

    Is this business with carrying on mss and such just for flights to and from Britain? I don’t get the impression other flighst are as strict.

  12. Gwenon 15 Sep 2006 at 5:59 pm

    I read something a while back with someone talking about the whole London terrorist plot thing. As I recall, (s)he thought that it was utterly ridiculous for a whole slew of reasons, but somehow mentioned that it was possible to take a certain kind of explosive and make all sorts of paper (or even fabric) items out of it so that you’d only need to add some other liquid to it to make it go boom. So…if someone really wanted to go to all the trouble to, I don’t know, make J. K. Rowling go through a fake paper company that only supplied this explosive paper so that she’d end up writing her manuscript on it, then make sure to get the same flight she was taking and smuggle the liquid on board in, I don’t know, toothpaste containers, and then steal the manuscript from her mid-flight, go up to the cockpit and explain to the pilot that unless she turns over the flight to you, you’ll blow up the plane using the liquid and the paper (and educate her on the chemistry behind the whole thing), then theoretically you could hijack a plane.
    That’s still stupid.
    I prefer “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Airport Security,” myself; “the Shampoo-Bottle of Doom” sounds too much like the Frying Pan, y’see.

  13. Constance Ashon 15 Sep 2006 at 6:59 pm

    A list I’m on that includes GRRM had a few people who disagreed with him — and most of the rest of us — on this topic.

    Mostly these regs are stupid and worse than useless.

    In any case, we’re always putting plugs in holes that aren’t being used now — you know, like fighting the last war when we are now in a new war.

    We need to be putting our energies for protection and security in places like our ports, our water facilities, and putting bodies in large numbers, salaried, trained people, in place to deal with baggage and so on.

    But no. Like everything else the regime does (Iraq, for instance) they want to do it on the cheap, and take away manuscripts as a symbol of security rather than providing actual security. Spin, not substance. Biz as usual.

    The regime actually stated this week that real security for all the important vulnerable targets here at home is too expensive for this nation to afford. So we spend trillions uselessly in the Middle East, but actual defense is too expensive?

    Figger that one, boyzngrrrls.

  14. Kevin Andrew Murphyon 16 Sep 2006 at 4:55 am


    There. Said it.

    With J.K., I think the case is that the TSA new that the requirements were ridiculous to begin with and didn’t want to be mugged by irate readers if they were responsible for her losing her manuscript.

    But as for the troubles of terrorism. Yes, you can make a book into nitrocellulose and blow up a plane with it. You can also do the same with your jeans. You can have a guy running out of the bathroom in his underwear crying, “In the name of Allah, I spit on my 501s!” And then he spits on a section impregnated with an even mixture of ammonium nitrate, ammonium chloride and powdered magnesium. That will flare up on contact with water and blow up everything else. You don’t even need matches. Hell, he could blow up the plane by spilling the complimentary beverage in his lap without even getting out of the jeans.

    That’s bomb making out of my high school chemistry textbook and an old issue of Omni magazine.

    The TSA has to be aware of that and a dozen other more sophisticated plans, so everything they’re doing now is just security theatre, designed to make some people feel more secure.

    Of course it doesn’t make me feel any more secure. I got the impression at the age of five that soldiers with camo and automatic rifles were what you saw outside of banks in places like Mexico and this was the mark, not of security, but of living in a tacky third-world country.

    I haven’t revised that initial impression and see little reason why I should.

  15. Sean Wrighton 16 Sep 2006 at 7:09 am

    Not sure to introduce myself, as I’m a new face here. But “Hi” all – and my take on JK Rowling is this: every time she has a new novel to deliver or publish she ALWAYS gets controversial topical worldwide press coverage. Here PR folk at Bloomsbury in the UK work very hard, I guess.

  16. Constance Ashon 16 Sep 2006 at 12:40 pm

    The thing though, is that these rules are not only ridiculous, but are actively harmful. If you fly only occasionally, and mostly as a choice of transport for vacation – pleasure, they may seem fairly innocuous, if inconvenient and even downright unpleasant if you happen to be caught up unexpectedly in a succenly declared red alert.

    However, if your work involves constant travel and there is no choice but to fly, it weighs on you. In certain areas of work it makes it impossible to do your work — if you’re a musician for instance. This doesn’t apply only to musicians who play Beethoven either.

    You simply cannot leave your classical Ramirez in baggage. You’d would either never see it again or it would be in flinders. That is the guitar with which Vaquero travels; it is his principal performace instrument. He got in Spain when a tad, and Segovia himself made it possible for him to get it. He isn’t playing Beethoven, but he is playing Cuban and Puerto Rican and Spanish and Texan and New Mexican music on it.

    Can’t even put your electric guitars in baggage — that’s how his classic Fender got smashed, the first time he wasn’t allowed to bring it as carry on.

    This is just merely one example of how this silly theater, as opposed to actual security substance, is harming us.

    Love, C

  17. kateelliotton 16 Sep 2006 at 1:52 pm

    Sean, I like your suggestion that this is part of Bloomsbury’s excellent publicity machine.

  18. kateelliotton 16 Sep 2006 at 1:57 pm

    I rather like what they do at Ben Gurion. Every single person coming into the airport gets into a line. While you are in this line, you are approached by one of several nice pleasant young people, who speak your primary language, and they engage you in a pleasant conversation about why you were in Israel, how long you were there, what you were doing, and why and where you are returning.

    This is by no means a foolproof method, but there is something to be said for the human eye rather than just the machine eye, if you see what I mean.

    It does take a little longer,and to some it would seem deeply intrusive, but when in Israel you get used to things like handing over your handbag/backpack for a cursory inspection by a security guard every time you enter a museum, restaurant, supermarket, or coffee shop, etc.

  19. Danion 16 Sep 2006 at 2:15 pm

    Is this business with carrying on mss and such just for flights to and from Britain? I don’t get the impression other flighst are as strict.

    Right after they arrested the suspected bombers in London, Britian announced that you could not have ANY carry-on for flights leaving Heathrow. That only lasted a couple of days, but it sounds like Ms. Rowling was traveling during/right after that period of time.

    As for me, I’m currently bouncing round Europe on a biz trip. As we flew into Heathrow the other night, the purser announced that for anyone changing planes in Heathrow, there would be a handsearch of their carry-on baggage & no banned items (like chapstick — which I would have leaving the US) would be allowed through. the only other time I’ve encountered a secondary search was when I flew to India last year (which also involved an interview process in Schipol in Amsterdam, similar to what Kate describes happens at Ben Gurion).

  20. Kevin Andrew Murphyon 16 Sep 2006 at 2:28 pm

    I’d probably find it quite intrusive, though I think the thing that would grate the most would be the ritualized lies, the “You’ve been selected for a random search” (How “random” is it if I’m always selected?) and people smiling and asking “How are you doing today?” when they don’t actually care.

    Of course this is what happens when bureaucrats can’t understand the difference between “friendly” and “obviously false.”

  21. Darcyon 16 Sep 2006 at 5:55 pm

    I don’t think it’s possible to regulate terrorists out of business, so I find most of the new regulations ridiculous. Someone who wants to smuggle something onto a plane will find a way.

    Thank goodness I don’t travel — I’d probably find it necessary to express my opinion of idiot regulations and end up on some “Bigmouth pain in the ass” watch-list for the rest of my life.

  22. Katharine Kerron 16 Sep 2006 at 6:20 pm

    One point that we can’t repeat enough is that the biggest dangers from terrorism don’t lie in airplanes. Someone mentioned the water supply, for one example. Consider cargo containers, for another. These are sealed before they even get on a ship. Hundreds of thousands of them arrive in this country every single day. No port has enough equipment or person-power to search, x-ray, or even thump all of them on the side with a stick.’

    Want to bring an ex-Soviet nuke into this country? Ship it via a container line.

    The airplane regulations are designed to make us feel LESS secure for the coming election, in the hopes that frightened people will vote for Georgie Boy’s party. Tony Blair could use a poll-lift himself.

    Terrorism is an old political ploy that depends on mass communications for success. The Anarchists, for example, who hailed from Italy, that grand old bastion of Western culture, didn’t shoot Archduke Ferdinand because they hated him. They wanted the news to spread and start a war, which it did, and acquaint people with their grievances with the Austro-Hungarian empire, which is also did. Without the newspapers and the telegraph, they would have failed.

    Now we have cable TV and the Internet. Better still!

    Osama and his gang are grandmasters of this sort of ‘publicity.’ The Bushies and Blairboys walked right into his trap.

  23. Katharine Kerron 16 Sep 2006 at 6:21 pm

    ON a practical note, why the hell didn’t she send back-up files in email to her editors? That’s what I do. Much cheaper than flying back and forth to London and New York!

  24. Kevin Andrew Murphyon 16 Sep 2006 at 8:01 pm

    Because from the sound of things, she’s doing sections of it longhand and typing them in later, and what she had with her was a marked-up and self-edited printout of her earlier chapters along with the handwritten new sections and notes.

    Given the anticipation for the book, I’d think that hacking J.K. Rowling’s email would be a popular hobby.

    But anyway, I think she prefers a printout and binder paper to a laptop simply because she doesn’t have to plug it in and it is less trouble to lug around. I did that for years and still do it on occasion.

  25. Constance Ashon 16 Sep 2006 at 9:05 pm

    She has backups.

    The AP story made it clear that this was her working manuscript. Which wouldn’t exactly be a disaster to lose, but a serious problem — we all know the difference.

    Recall, traveling with laptops is a problem in many cases these days.

    Do you want to put your laptop in checked luggage? Would Rowlings?

    Love, C.

  26. kateelliotton 16 Sep 2006 at 9:45 pm

    Kevin, at Ben Gurion, everyone is interviewed. There’s no pretense that it is a random search, and anyone who knows anything knows exactly what is going on, so there’s no falsity to it. Or I didn’t find it so. Plus that’s just how it is in Israel.

    In the USA, as Kit points out, there are other glaring holes in our security that don’t seem likely to be plugged any time soon.

  27. kateelliotton 16 Sep 2006 at 11:51 pm

    Oh, I see, Constance. The one she had written notes all over. Jeez, I would hand carry that everywhere with me, too.

  28. Kevin Andrew Murphyon 17 Sep 2006 at 12:35 am

    I don’t much like the idea of everyone getting interviewed, but then again, I prefer it to the embarrassingly bad lies I’ve been told by security in both the US and Mexico. I’ve been tempted to say “Good god, I’ve heard more convincing lies from junior high special ed students” but of course I haven’t, since they’re the ones with guns and badges.

    The holes in US security are indeed pretty glaring.

  29. Yaronon 17 Sep 2006 at 9:09 am

    The news story isn’t clear on whether there was actually a problem. If all that happened is that she was concerned they won’t allow her to take a manuscript, but there wasn’t a limitation and she was simply allowed to take it, then this is a non-story and only became news because she’s famous.

    But if there was an actual ban on carrying paper, for alleged security reasons, and she was allowed to take the manuscript with her as a special exception, then this is a really big deal.
    Yes, a security limitation on paper is stupid. But from the point of view of the security screeners this is a limitation they have to enforce for the sake of security, and they have to treat it as seriously as any other listed dangerous item. The stupidity here is at a higher level, not theirs.
    So letting her carry a prohibited and dangerous item, just because she’s a very well known writer, is bad security, and should get someone fired. Procedurally, in this case, there’s no difference between letting her take the manuscript, and letting her carry a closed box with the word “Caution: High Explosives!” printed on it. Both are dangerous and prohibited.
    Saying that the guards could recognize her and know she’s not a terrorist is also not relevant. That just gives terrorists the incentive to find a hold on well known people to make them pass bombs through security checks. i.e. The guards cannot know that Rowling doesn’t care enough about anyone else to be willing to sacrifice her life to prevent them from getting murdered.

  30. Erin Underwoodon 17 Sep 2006 at 10:23 am

    There is always an exception to the rule. Whenever those exceptions are made, they are made by people who are endowed with the authority to make them. This is SOP. I would suspect any report saying that the guard at the gate made the decision all by himself. I’m sure his boss was involved in the decision making process to let Rowling take the mss on board. The mss was probably “checked” for safety reasons and the “checkers” probably had to sign nondisclosure agreements in the process.

    I would also guess that the decision was made by a person who was smart enough to know that if they forced Rowling to leave the mss behind it would get”out”. She would sue the airline for all they are worth …. and more, which is still probably less than the value of the 7th HP book. :-)

    Harry Potter and the Iron Clad Court Case

  31. Constance Ashon 17 Sep 2006 at 12:03 pm

    If I got it correctly, the Rowling ms. was a rubber-banded bundle, not in a box.

    However, my actual concern these days vis a vis the final HP volume, is where shall I obtain it, since Scholastic has been so dramatically revealed to be allied with the darkness. Those ‘study guides’ to that vile dramamentary that ran on ABC 9/10 and 9/11 were the creation of Scholastic. They’ve done this before too, for Big Oil and other lying groups, it turns out.

    Not another cent to Scholastic.

    I’ll have to get a British or Canadian copy, I guess.

    Love, C.

  32. Kevin Andrew Murphyon 17 Sep 2006 at 12:54 pm

    As I understand, JK’s Canadian publisher was originally a small fish until they got her, so is likely the best bet for not having unpleasant connections in the money tree.

    As for Rowling getting the manuscript through on a judgement call, judgement calls are made all the time. For example, Laura Bush is not an elected official but is still allowed to take her lipstick on a plane.

    Rowling could have chartered a private plane or even bought a cruise ship.

  33. Constance Ashon 17 Sep 2006 at 2:46 pm

    Instead of chartering or owning, she gives money to charities. Also, according to Pat Cadigan, its really hard to own your own plane or jet in the U.K. There’s no place to even park your car, she says! :)

    In the meantime the Harry Potter saga is the most popular of the materials included in the limited Guantâ—™namo (hey! what happened to our alt function to provide correct accents and diacriticals?) prison library.

    By the way, if you’re not sure about some of the statements in the article linked to above, you can look at today’s NY Times Sunday Magazine, for the article, The Battle for Guantánamo.

    Love, C.

  34. Yaronon 17 Sep 2006 at 3:09 pm

    Judgement calls are fine, but regarding the individual items, not the people carrying them.

    It is possible for some official (Yes, I do believe if such a decision was made it wasn’t at the guard’s level) to decide, after examining it, that this specific manuscript is not dangerous. This, however, will require specifying what exactly make other books and paper dangerous, because if they can’t say that then they can’t say that this manuscript hasn’t been tampered with in the same unspecified way.

    Making a judgement call on the person is not legitimate, however. If there is a class of people who can carry things which most people can’t, and if we assume (as apparently many airport security organizations around the world do, for some reason) that these things can indeed be dangerous, all it does is make these exempt people a target.
    If Rowling can carry something that a terrorist wants to put on a plane, but couldn’t otherwise, then a terrorist will either try to forge Rowling’s ID, or threaten Rowling’s husband/kids/parents/whoever in order to get her to carry the stuff.
    Rowling’s is very probably not a terrorist (I don’t know her well enough to vouch for her personally 😉 ), but that only holds as long as nobody is allowed to officially decide that. Once that is done, she, and anyone in the same category, is actually more of a security risk.

    As for her not being a security risk because she is able to rent a private plane, that’s a non-sequitur. I mean, I’m pretty sure that most large terror groups can afford to rent a private plane as well. So what? If someone will come to a plane, and admit that they’re working for Al-Qaeda, should they let them carry stuff on the dangerous items list as well?

    The concern is what gets on the general travel planes. And if manuscripts are forbidden (Which is/would be terribly and totally stupid and wrong), then they should be forbidden for everyone.

  35. Kevin Andrew Murphyon 18 Sep 2006 at 2:17 am

    Well, while I’ll agree that things disallowed for everyone should be disallowed for everyone, the general rule of thumb is that people with weath, fame and/or power get exceptions made, and those exceptions put a crack into the rule which weakens it until it shatters. And when it’s a stupid rule, I’m all for that.

  36. Khylan Seriphynon 19 Sep 2006 at 8:16 am

    It was pretty far fetch to disallow carry-on luggage. And, a book as a potential threat?

    Then again, I watch border security and my husband has worked as a Passenger Screening Officer for Sydney Airport. You’d be surprised at what type of weapons and contrabands people will try to smuggle through objects that seem innocent in appearance.

    I suppose J.K Rowlings’s manuscript would only have been passed through once it was xrayed, sniffed out and tested for harmful chemicals. Security at airports need to stick to rules, otherwise we’d be sorry.

  37. Kevin Andrew Murphyon 19 Sep 2006 at 4:13 pm

    I think we’d be sorrier if they stuck to stupid rules rather than using common sense, which is what “judgement calls” are all about.

  38. Samer Rabadion 19 Sep 2006 at 6:59 pm

    However, if your work involves constant travel and there is no choice but to fly, it weighs on you. In certain areas of work it makes it impossible to do your work — if you’re a musician for instance. This doesn’t apply only to musicians who play Beethoven either.

    The amount of traveling I’ve done has varied over the years, but one thing I’ve noticed fairly consistently since 2001 – at small airports in the US, I’m almost always asked to step aside for a secondary screening. The larger airports tend to see enough people who look like me that it’s not an issue, but not the rural airports. Nor airports situated in cities with demographics that don’t feature Arab-Americans, South Asians, Persians, etc.

    I try not to be annoyed, but it is very, very hard. I understand these folks are doing their job, but it’s a policy I strongly disagree with. There are studies that show that racial profiling doesn’t work. It’s much better to look to other kinds of indicators – you’ll have much better luck identifying criminal activity.

    I remember talking with an acquaintance about this. He asked if it didn’t make sense for all of us to put up with the small delays in order to make sure air travel was safe. My response was that I, and others who look like me or share similar names, are being asked to bear a larger share of the load for a system that by its nature is faulty.

    And anyone who travels knows that the process is ripe for Murphy’s Law to enter into play. Imagine not being able to run through the airport to catch a plane for fear of being shot. (Happened to me.) Imagine almost missing a plane because of delays at security. (That too.) It gets frustrating.

    I rather like what they do at Ben Gurion. Every single person coming into the airport gets into a line. While you are in this line, you are approached by one of several nice pleasant young people, who speak your primary language, and they engage you in a pleasant conversation about why you were in Israel, how long you were there, what you were doing, and why and where you are returning.

    I have a dear friend and colleague, a very nice woman from North Carolina, who dreads Ben Gurion. She hates going through that airport with a passion. Whenever she goes through, she gets held up for hours. The reason? She works for an international law/justice organization. She and others who work in international aid/human rights have a miserable time going through Ben Gurion.

  39. kateelliotton 19 Sep 2006 at 11:40 pm


    your situation is an excellent reason to reform the way security is done, not that I think it is likely to happen unfortunately.

    And I think your point about your friend at Ben Gurion is an important one. It was a minor inconvenience for me, but I was in Israel for 7 weeks to take a course. The situation with people in other lines of work is entirely different, as you rightly point out.

  40. Andyon 21 Jun 2008 at 12:56 am

    I stumbled over all of this by accident really, as im a Security Consultant doing research on a number of different issues and i was surprised at the amount of misinformation there is on this subject.

    Having spoken about this at length with the actual people concerned (Needless to say JK’s Office declined to comment, what actually happened (Officially documented fact incidentally) is that the person in question was significantly over her personal carry on luggage weight and by significantly i mean nearly double. It was pointed out that something had to be put in with her hold luggage and seeing that reams of A4 Paper seemed to be the largest and singularly the heaviest item (And it wasnt clear that the bound paper was indeed a manuscript) she was asked to put it in her hold luggage, without explaination she flatly refused, several times.

    SECURITY WERE THEN CALLED AFTER THE FACT and only when she was forced to divulge what was in the package was she allowed by security to take the item on the plane.

    It is no more complicated than that im afraid. She didnt tell them what was in the package and therefore how important it was, nor indeed was she helpful in anyway (As hard it it may be for you to believe, seeing as we clearly all know her intimately) However once security ascertained what it was they spoke to the airline (As its their policy on weight not security’s)and the airline then relaxed their rules for her.

    I hope this sheds some light on some seriously misrepresented media reporting.

    kind regards and stay safe


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