“Clearly, comic books are not a security threat, and passengers are welcome to put them in their checked or carry-on baggage,” Lorie Dankers, a T.S.A. spokeswoman, said in a phone interview on Tuesday. The airlines, she said, “are probably trying to be helpful, but it’s not helpful to state T.S.A. policy incorrectly.”
That said, a reading of previous blog posts on the issue of packing shows how confusion might have occurred.
Still, the comic-book kerfuffle represents the latest public-relations stumble for United, which has become a lightning rod for travelers’ discontent ever since a passenger was dragged off one of its flights in April in a bloody episode that was captured on video.
In an emailed statement, Erin Benson, a spokeswoman for United, said on Tuesday: “While T.S.A. is recommending that customers keep their comic books in their carry-on bags, there are no restrictions on packing them in checked luggage. We misunderstood T.S.A.’s instructions and regret any inconvenience this may have caused our customers.”
Ms. Benson did not say how or when the misunderstanding happened, or provide answers to other questions submitted by The New York Times.
Ms. Dankers, the T.S.A. spokeswoman, said the situation came to her attention on Sunday in a Comic-Con-related tweet, which showed the erroneous message on a United monitor at San Diego’s airport.
United had by then responded to the person who posted the image of the screen on Twitter, adding that, “The restriction on checking comic books applies to all airlines operating out of San Diego this weekend and is set by the T.S.A.”
“I read that in disbelief,” Ms. Dankers said of the United tweet.
In the past, she said, T.S.A. has put out advisements that have noted that any passenger who packs a “large quantity of the same item” could raise the alarm of checked-baggage security, which could result in a bag check. So T.S.A. officials have recommended against packing such items in checked bags, she said.
But in the case of the United mix-up, that recommendation appeared to have been wrongly turned into a restriction, Ms. Dankers said.
By Monday, the T.S.A.’s social media team tweeted a message to United’s Twitter account asking the airline to “note” that “there are no TSA restrictions on checking comic books or any other kinds of books.” The tweet linked to a June blog post, which elaborated that the T.S.A. had been “testing the removal of books at two airport locations and the testing ran its course. We’re no longer testing and have no intentions of instituting those procedures.”
The misunderstanding may have also stemmed form a previous post on the same blog from July 2016. Though the post said it would offer ”suggestions” on how to avoid common problems encountered by people traveling home from Comic-Con, it then proceeded to directly state: “Pack items such as stacks of brochures and assorted comic books in your carry-on bag.”
“Packing these items in checked bags often causes alarms leading to bag searches which can cause a significant slowdown in the screening process leading to delays and bags possibly missing their flights,” the blog post continued.
Asked whether there were complaints from customers about the comic-book flap, Ms. Dankers said: “I think you can do a Twitter search to find out about that.”
So we did. And there were.
And for those still in San Diego who may be wondering: Foam toy swords are allowed in checked bags but not carry-on bags; body armor is “generally allowed” in both; and lightsabers are allowed in both, with a caveat:
“Sadly, the technology doesn’t currently exist to create a real lightsaber,” the T.S.A.’s website says. “However, you can pack a toy lightsaber in your carry-on or checked bag. May the force be with you.”