I do have some sympathy for this problem -- and it has little to do with following the rules. The problem is, there are no real rules.
Howard Smith can mail a rifle, because he has essentially unlimited time to argue with the postal clerk, and he has the rule book. On the other hand, the plane is leaving in an hour or two, and you're from out of town, with a $1,000 non-refundable ticket, trying to get back home. You go to the ticket counter to check in your luggage, ask if it's okay to carry on Item X, like the tripod, and are told sure, it's no problem. And it was no problem on the way out.
Then security says there is a problem -- but it's just an individual judgment. There is no rule that says, "No tripods" or "No camera equipment." And at that point, your luggage is gone.
The guy with the damaged foot and the cane, for example -- the "rules" say specifically that canes are allowed. I know, because I was thinking of bringing a walking stick back from England for a disabled friend, and I looked it up. But some security points don't allow them. If you challenge them on the rules, you're causing a disturbance and, worse, challenging their manhood, and now you *are* in trouble. And they *aren't* going to look up the rules: the rules are what they say they are.
If there were real rules, and if they were openly posted, and if the rules made sense, then everything would be easy. Instead, we have vague rules, many of them don't make any sense, and interpretation is left up to the individual security guy. These guys are not exactly highly trained international terrorism fighters, either. They're guys who used to work at McDonalds, lucked out with a job at the airport, and found out that what they say, goes. A certain number of them obviously enjoy exercising their discretion.
To push this a little further, let me pose this hypothetical. You have an airliner with, say, 200 people aboard. One of them is crazy and is armed with a deadly tripod, or, God help us all, a fully-loaded RZ67 with a 220 back. He decides to hijack the jet -- and the people on board are fully aware that if this maniac does hijack the jet, and it's flying toward a city, that the government will shoot it down.
Here's the question: will the guy succeed in hijacking a jet with the deadly tripod or the vicious medium-format camera, or will he be torn to pieces by the passengers?
I would not want to be the guy with the tripod. The same goes for the guy armed with fingernail clippers, scissors, sharp sticks, jack knives, bowling balls, golf drivers and camera equipment. With the cockpit closed and locked, you're not going to get into it with those kinds of weapons. Try threatening a hijacking with one of those weapons, your life will be in more peril than your intended victims.
The ruels are what they are because a bunch of politicians got scared and decided they had to do more than they had to do, for appearances sake. The little f*****' fascists.
IMHO, of course.
By the way, for practical purposes, when moving camera accessories like tripods and heads, Leatherman tools, etc., I bundle them in clothing and put them in a duffle bag -- duffle bags are longer than regular suit cases, take tripods easily, and don't attract the attention of thieves. Mine is a Filson and is a little ratty-looking, which is great. You are allowed one carry-one and one briefcase. A good briefcase can take a laptop and accessories, and one or two long lenses. (Look for briefcases like lawyers carry, those big black square things.) The carry-on can take the rest of the lenses and accessories. Lighting equipment? UPS.