We heard a lot about TSA last fall, when the decision to install “enhanced” security technologies and more extensive searches left people asking whether full-body scans or pat-downs constituted an invasion of privacy, and whether the potential discomfort or embarrassment they might cause was worth the public security benefits. Many people alleged that the innovations were too uncomfortable and invasive, and questioned whether people truly consented when they bought their airline ticket.
The hubbub about scans and searches has mostly died down. But TSA continues to humiliate people as they go through airport security. A woman, Jean Weber, filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security, alleging that her 95-year-old mother was asked to remove her soiled adult diaper as security officials completed their pat-down. Weber’s mother was flying to Michigan to be with her family during the last stages of leukemia, and was traveling through the airport in a wheelchair because she could not walk. She was detained and searched extensively, but during the search, officials say that “they felt something suspicious on (her mother’s) leg and they couldn’t determine what it was.” They then asked the mother and daughter to leave, remove the mother’s adult diaper, and return to complete the search.
Understandably, Weber and her mother described the 45-minute ordeal as traumatic. ”Here is my mother, 95 years old, 105 pounds, barely able to stand, and then this,” said Weber. But TSA defended its employees’ actions.
“Wheelchairs trigger certain protocols, including pat-downs and possible swabbing for explosives,” said Sari Koshetz, a spokeswoman for TSA. ”The TSA works with passengers to resolve any security alarms in a respectful and sensitive manner.”
Weber, however, wants less invasive security methods for elderly people who are unable to walk through the security gates. ”Nobody should feel the way I felt that day,” she explained. “I’m not angry. The rules need to be changed.”
Protecting air travelers is one thing, but did security officials really need to humiliate a 95-year-old cancer patient and her daughter? This situation is far more clear-cut than debates over pat-downs and full-body scans: for people who are elderly or infirm, there need to be different rules, or at least machines that are capable of determining that even though a wheelchair is made of metal, it is not an explosive.
After all, as Weber said, “I’m not one to make waves, but dadgummit, this is wrong. People need to know. Next time it could be you.”
Photo from redjar’s Flickr photostream.