The 12 Scariest TSA Stories of All Time
The TSA is an oft hated and maligned part of airline travel, and although the agency seems to get an excessively bad rap, many stories of TSA incidents indicate that the public’s assessment is correct. Airline passengers going through security should not fear brutal force, sexual harassment, insensitive treatment, and even being separated from their child in the name of safety, yet as you’ll see from the following stories, they do. Although these stories are among the worst, so many more were not included, and continue to develop each day. Read on to find 12 chilling TSA horror stories.
What happens when you opt out of the backscatter scan and ask questions about the pat down? If you’re Meg McLain, you get harassed and ultimately, get your ticket ripped up. Meg was cuffed in a chair and escorted out of the airport by 12 Miami cops after she questioned what would happen to her in the secondary screening pat down. Her US Airways ticket was torn up, and although US Airways promised to credit her for a new flight, they then refused to replace her ticket. As a talk show host with Free Keene, Meg’s story received plenty of attention, with a wildly popular YouTube video, a visit to the Alex Jones Show, and an interview with The Consumerist. The TSA released surveillance videos of the incident in an attempt to lay the blame for the incident on McLain; however, some believe that the videos actually vindicate her.
Ninety-Four year old women gets TSA patdownNinety-four year-old stands for her patdown
At 94 years old, Marian Paterson is not as physically capable as others may be, and that means that it is not comfortable for her to stand for long periods of time. But nonetheless, Paterson was made to stand “for over ten minutes,” as she reports, much longer than is necessary to complete a TSA patdown, and much longer than she felt physically able to handle. Her family believes that the TSA went too far, indicating that “they groped her…all over her body.” Marian had trouble understanding why, “of all the people in America, they’d pick out some little old lady.”
Another elderly woman, Jean Weber’s 95-year-old mother, in the final stages of her leukemia battle, was forced to submit to a patdown just a week after receiving a blood transfusion. Her “wet and firm” diaper was deemed suspicious, and she was taken to a private room. They had to remove her diaper, and she was separated from her daughter Jean. She did not have an extra pair, and was forced to go through the airport without underwear. Although the procedure was technically correct, Weber feels that “the procedure needs to be changed,” allowing more sensitivity to those with certain health needs.
The TSA seems to have it out for those affected by cancer. Tom Sawyer wears a urostomy bag, a device necessary after his successful fight with bladder cancer. The TSA scanner picked up his bag, and he was chosen for a pat down. He had to ask for privacy during the screening, which he received, albeit not without eye rolling. During the procedure, he tried several times to explain his medical condition, and warned them that they could break the seal on his urostomy bag, covering him with urine. But despite his explanations, Sawyer was ignored, the seal was broken, and urine spilled all over his shirt, leg, and pants. The TSA agents’ response? As Sawyer recounted, “he told me I could go. They never apologized. They never offered to help. They acted like they hadn’t seen what happened. But I know they saw it because I had a wet mark.” Without so much as an apology, Sawyer had to walk through the airport, still soaked in urine, board his plane, and wait until after takeoff to clean himself up. On the incident, Sawyer commented, “If this country is going to sacrifice treating people like human beings in the name of safety, then we have already lost the war.”
An Amarillo woman filed a suit against the TSA for publicly exposing her breasts at a Corpus Christi Airport. She was picked out for an extended search procedure before her flight in 2008, and “as the TSA agent was frisking plaintiff, the agent pulled the plaintiff’s blouse completely down, exposing plaintiffs’ breasts to everyone in the area.” The victim filed an administrative claim against the TSA, but after the agency failed to respond, she filed a lawsuit. To further her embarrassment, the victim claims that TSA employees joked and laughed about her accident, with one male TSA employee sharing “that he wished he would have been there when she came through the first time and that ‘he would just have to watch the video.'”
The TSA indicates that “security officers are well trained to screen individuals with body piercings in sensitive areas with dignity and respect,” but Mandi Hamlin did not receive such treatment. Instead, she was forced to remove her nipple piercings, one of which had to be taken out with pliers. The TSA’s policy is to give individuals with body piercings either pat downs or have them remove the piercings in private; however, Hamlin was not given the option of the pat down — her only available option was to remove her piercings. In fact, she indicated that she could show a female agent her piercings, but was told she couldn’t board her flight without removing all piercings. In a letter to the TSA, Hamlin’s attorney reminded the agency that “After nipple rings are inserted, the skin can often heal around the piercing, and the rings can be extremely difficult and painful to remove,” making what they forced Hamlin to do cruel, especially as reinserting them is also quite painful. And as if that wasn’t enough, while Hamlin was removing her jewelry behind a curtain, she heard male TSA agents snickering at her plight. Her lawyer notes, “The last time that I checked, a nipple was not a dangerous weapon.”
The TSA recommends removing all headwear, “but the rules accommodate those with religious, medical, or other reasons for which the passenger wishes not to remove the item.” That is not the experience that Gurdeep Singh Bawa received at Chicago O’Hare in 2010. For religious reasons, Bawa does not let anyone touch his turban, and he does not take it off, an action that is very disrespectful. Despite clearing two tests for explosives trace detection, he was told he would have to take his turban off. After removing it in a private room, officers took it away, bringing it back minutes later. Bawa and other Sikhs in his community feel that they are being “religiously, racially profiled,” and Bawa in particular feels that he was offended, noting, “I’ve never been humiliated like this in my life.”
Kids often get very attached to toys, and three-year-old Mandy Simon is no exception. So when screeners took her teddy bear away from her to run it through the x-ray machine, she was very upset. Although it was standard procedure, the incident was jarring for little Mandy, and she was so upset about her teddy bear, she couldn’t walk calmly through the metal detector, setting the machine off twice. It was at that point that she had to be patted down, still crying, and screaming, “Stop touching me!” Her dad, a Houston TV news reporter, caught the incident on video, which ended up getting lots of attention and pushback from Slashdot and a mention in several news outlets, including NY Daily News.
In 2010, Robin Kassner sued the TSA for using abusive bodily force against her at the Reagan National Airport in 2007. The TSA claims that “was interfering with the screening process and refusing to follow security procedures.” The security cameras show a scuffle, with Kassner wrestled to the floor by police, and taking an elbow to the head as she was slammed on a table. Kassner claims that she blacked out and suffered a concussion, which has led to memory problems. It’s not clear what she did to provoke such a response. She is seeking $10 million in damages for the incident.
Four-year-old Ryan Thomas was born sixteen weeks early, and as a result, is developmentally delayed: at the time of his TSA incident, he was just starting to walk. His parents use a stroller for him, as well as leg braces for his malformed legs with low muscle tone. Unable to walk steadily on his own, his mother initially walked him through the metal detector, and his leg braces set the alarm off. Ryan was forced to take off his leg braces, but his mother was not allowed to help him walk this time — he had to walk on his own. That’s right, a disabled four-year-old just learning to walk with the assistance of leg braces had to walk, without any physical assistance or the use of his braces, through the detector for TSA. After Ryan’s father went to the press, the TSA apologized to the family, and acknowledged that there are other ways to screen those with disabilities, including those that don’t require a disabled child to do what is nearly impossible.
Peggy is a mother of a four-year-old, and she also has a below-knee amputation. Both she and her son were subjected to invasive pat downs, and were also separated from each other. Peggy had to sit and watch without helping or comforting her son as he was patted down, which included a peek in his diaper, an experience that left him shaking but still not able to seek the comfort of his mother. Peggy had her own, far worse embarrassment to deal with after her son’s ordeal. She had to remove not just her prosthetic leg, but her prosthetic liner, and run them through the x-ray scanner. Her prosthetic liner must be kept sanitary to avoid infection and a possible higher level amputation, and above that, protects from sight a part of Peggy’s body that she feels “is on par with one’s genitals.” She was gawked at while her liner was run through the machine with no attempt to keep it sanitary, and was then thrown haphazardly into her lap. Peggy’s story reached Boing Boing, and is a focal point of the Amputee Coalition of America’s Call for Improved Screening Procedures for TSA.
TSA agents took my son
The TSA doesn’t seem to respect the bond and safety of mother and child. In 2009, Nicole White claims she was separated from her 16-month-old son, Jackson. According to the TSA, they “will not ask you to do anything that will separate you from your child or children,” but that was not Nicole and Jackson’s experience. After his pacifier clip set off an alarm, Nicole and Jackson were escorted together to a plastic box, where they waited and became increasingly late for their flight. They were eventually patted down, but instead of patting down Jackson in Nicole’s lap, a TSA agent insisted that he had to be picked up, and Nicole handed him to the agent. It was at that point the agent walked away with her son, and despite Nicole’s questions and tears, she could not see Jackson and was ignored until the TSA threatened to involve the authorities. She was separated from her son for an estimated 10 minutes, during which time she had a panic attack. The TSA posted videos to discredit her story, but Nicole, just like Meg McLain, maintains that the full incident was not posted, including the time when Jackson was taken away and Nicole made two phone calls to her husband and mother.