Over the weekend, Lenore Zimmerman reported that on a recent flight from Florida back to her home in New York, TSA agents forced her to pull down her pants and underwear. Apparently, airport officials singled out the Florida to New York route for some special holiday harassment this year, because now two more women with medical issues say they were manhandled by TSA agents while returning home after Thanksgiving weekend.
According to MSNBC, 88-year-old Ruth Sherman says that while heading back to Sunrise, Florida on November 28, screeners made her pull down her pants and show them her colostomy bag. Sherman says she was pulled aside for a pat down after her X-ray screening showed a bulge from the bag. After agents ran their hands over her legs, arms, and the underside of her breasts, they decided they needed a closer look and took her into a private screening room. Sherman says:
"It was awful ... They asked me to come into another room. I said ‘Don't touch me - you have dirty hands.' I had on plain sweatpants and a top. They made me pull my sweatpants down with my underwear. They invaded my privacy.
The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports that a day later, 66-year-old Linda Kallish of Boynton Beach, who was scheduled on the same flight as Zimmerman, was sent into a private room after her glucose monitor and insulin pump set off a metal detector. She says the TSA officer told her to take her pants off, but didn't touch her. "So I took my pants off and showed it to her," Kallish said. "She just looked at it and said, 'Have a nice trip.'" While Kallish had the least troubling experience of the three women, she's upset that her medical items went through the scanner and she wasn't allowed to collect them. She adds that she's flown many times before and never had to take her pants off.
The TSA says that it's still looking into the two new complaints, but suggested that Zimmerman is exaggerating. The agency said on its blog:
"TSA contacted the passenger to apologize that she feels she had an unpleasant screening experience; however, TSA does not include strip searches in its protocols and a strip search did not occur in this case."
A spokesman says preliminary investigations show nothing inappropriate in any of these searches, but he added, "Is removal of underwear proper for (someone with) a colostomy bag? The answer is no." So if nothing inappropriate happened these searches, then Sherman must have pulled down her underwear for fun, then contacted the media because she wanted the world to know she has a colostomy bag.
Unfortunately, it isn't hard to imagine TSA agents performing their duties incorrectly around people with medical paraphernalia, but two of the women made similar problematic comments in reports about their ordeal. Zimmerman said, "I'm hunched over. I'm in a wheelchair. I weigh under 110 pounds and I'm going to be 85 in February. Do I look like a terrorist?" and Sherman remarked, "I said to (the TSA agent), ‘Why are you doing this? I don't have a bomb here. I'm not blowing myself up.'" People still don't seem to understand that while they know they aren't planning to take down an airplane, TSA agents can't determine that until they perform a search. Despite whatever stereotypes people have in their heads, the people who blow up planes don't walk through security wearing racist Arab terrorist Halloween costumes and wringing their hands together. The issue isn't that the agents thoroughly searched someone with a metal device strapped to their body, it's that they performed the search in a undignified manner. There's a way to determine if someone has a pistol stuffed in their underwear that doesn't involve humiliating law-abiding passengers, but it seems TSA agents still haven't mastered that skill.
Another Elderly Flier Claims TA Strip-Search At JFK [MSNBC]
Three Elderly South Florida Women Say TSA Made Them Strip [South Florida Sun-Sentinel]