TSA Strikes Again
As you know if you read this blog with any regularity, I have recently spent a lot of time on airplanes. Over the course of two and a half weeks in (or getting to and from) Africa, I was on 18 flights. That is a lot of security line time even if you subtract the flights on tiny bush planes where you just walk on. Actually, "just walk on" is not quite accurate, as the boarding involves standing around the tiny plane with the pilot and other passengers (these are 5 seaters, including the pilot, so can't be too many people) while they jam the luggage into the small compartment under the plane and then make decisions re where people should sit. Inevitably, I ended up in the back, kind of leaning on extra bags. My husband inevitably ended up in the other front seat, next to the pilot, and whoever else was on board got the prime seats next to one another in the middle. One pilot tried to tell me this was a compliment as "we put the lightest person in the rear", but I am unconvinced.
Security lines are a necessary and unpleasant part of travel all over the world. In my pretty broad experience, however, they are much worse in the US than anywhere else. No one else requires taking off shoes and jackets, and I have not encountered the dreaded X-ray machines elsewhere. This is a letter shared by a patient about a recent travel experience. Read it and weep, or, better, read it and get furious. I especially appreciate that she sent a copy to Mrs. Obama!
John S. Pistole, Chief Administrator TSA
601 South 12th Street
Arlington, Virginia 20598
March 25, 2013
Dear Mr. Pistole,
Yesterday, while I was going through security at JFK airport, an assault occurred. It happened to me. I am a
61 year old female with a history of breast cancer that required surgery. While in the scanner, a TSA official
saw my scars on the monitor. With no explanation I was made to stand in full public view while my jacket was
pulled open. This employee stuck her hands into my shirt, flattened them to my chest, and thoroughly
examined me. I have been assaulted similarly twice before at airports.
What a total affront this is to me and to the other one in seven women who have or will have breast cancer.
When I explained to the TSA official that she was seeing scars in the monitor, and I objected to her touching
me, she began to lecture in a very loud, aggressive voice saying that I should have read the sign on the other
side of the scanner which said I would not have to go through the scanner if I submitted to a total pat down
before entering the scanner in the first place. Not to impugn the intelligence of your average TSA official, but
the issue is that I do not want a stranger’s hands inside my shirt...ever!
I object. I will not be subjected to this coarse treatment/assault because of surgery that saved my life. This is a
serious issue. The TSA needs to come up with a better solution for those of us whose scans do not show
“weapons,” “explosives,” “liquids,” but do show surgical “anomalies.” If the honorable scars from surgery
result in anomalies, the traveler should not be publicly and intimately groped.
By its own standards the TSA says, “Passengers are not typically required to submit to secondary screening,
but are selected for additional screening if they set off a metal detector or wear baggy clothing.”(TSA’s Head-to-
Toe Screening Policies, Transportation Security Administration, http://www.tsa.gov/press/happenings/sop_facts.shtm) All of my
metal items were in the trays, and my clothes were not baggy.
This is a serious issue and requires a lot more knowledge and education within the TSA system. I look forward
to your timely response.
XXXX (Name removed, per her request)
First Lady Michele Obama
1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20500
Marc Rotenberg President
Electronic Privacy Information Center
1718 Connecticut Ave. NW Washington, DC
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg
New York, NY 10007
Patrick J. Foye, Executive Director
The Port Authority
225 Park Avenue South
New York ,NY 10003