Dying woman hassled and humiliated by TSA
posted at 2:23 pm on October 10, 2012 by Howard Portnoy
Knowing that she was dying from leukemia, Michelle Dunaj was determined to make a trip to Hawaii so to say goodbye to family and friends. The journey, which originated in Seattle, should have gone without a hitch. And it would have if the Transportation Security Administration personnel at Sea-Tac Airport had decided not to make a federal case out Dunaj’s screening.
She had called Alaska Airlines ahead of time to request a wheelchair and to ask specifically how her medicines should be separated for the security line. “I did everything they asked me to do,” she told reporters, “so I didn’t think it would be an issue.”
But the large supply of prescription meds she had in tow raised suspicions, and agents decided they needed a closer look. The first indication that Dunaj was in for a hassle came when a scanner couldn’t get a reading on her saline bags, ABC affiliate KOMO reports. So an enterprising agent forced one of the bags open, contaminating the contents.
Agents asked next to get a look under Dunaj’s bandages from recent surgeries, which required lifting her shirt. When she requested a private search, she was told that the current location—in front of a terminal full of onlookers—was just fine.
TSA spokeswoman Ann Davis is quoting as saying that “officers are trained to perform pat downs in a dignified manner and, at any point, passengers can request a private screening with a witness present.” But Dunaj did request a private screening and was turned down. Maybe the TSA is like God. It listens to all your prayers, but sometimes the answer is no.
As an article on Dunaj’s ordeal at ABC News notes, this is not the first time a passenger with special needs has claimed mistreatment at the hands of TSA agents. In January, in two separate incidents at Kennedy Airport, agents strip-searched octogenarians. One of them, 89-year-old Ruth Sherman, was forced to reveal her colostomy bag, while 85-year-old Lenore Zimmerman’s back brace was scanned, which is a policy violation. The TSA subsequently apologized for their overzealous agents.
Not so another woman dying of leukemia, whose soiled adult diaper was removed. That would-be terrorist was 95 years old. The agency has also never apologized to Thomas Sawyer, a bladder cancer survivor whose urostomy bag was burst not once but twice but airport screeners, both times showering Sawyer with his own urine.
UPDATE: According to ABC News, the TSA claims that it has reviewed a video of Dunaj’s screening and determined that agents followed standard procedures. According to the agency, at no point did a TSA officer open the passenger’s medically necessary liquids and the passenger was never asked to remove or pull off any bandages.
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