TSA Defends 6 Minute Pat Down of 96 Year Old Woman in Wheelchair

On May 15 Jeanne LaBrier Clarkson went to Outback Steakhouse before heading to Washington Dulles airport on May 15 to fly home to Indiana. She and her fiance accompanied her 96 year old mother through the security checkpoint.

Her mother was subjected to a pat down that lasted for over six minutes, which she knows because she was filming the whole time once TSA pulled her mother aside for additional screening and wouldn’t tell her why or what they were doing to the woman.

“My 96 year old mother being extensively searched by the TSA,” Clarkson wrote. “The 3 of us were all in wheelchairs. Only my 96 year old mother was subjected to this prolonged, repetitive search.”

TSA asks the 96 year old wheelchair bound woman to remove her windbreaker. It takes her effort but she manages to do it. Then they pat her down, including her inner thighs. They make her adjust herself so they can reach underneath her. They feel around her stomach and her breasts. They have her lift her legs.

A passenger watching says “she’s not Gumby” and another says “Oh, for God sakes.”

Washington Dulles airport says ‘don’t blame us, it’s the TSA.’

Instead of blaming the incident on “a few bad apples who in no way undermine the hard work that thousands of men and women at the TSA do to keep us safe, day in and day out” they’re defending the search as no big deal,

In this instance, the TSA officer provided advisements during the pat-down and was extremely polite. The passenger was very cooperative and gave no indication that she was agitated or in discomfort. She received a pat-down and was cleared for her flight.

I suspect that asking the government’s permission to travel and being groped in exchange for the privilege has become so normalized that many people will agree with the government here — and that the bigger wrong was done by United Airlines in cancelling their flight.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I hate to say it, but the TSA folks who do the pointless and never-explained extreme pat-downs are very polite about it.

  2. Most TSA agents do their jobs indifferently, if not efficiently. Then there are others who take sadistic pleasure in inducing as much pain and difficulty as possible. The latter should be held accountable, but TSA has such a poor record of retaining people that those get to stay on affecting more people.

    There are few places in the world where travelers are treated as poorly as they are by the TSA with some airports more notorious than others.

  3. Saw this in Buffalo, they made an elderly woman stand (she could barely do so, so was lifted) while they swabbed and endlessly examined her wheelchair, which was AN AIRPORT wheelchair. Then it was put through xray again while the woman (overweight and maybe 80+) was propped up by other agents. It was all led by a TSA perp who was obviously new and obsessed with following procedure to an absurd extreme.

    I don’t think this sort of thing is unusual at all. And it gives some TSA Turd the opportunity to mouth off when we object, something like “this is just how the terrorists would try to get thru … yada yada.”

    With the possible exception of the hell of Heathrow, you never see this sort of treatment in other airports around the world.

  4. I think lady who was doing search was polite maybe show was new and took little extra care.It is very hard job for TSA to safeguard us.

  5. Try flying out of a mainland China airport, especially PEK or PVG. Their security agents conduct invasive security screenings (basically sexual assault or harassment) which would have you longing for the TSA patdowns.

  6. I give the TSA agent no slack whatsoever for being “polite”. It shouldn’t have been done in the first place. Maybe some common sense and decency should be called for, and TSA procedures should be changed.

    Welcome to the post 9-11 Nazi state…all in the name of security…and another freedom lost.

  7. Well, this should be the end of the comments on this subject as we’ve succeeded with Godwin’s Law

  8. The TSA officer seemed polite, professional, and thorough. She communicated well with the elderly passenger, and explained what she was going to do at every step. When examining the breasts, she used the back and the side of her hands, to avoid any impression of appropriateness. Very well done!
    We must remember that the bad guys never hesitate to use children, women, and the elderly to commit their crimes. If the TSA were to exclude a certain group from the thorough searches, that particular group would be used as terrorists. Just look at what they do in the middle east, where women and children routinely act as suicide bombers, stabbers etc. For our safety, the TSA needs to treat EVERY passenger with the same respect, but conduct the same screening.
    There are occasional inappropriate acts by the TSA. This was NOT one of them.

  9. Ron – Just wait till it happens to your 96 year old grandmother. Or your 14 year old daughter. Then come back and read your “contribution.”

  10. I agree with Gary; bigger wrong by United. I used to live 4 miles from IAD. There is no way every hotel within a 15 minute drive of the airport was full. There are just too many of them (multiple quite large). Was the on-property Marriott full and maybe every hotel United has an arrangement with full on the second consecutive day of severe thunderstorms including a derecho and some tornadoes? probably. There is no way every hotel in Dulles, Sterling, Herndon, Reston, Chantilly, was full. Red Cross was able to get anyone displaced by storm damage into hotels.

  11. Reminds me of the THREE CONSECUTIVE TSA patdowns for 45 minutes that I was put through at the Tallahassee, Florida airport in December 2016 by an African American TSA moronic woman. She detained me for no reason, swabbed and thoroughly searched my luggage and my bag for a ridiculous amount of time, and wasted nearly an hour of our time by repeatedly patting me down THREE times in public and then in a private room. I am a senior Caucasian woman. No excuse for this ridiculous sexual abuse. Fire TSA agents who treat the flying public in such an invasive manner! We need to start a class action LAW suit!

  12. TSA was doing their job. I would not want to fly on an airplane where certain people were exempted from screening. The elderly lady in the wheel chair could have been an unknowing dupe for someone wanting to smuggle weapons on board. It has been done before. Wake up, people, and stop being so damned naive!

  13. I agree with RON and the TSA.
    The really bad people are likely studying everything they see and every blog they can get hold of. They will, one day, try to get something past security. If we limit security inspections of children, elderly and wheelchair bound, the terrorists will plan accordingly!
    For the record, my then 7 year old special child managed to get SSSS. I did not hinder nor mouth off. I helped and we were finished in two minutes.

  14. Because terrorists and drug smugglers etc would NEVER consider using an elderly person to smuggle something on board right? I doubt this was random. Sounds like an alarm was triggered and their procedure is to do this search. It took a couple of minutes because of her age and that she was in a wheelchair. Her flight being cancelled was based on weather and had nothing to do with TSA. I really don’t get what people expect to happen here. Someone sets off an alarm and TSA looks at you and says oh your an old white lady you are fine to go, but if a middle eastern looking teen sets it off they get the full search right? The bad guys will use the least obvious person to get stuff through security and there is a significant problem of scumbags using the elderly to smuggle things even people well into their 90s have been arrested. Still better than the airport in Frankfurt where I am routinely felt up by their security staff when it doesn’t happen at any other airport in the freakin world.

  15. Wow, SH’s comments are racist and the epitome of white privilege.
    “December 2016 by an African American TSA moronic woman” – why does it matter she was African American?
    “I am a senior Caucasian woman.” – and?

  16. TSA did the right thing. The woman’s daughter will be the first to scream at TSA if a terrorist in a wheelchair blows up the plane. TSA, keep doing the right job and keep us secure!

  17. What can we do to give 80 plus year old’s a pass on the TSA rigid rules.

    I am 73 years old and if one of these clowns did this to me, I might just end up in jail.

    Is this the best that we can do with these idiots that cannot make a judgement on these older citizens. Let’s not forget that these are citizens, not terrorists. Why didn’t one of the other TSA agents step in for the 99 year old World War II hero.

    Brains are wasted on these TSA agents when they act like this.

  18. If you would shut up and apply for a TSA job, then you will understand as to why these pat downs are done. Then you can understand also, why we cannot give you details. And for those of you who “know your rights”, know that the 4th Amendment is to protect Government Interests.Otherwise, STFU.

  19. What the problem today is that everyone thinks they are right, terrorists don’t stand out, they use everyone if it’s meant to be found it’s meant to be found! Do you think 9/11 just happened it was coming and we knew but did nothing to stop it! It was about the USA being where we have NO RIGHT TO BE! If the USA stays the hell out of other countries business and stick to our own problems we wouldn’t have other places wanting to hurt us! Are they doing these searches for terrorists or drugs? Make up your mind! When you search if you don’t find it the first time more then likely you won’t find it the 2nd or 3rd time and all your doing is violating people’s person space and body! What about someone that’s has been raped, how do you think they feel while this person is touching places they don’t belong! And I thought that all airports had at least 1 of those super X-ray machine’s well if you have a issue run them through that machine instead of violating them! Quicker faster and no violation of the person themselves! But do that lady REALLY THINK THAT A WOMEN OF THAT AGE AND FRAILTY WOULD BE A WOULD BE CARRIER OF ANYTHING, if she was it was done without her knowledge and had I been there I would have sure they had a place to stay NO MATTER WHAT! When there is a will there is a way! This virus has turned so many people and business into total complete assholes and the level of disrespect of people is OUT OF CONTROL! It’s like oh well the virus is making my life crap why don’t I just treat all people like that! I’m a veteran and it’s so unbelievable what has been done to me when I’ve just asked for a wrong to be be righted and i get looked at like I’m from outer space! Hate has taken over and the next step is the end! When the earth has become a rotting dead pool, GOD WILL STEP IN! AND TAKE OVER

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