I’ve struggled with whether to share this or not. But, as time goes on, I realize that I need to share it. I may not need to process through it, but others might have experienced similar and didn’t do or say anything.
I became anxious back in 2010 when the TSA announced increased screening for fliers to include body scans or more intensive pat downs for those who declined a body scan. First off, I knew the radiation levels on the body scans weren’t as safe as they were saying they were. It’s radiation. I didn’t need studies to tell me that it wasn’t as safe as proclaimed. Secondly, I was sexually assaulted in high school and the thought of someone putting their hands on me to check me out that wasn’t a doctor or Chaz instantly disturbed me.
You can tell me, “Well, don’t fly.” That’s not an option. To go back home to Hawai`i, I have to fly. I can’t drive there as easily as I can drive to Chicago or Louisville. Flying was going to happen at some point.
That point happened last November when we flew home for my cousin’s wedding. Since Fall was in effect here, I wore my convertible cargo pants so I could take the lower legs off when we got home and not feel hot. Apparently, the zipper around my legs was suspicious, so they pulled me aside for a partial pat-down. The agent told me exactly what he was going to do and what part of my body he was going to touch – lower legs only. It was quick, painless, and I left feeling good about the screening process.
I may have gotten a little complacent.
In April, on my flight back from going home for my grandmother’s funeral, I had problems.
My flight into Honolulu from Moloka`i was a little late and then the line to go through screening was exceptionally long and took forever. I wasn’t even aware of the time but I knew I was going to be cutting it close to make it to the gate. Especially, if the gate was far from security.
I am going to copy and paste the complaint I sent to TSA about my screening.
On Tuesday, April 17th, 2012, I went through Checkpoint #3 at the Honolulu International Airport to catch my connecting flight back to the mainland after flying in from an outer island into the Commuter Terminal. I was unaware of the time as I went through and waited for a long time just to get to the podium for my boarding pass and ID to be checked. The agent at the podium was very nice and thanked me for my patience. I made sure I had nothing in my pockets and put my sunglasses on the belt with my other belongings after the agent at the scanner reminded me about them before I went through. I stood in the scanner as instructed and did not move. The agent directed me to the agent in front of her to wait as she checked the scan. After a minute, she asked me if I had anything my pockets and I said no. She started to get rude and insisted I must have something in them because yellow boxes came up on my hips and thighs (I was wearing cargo shorts). Myself and the agent I was standing with pointed out the metal buttons and zippers on my pockets. She asked me to go back through the scanner a bit rudely and told me to make sure I don’t move. I have had enough MRIs and CT scans to know how not to move. I was directed to stand with the second agent again as she checked the scan and the same spots came up.
I was directed to another spot ahead and a female agent came up and asked if I was traveling with anyone. I replied no. She put up her arms and directed me to do the same. As I did, she pointed to my bags on the belt and told me to keep my eyes on them and not to look anywhere else. Before I knew it, she was behind me patting me down. She did not ask nor inform me of what she was about to do. When she came around to my front, she did a pat down of my chest – NOWHERE near the yellow boxes that came up on the scan. I wore these shorts before the first time I flew, last Fall, after the increased security measures began. I was only given a lower leg pat down because the zippers around my leg where they convert between shorts and pants came up as a concern on the scan. The agent at that time told me they were doing a partial pat down and asked me if it was okay. None of that happened this time.
I am a survivor of sexual assault and I avoided flying for a long time after the increased measures were instituted because of my fear that I would be re-traumatized. Unfortunately, my only option to go home for visits is to fly to Hawaii and my fear was realized on my return trip this week.
I was paralyzed by shock and stood there for a minute about to cry as the realization of what just happened set in. Everyone went on about their business and as I was still in shock I grabbed my belongings and left the area as I really began to cry. As soon as I could find a spot to put my laptop and bag of liquids away, I sat down and really cried as I called my husband to help calm me down.
At this time I was still unaware of the time and was trying to make sure I arrived at my gate on time to make my plane. I did not know how far I would have to walk and still needed to use the bathroom. When I got off the phone with my husband it was 3:35pm HST. Since I was already outside of the security screening area, I could not go back in and ask for a supervisor.
After a year and a half of these increased screening measures, your agents still do not have a handle on proper screening measures when it comes to pat downs. This is unacceptable as your agency claims to be doing this for our security, yet all I see is people being traumatized and re-traumatized. If not flying to go home was an option for me, I would drive. Until they build a bridge to Hawaii, it is not an option and I must fly. Your procedures need to be re-evaluated and re-vamped. I will not subject myself to this kind of treatment again and expect your agency to rectify a process that is clearly harmful to others.
It actually took me a couple of days to submit this complaint because I was so upset. I got two emails from TSA after submitting the complaint. The first was a copy of the complaint and acknowledgment that they received it with the date and time. The second was the following.
Thank you for contacting the Transportation Security Administration. While many routine inquiries can be responded to in less than 48 hours, some responses that require additional information may take longer.
The Contact Center’s frequently asked questions page has answers to the most common inquiries we receive from the public.
If you are writing to find out if you can pack a certain item in your carry-on or checked bags, you can use our “Can I bring my ____________ through the security checkpoint?” tool located on the www.tsa.gov homepage. Just type in the item name into the box, hit the “submit” button, and the tool will tell you if it’s permitted or prohibited in both carry-on and checked bags.
The Travelers page has a great deal of information, including acceptable IDs, traveling with liquids, special medical needs, tips for members of the military and people with special medical needs, the prohibited items list, and tips for packing and dressing to get through security quickly.
You might also be interested in TSA’s new mobile web and iPhone app, that gives you 24/7 access to all of the above information. You can download the mobile web version of the app on any smartphone by typing www.tsa.gov/mobile on the web browser. You can download the MyTSA iPhone app for free on iTunes.
I still haven’t heard from them.
What upsets me the most is my reaction. I always told myself if anyone ever tried to rape me I would scream and fight back. When it actually happened, I was frozen. I opened my mouth and nothing came out. I was also asleep when it started. When I realized after calming down a bit in the airport that I had just responded the same way, I was horrified at myself. I can’t blame myself because it wasn’t my fault. The fault lies with the agent and her not following proper procedure. Or even the other female agent who was rude for not telling me I was going to get a pat-down. They are at fault.
This type of screening is a huge issue for anyone who was sexually assaulted or raped and reacts by freezing. It still makes my skin crawl thinking about it.
I just cried and lashed out rather loudly when I called Chaz, the whole phone call wishing he was there with me to help me. The whole time he was nearly speechless because he knew there was nothing he could say to make me feel better and nothing he could do.
I posted on Facebook once anger started to settle in and most of my friends were supportive and helpful. I did have one friend that I had to ask to stop commenting because he wasn’t being helpful and I started to feel as if he was blaming me by making the suggestion that the clothes had something to do with it. Yes, my convertible cargoes wound up causing the additional screening as they did my first time. Again, it is the agent who blatantly ignored procedure that caused the problem. It is never the victim’s fault. Never.
Another friend and I were recently talking about TSA screening and he doesn’t mind it if it is gong to prevent a terrorist attack. I still have a problem with it and I will continue to have a problem with it which is one of the reasons why we haven’t been vacationing in places in which a plane is required transportation. One of my uncles is getting married in California in December and I’m seriously considering driving. While my first time flying was a good experience, we all know it only takes one bad experience to ruin something. This last experience has left a very bad taste in my mouth and not getting a response from TSA doesn’t help.
Something need to change if I’m going to be a frequent flyer again.