After 9/11, airport security quite rightly became an issue of paramount concern. Yet since its creation in 2001, the Transport Security Administration has repeatedly walked a fine line between vital vigilance and gratuitous intrusion. Security expert Bruce Schneier famously referred to the current system as bordering on “security theater,” in which the measures taken are more officious than efficient. This tendency toward such blunt theatrics has only been magnified by the “enhanced screening procedures” introduced in November 2010. Ron Paul, ever the champion of the individual, described the new system as “appalling” and “abusive.” There is no doubt that many of those who have fallen afoul of its excesses would agree.
1. Disabled four-year-old Ryan Thomas was on the way to Disney World when he was accosted by TSA agents at Philadelphia Airport and forced to walk through the scanner without his leg-braces. This wasn’t the easiest request to honor, as Ryan’s “ankles [were] malformed and his legs [had] little or no muscle tone.” His mother’s attempts to explain this to the screeners fell on deaf ears. The TSA eventually conceded that Ryan should have been privately checked, but only after the boy’s father got the Philadelphia Enquirer involved.
2. Elderly business traveler Penny Moroney described her TSA experience at St. Louis as “like being raped.” She had metal artificial knees and was thus eligible for a pat-down, during which the agent “touched her breasts . . . and patted her genitals.” The experience left her “shaking and crying.” Under any other circumstances, said Moroney, “it would be considered criminal sexual assault.”
3. Flying while pregnant can be uncomfortable enough, but for one diabetic traveler who did not want to be named for fear of “retaliation,” her day was about to get much worse. TSA agents at Denver International Airport considered the woman so much of a “risk for explosives” that they confiscated her insulin. When the woman asked for the names of the agents to make a complaint, they “scattered” and “left [her] crying at the TSA checkpoint.”
4. Former Baywatch star and Playboy playmate Donna D’Errico felt singled out at LAX when a TSA agent told her that she had been chosen for a security search “because you caught my eye and [the other passengers] didn’t.” The officer — who did not give D’Errico the customary choice between a scan and a pat-down — “was smiling and whispering with two other TSA agents and glaring at me,” she complained. “It is my personal belief that they pulled me aside because they thought I was attractive.” Somewhere, Lord Acton is nodding sagely.
5. TSA officials clearly have a high regard for the planning skills of eight-month-old babies. So much so that they subjected one to a full body pat-down and scan. This so amused pastor Jacob Jester that he took a photograph at Kansas City International Airport and posted it on Twitter. “I think in most cases, babies don’t pose a threat to security,” said Jester. One would think.
6. A 95-year-old wheelchair-bound woman with late-stage cancer was given a full pat-down before boarding a flight from Florida to Michigan. Officers were not satisfied, however, until they had forced her to remove her adult diaper. “We have reviewed the circumstances involving this screening and determined that our officers acted professionally, according to proper procedure and did not require this passenger to remove an adult diaper,” concluded the TSA report. That is true, providing, of course, that she didn’t want to get onto the plane.
7. The “pat or scan” choice usually proffered to air travelers was rendered moot for a female Army veteran when the body scanner showed her wearing a sanitary towel, and prompted a “horrible experience.” As a result of the image, she was “subjected to a search so invasive that [she] was left crying and dealing with memories that [she] thought had been dealt with years ago of prior sexual assaults.”
8. Drew Mandy was also on his way to Disney World when agents at Detroit Metro Airport started questioning him about his adult diaper and confiscated the six-inch toy plastic hammer he has carried for comfort for 20 years. Drew was unable to comprehend what was happening, because, though he is 29, he has the mental capacity of a two-year-old. When his father, a doctor, tried to step in and explain that his son was mentally challenged, he was met with an assurance that the staff “knew what [they] were doing.” Sadly, that seems to be true.
9. Susie Castillo’s tearful testimony went viral on YouTube, after the former Miss USA reacted with outrage to a pat-down at Dallas–Fort Worth International Airport. Castillo complained that she was being given an unacceptable choice, between being “molested” and walking through a machine that is “unhealthy and dangerous.” She claimed that the TSA agent “actually felt, touched my vagina.” “It’s not just about my rights,” she said, “it’s about all rights; the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution is being violated.” Amen.
10. Eliana Sutherland was travelling from Orlando International Airport when she was singled out because of her large breasts. “It was pretty obvious,” said Sutherland. “One of the guys that was staring me up and down was the one who pulled me over. Not a comfortable feeling.”
— Charlie Cooke is an editorial intern at National Review.
Editor’s Note: This article originally misidentified security expert Bruce Schneier as Bruce Schneider.