At what point does the need for security eclipse human dignity and compassion?
Yesterday I went through the imaging scanner at JFK Terminal 4 for my Virgin America flight to San Francisco. Evidently they found something, because after the scan, I was asked to step aside to have my breast area examined. I explained to the agent that I was a breast cancer patient and had a bilateral mastectomy in April and had tissue expanders put in to make way for reconstruction at a later date.
I told her that I was not comfortable with having my breasts touched and that I had a card in my wallet that explains the type of expanders, serial numbers and my doctor’s information (pictured) and asked to retrieve it. This request was denied. Instead, she called over a female supervisor who told me the exam had to take place. I was again told that I could not retrieve the card and needed to submit to a physical exam in order to be cleared. She then said, “And if we don’t clear you, you don’t fly” loud enough for other passengers to hear. And they did. And they stared at the bald woman being yelled at by a TSA Supervisor.
To my further dismay, my belongings, including my computer, were completely out of sight. I had no choice but to allow an agent to touch my breasts in front of other passengers.
I just didn’t understand why these agents were so insensitive to the situation. I would have been happy to show her which bag was mine and have her retrieve the card, but she did not allow even that. I have been through emotional and physical hell this past year due to breast cancer. The way I was treated by these TSA agents added a shitload of insult to injury and caused me a great deal of humiliation.
I understand the need for safety when flying, but there is also a need for those responsible to be compassionate and sensitive to each situation. These agents were neither.
I can only comfort myself with the fact that Karma is always circular.
UPDATE 1: Laughing Squid has a round-up of media coverage on this story and I’ve been posting update on my Twitter account: @HRLori
UPDATE 2: TSA has responded to the issue on the TSA Blog and apologized.