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Did the TSA Harrass Us Because of Our Special Needs Son?

My husband and I have traveled many places with our son, who is 7 years old and diagnosed with Down syndrome. We have traveled through many airports and have always followed the TSA policies. However, on this one particular day, we encountered rude and unpleasant harassment.
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Why is it that with the travel industry struggling as much as it is, the TSA makes traveling worse for travelers by making the process of going through security checkpoints so uncomfortable and degrading?

My husband and I are frequent flyers, and have traveled many places with our son, who is 7 years old and diagnosed with Down syndrome. We have traveled through many airports and have always followed the TSA policies. However, on this one particular day, we encountered such a rude and unpleasant display of harassment from a TSA Supervisor in the Houston airport that I wrote a letter to the TSA.

We were returning from Spring break in Mexico and just cleared customs. We put all our carry-on bags on the security belt, as well as our shoes, my husband's hat and belt and the small cooler pack that contained my son's "empty" medicine bottle, which was clearly labeled. The bottle was empty because we brought just enough for our trip. It also contained two Capri Sun water packs and one Dananimal Yogurt drink. Which, if you take a look at those yogurt shakes, was only 3.1 fluid ounces. As it reads in the TSA policies for "3-1-1 for Carry-Ons 3.4 ounce (100ml) bottle or less (by volume) is acceptable, so still within guidelines.

This time was no different from any other time we have traveled. We clearly were upfront with the agents, explaining that this is what we had in the cooler bag, our son has special needs and we have a note from the TSA (that we received from an earlier incident five years ago in Newark) and a doctor's note explaining his special diet.

What's interesting is that there is no set policy that is carried out by TSA agents across the board for all the airports. What I mean by that is that we have encountered TSA agents who didn't even open the bag; some who told us you are allowed liquids and medicines by the TSA and never looked inside; and some who want to scan the liquids. My husband and I have no problem with them doing that, we understand that it's their job.

However, we were told that they needed to go through all of our bags because the iPads were standing upright in the bag. We have never heard of this rule in all of our times traveling. So, instead of going through those bags and rechecking them, as they said they were going to, they decided to pull my husband aside to do a pat down. But this was after he checked the one yogurt drink we had in the bag, and didn't look at anything else.

Again, we explained that we have documentation from the TSA, but no one wanted to acknowledge or even look at the documentation; they just proceeded to pat my husband down. At this point, my husband and I were clearly upset. But, what made matters worse is that the TSA Supervisor who was standing right there had the audacity to say to us "if you just be quiet, it will go a lot faster." Seriously, is this how the TSA trains their employees to treat passengers? I was absolutely appalled at his comment.

At this point, my husband was so upset that he began shaking because he felt that he was being disrespected during the pat down. He even said to the supervisor: "he's pulling my pants down," and the arrogant supervisor said "well hold them up." I turned to him and said, "You just told him to put his arms out to the side, which do you want?"

Let me quote what the TSA policies read:

Our current policies and procedures focus on ensuring that all passengers, regardless of their personal situations and needs, are treated equally and with dignity, respect and courtesy they deserve.

Neither my husband and I believe that this was an act of dignity or respect, what do you think? It even got to the point where I then said to the supervisor, "look how you are upsetting my son," because at this point, he was clearly shaken seeing his father getting patted down and harassed. He is smart enough to know the issue was about his drinks, that all he kept saying was "I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" This is absolutely the most despicable and insensitive thing I have ever seen.

As a family traveling with a child with special needs, we have enough to deal without having a TSA employee -- a supervisor, no less -- upset my son right before we get on a flight. This was an absolute misuse of power. He stood there with his blue shirt on and little badge that said TSA and abused his power of authority by harassing an innocent family with a special needs son.

But hold on, this gets even worse. Would you like to know what his response was to me? He looked right at me and said, "if I don't shut up, he was going to get law enforcement." Instead of apologizing or trying to make the situation better, he wants to call the police on me because I told him he was upsetting my son? Really? This is outrageous! This was the worse my husband and I have ever been treated at an airport.

In reading the TSA website, I quote:

Many airports have lanes specifically for use by passengers with disabilities and medical conditions or those traveling with young children. While passengers still may need to wait in line if they use these lanes, the lines often are much shorter and the wait time generally is less. A passenger can ask to be directed to one of these lanes when checking in with his or her airline or once he or she has reached the general line used by passengers. Use of these lanes is not limited to passengers who have physical disabilities. Passengers with cognitive and psychological disabilities that make it difficult to wait in line are also allowed to use these lanes.

I did not know this but will be asking for this in the future. Hopefully, those agents will better know how to handle a family with a special needs child.

Now that I am so upset, I proceed to tell the supervisor that I was going to be writing a letter to the TSA telling them of the actions carried out by their employees. Well, as anyone who was wrongfully mistreated, you ask for the person's name who is mistreating and harassing you. So, I asked him "what is your name?" His response: "I'm the Supervisor." I stated "that is not what I asked you, I asked for your name." He again responded "he was the supervisor." At this point, I said to him "Do we have an issue here, what is your name?" He then finally told me his name. I also looked around to see if there was any information that would tell me at what checkpoint I was at. I thought that with that information, his name, date and time they could identify who it was.

My hope is that the TSA make this person go through more training on how to handle families with special needs children, have him go through some sensitivity training and take his level of Supervisor away until he shows he knows how to handle that responsibility.

Have you been in a similar situation with a TSA agent? Do you feel this was harassment?

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