TSA Security Theater Makes Unwilling Co-Star Out Of 3-Year-Old With Rare Medical Condition

from the learning-from-your-mistakes-not-permitted-by-governing-TSA-bylaws dept

It seems the TSA is unable to learn from its mistakes. When your entire operation is continually scrutinized and criticized by the public and policy makers, you'd think there would be a concerted effort to minimize these sorts of embarrassing incidents.

The TSA hasn't met a medical condition it can't treat as threat. Anything physically unusual is subjected to additional patdowns, harassment and detainment. Err on the side of caution, I suppose, but it's doing itself no favors by refusing to up its level of understanding past "aggressively mystified."

A disabled child was harassed by government agents and his family was caused to miss their flight, all because inept security screeners thought that his medical equipment may have been a bomb. Even children with debilitating medical conditions set off paranoiac ideations and inhumane treatment from the Transportation Security Administration.

3-year-old Apollo, who was born with a cardiovascular abnormality that affects his ability to eat, was suspected of harboring an explosive device after TSA employees believed they had detected residue on the medical supplies that help keep him alive.
Yes, Apollo's condition is unusual and yes, for whatever reason, his very essential formula set off the explosive residue testing equipment, but the entire system leading up to this point is incredibly fallible. The TSA's boilerplate response ignores a great many facts in its hurry to offload the blame on Apollo's parents.
The TSA looked into Bergeron’s complaint for Yahoo Shine on Friday before issuing the following statement: “We regret that the family did not have a positive screening experience. We strongly encourage passengers with medical conditions to arrive at the checkpoint with ample time for screening. We are committed to maintaining the security of the traveling public and strive to treat all passengers with dignity and respect.”
Thanks for the "arrive early" tip, but Apollo's mother (Renee Bergeron) did everything she could do to expedite this process and it still went wrong.
“I walked right up to the first agent and told her, ‘My son is tube-fed and this cooler has formula and medical supplies in it,’” Bergeron said, explaining that she had hoped that being direct would be a helpful approach and that it would have prompted a TSA agent to do a thorough search and swab of the items before sending them through to their gate.
No such luck. The responding (ha!) TSA agent told her to put it on the belt with the rest of luggage and made no attempt to inform the screeners up ahead that something unusual might be on the way. The formula cooler triggered the "bomb residue" alarm and Bergeron's (and Apollo's) day went from merely difficult to something much worse.
They were escorted to a restroom then, as Apollo had to go, but Bergeron was not allowed to take him alone. Then the two were ushered to a private room where agents gave Bergeron a thorough pat-down and where a nervous Apollo began to cry and beg his mom to hold him. Bergeron was told she couldn’t touch her son because she could “contaminate” him. “It was horribly traumatic for him,” she said.

“To make a long story short, the flight left without us,” she wrote in her blog. “As it turns out, they don’t hold flights for people suspected of carrying explosives onto the plane.”
Somewhat ironically, Bergeron and her son were on their way to an "Everybody Plays" event, which celebrates and encourages active lives for children with different health issues and disabilities. To be subjected to additional hassle and attention because of his condition isn't going to help Apollo learn to live a fuller life.

Now, it may seem a bit churlish to criticize the agency for following its own policies regarding explosive residue, but it's not as if Bergeron didn't try to let agents know something unusual was headed their way, in terms of both luggage and human beings. But this was ignored and the usual panic ensued when the machine decided the formula was actually explosives. And it's not as if the agency doesn't have any previous experience with this exact flier.

Bergeron said she is considering filing a complaint with the TSA. It’s not the first time they have experienced harassment at the hands of the agency.
Last year they were mistreated on their way to Texas for Apollo’s medical treatment. In that instance, a TSA employee attempted to pour out all four of Apollo’s bottles of formula before he found it in himself to spare all but one. “It was so blown out of proportion and ridiculous” Bergeron said.
The policies constantly override any innate logic TSA agents might possess and continue unimpeded even when the agency itself admits it doesn't think airplanes are terrorist targets. The underlying problem with these policies and the security theater they anchor is that they're unable to be overridden by agents' intuition or better judgement. Because of this, no one learns anything from these experiences. The TSA just copy-pastes another boilerplate "just policy" non-apology and moves on to the next debacle.

Even worse, the TSA itself provides absolutely no assistance for travelers in terms of prepping for unusual situations, other than tell them to "arrive early." Arriving early is completely useless when agents are free to detain fliers for nearly any reason and for indefinite periods of time. A spokesperson spoke to Yahoo and pointed to this post on the TSA's blog as "answering" questions about how bomb residue tests work. But what's contained in that post doesn't address Bergeron's situation at all. Furthermore, it doesn't really explain the system. It spends most of the post telling people TSA agents will be using swabs to detect bomb residue. No information is given as to what common (or uncommon) items/chemicals/household products might cause a false positive. There's no info on failure rates or anything detailing the technology involved. It's just "we'll be using these so don't be worried." In terms of dealing with Bergeron's multiple experiences with the TSA, it's about as useless as a 404 page.

I understand that too much information might give someone an idea of how to bypass these tests, but when you're dealing with the possibility of throwing out the only food a child with a rare medical condition can eat simply because of policies and faulty machinery, you need to be willing to disseminate more info than a canned response and a worthless "we're the good guys" blog post.


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  1. icon
    Phoenix84 (profile), 7 Nov 2013 @ 9:54am

    404 is not useless

    Actually, a 404 is not useless. It tells you someone, somewhere made a mistake.

    Ergo, the TSA is less useful than a 404 page.

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