TSA Watch: They never warned us about the octogenarian jihadists

The 91-year-old woman was blind and in a wheelchair, but that didn’t stop the TSA agents in Seattle from giving her a thorough screening. A very thorough screening.

“They made her get out of the wheelchair,” her daughter told me. “They made her walk to the body scanner, stand and then walk through. They absolutely would not let her have just a pat-down. Then they proceeded to take everything from her carry-on and wipe it down for explosives. I was furious, but feared saying anything because all I wanted to do was get her home.”

The mother and daughter, who were flying to St. Louis last week, asked me not to use their names because they feared the agency might give them even more of a once-over on their return flight. And I would normally call the TSA for a comment (and it would deny that it forced a 91-year-old into its poorly-tested scanners, of course) but the TSA has bigger problems.

Her name is Lenore Zimmerman, and she is the 4-foot-11, 110-pound, grandmother who alleges she was strip-searched at JFK. When she asked if she could forgo the advanced image technology screening equipment, fearing it might interfere with her defibrillator, two female agents reportedly escorted her to a private room and began to remove her clothes.

“I was outraged,” Zimmerman, a retired receptionist, told the New York Daily News.

TSA vehemently denies the incident ever occurred. Zimmerman is threatening to sue the agency. In the meantime, another elderly woman has come forward to say she, too, was strip-searched at JFK.

This is hardly a new accusation against the blueshirts. Who can forget the 95-year-old cancer patient in a wheelchair who was allegedly asked by TSA agents to remove her adult diaper this summer?

“It’s something I couldn’t imagine happening on American soil,” said her daughter, Jean Weber. “Here is my mother, 95 years old, 105 pounds, barely able to stand, and then this.”

Just before Thanksgiving last year, a Florida ABC News affiliate reported on another grandmother who consistently received an aggressive pat-down whenever she flew, presumably because of a knee implant.

“I feel molested,” Antonia Riggs Miernikshe told the TV station. “I’d like to go take a shower with Lysol (afterwards).”

Is it any wonder that the grandparents of the world feel as if they have a target on their backs whenever they fly? Or that they have opted for another means of transportation, as Beverly Dale has.

“This year I took Amtrak to Texas and Chicago from Philadelphia instead of flying,” she told me. “Sure, I would have preferred having more time with my grandsons instead of using it for train rides but I refuse to go along with the absurdity of allowing strangers to look at my body, rummage through my luggage and then treat me with disrespect.”

The real question is: What is it about our grandparents that sets the TSA off?

I mean, how difficult can it be to see that the Lenore Zimmermans of the world pose absolutely no threat to an aircraft? That the odds of cancer patients in wheelchairs and grannies with artificial knees trying to blow a plane to smithereens are less than zero?

TSA screening is moving away from the one-size-fits-all approach — kids under 12 can now keep their shoes on, for example — but apparently elderly passengers are exempt from those common-sense policies. Grandma and grandpa are treated as if they are probable jihadists, even though their wheelchairs, implants and adult diapers tell us otherwise.

Lawmakers are busy carving out exceptions to TSA’s screening procedures. Just last week, they decided military personnel and their dependents should be exempt from some airport screening, despite strong evidence that they should be searched like everyone else. Already, crewmembers, airport employees, lawmakers and dignitaries are allowed to skip some or all of TSA’s screening.

Why not give the octogenarians in wheelchairs, who are just trying to get to Palm Beach for the winter, a little break?

Come on. What’s one more exception?

(Photo: Marcel Oost erwijk/Flickr)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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