Airport security: Elderly women say TSA agents went much too far

 

The holiday travel season is upon us, and with it apparently come more opportunities for infuriating airport experiences. The latest tales of woe come from two elderly women who say workers at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City forced them to partially disrobe as they passed through security.

Lenore Zimmerman, 85, of Long Beach, N.Y.,  told CBS 2 in New York and other media that she was made to remove her pants Nov. 29 so Transportation Security Administration agents could check the back brace and support belt she wears. Zimmerman had opted out of going through a screening machine.

Zimmerman said that she travels regularly between New York and Florida, where she lives in the winter, and opts for pat-down searches because she does not want to go through electronic screening with her defibrillator. But after the latest pat-down, Zimmerman said, agents went further than they ever had. 

"I said, 'Why are you strip-searching me? Do I look like a terrorist?'" Zimmerman said in the CBS 2 report, adding that the TSA agent did not respond.

Ruth Sherman, 88, of Sunrise, Fla., came forward after hearing Zimmerman's story. She said that while traveling through JFK on Nov. 28, she had to pull down the waist of her pants to show TSA workers her colostomy bag. "This is private for me, you know?" she said, the Associated Press reported. "It's bad enough that I have it."

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, airports have added increasingly restrictive security measures that often startle those on the receiving end of the seemingly illogical searches. Last June, a woman was forced to remove her 95-year-old mother's adult diaper after TSA agents grew suspicious over the bulk caused by the diaper, the AP reported.

Guns still slip through the cracks, though. 

The TSA says it has introduced new screening methods in time for the holiday travel season, aimed at making the experience less stressful. They include no longer requiring children under 12 to remove their shoes before going through security, and having "casual conversations" with travelers at some airports to determine if they should be sent for more stringent screening.

The agency also points out the challenges its agents face as they try to balance security with comfort for travelers. Among the places security screeners have found contraband or possible weapons: mixed into jars of peanut butter and concealed inside a hollow walking cane.

As for the latest allegations, the TSA denies Zimmerman's allegation of a "strip search" but apologized for her discomfort. It says agents followed procedure in both cases.

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-- Tina Susman in New York

Video: An elderly passenger says TSA security officers went too far. Credit: WPIX

 
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Rene Lynch has been an editor and writer in Metro, Sports, Business, Calendar and Food. @ReneLynch

As an editor and reporter, Michael Muskal has covered local, national, economic and foreign issues at three newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. @latimesmuskal


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