A woman has filed a complaint with federal authorities over how her elderly mother was treated at Northwest Florida Regional Airport last weekend.
Jean Weber of Destin filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security after her 95-year-old mother was detained and extensively searched last Saturday while trying to board a plane to fly to Michigan to be with family members during the final stages of her battle with leukemia.
Her mother, who was in a wheelchair, was asked to remove an adult diaper in order to complete a pat-down search.
“It’s something I couldn’t imagine happening on American soil,” Weber said Friday. “Here is my mother, 95 years old, 105 pounds, barely able to stand, and then this.”
Sari Koshetz, a spokeswoman for the Transportation Security Administration in Miami, said she could not comment on specific cases to protect the privacy of those involved.
“The TSA works with passengers to resolve any security alarms in a respectful and sensitive manner,” she said.
Weber’s mother entered the airport’s security checkpoint in a wheelchair because she was not stable enough to walk through, Weber said.
Wheelchairs trigger certain protocols, including pat-downs and possible swabbing for explosives, Koshetz said.
“During any part of the process, if there is an alarm, then we have to resolve that alarm,” she said.
Weber said she did not know whether her mother had triggered an alarm during the 45 minutes they were detained.
She said her mother was first pulled aside into a glass-partitioned area and patted down. Then she was taken to another room to protect her privacy during a more extensive search, Weber said.
Weber said she sat outside the room during the search.
She said security personnel then came out and told her they would need for her mother to remove her Depends diaper because it was soiled and was impeding their search.
Weber wheeled her mother into a bathroom, removed her diaper and returned. Her mother did not have another clean diaper with her, Weber said.
Weber said she wished there were less invasive search methods for an elderly person who is unable to walk through security gates.
“I don’t understand why they have to put them through that kind of procedure,” she said.
Koshetz said the procedures are the same for everyone to ensure national security.
“TSA cannot exempt any group from screening because we know from intelligence that there are terrorists out there that would then exploit that vulnerability,” she said.
Weber filed a complaint through Northwest Florida Regional’s website. She said she received a response from a Homeland Security representative at the airport on Tuesday and spoke to that person on the phone Wednesday.
The representative told her that personnel had followed procedures during the search, Weber said.
“Then I thought, if you’re just following rules and regulations, then the rules and regulations need to be changed,” she said.
Weber said she plans to file additional complaints next week.
“I’m not one to make waves, but dadgummit, this is wrong. People need to know. Next time it could be you.”