An Open Letter to the TSA

I am a frequent traveler. I have navigated a multitude of airports, both within the US and abroad. I have published my tips and tricks both on YouTube and my blog. Most of the time, I have no problems navigating TSA. But occasionally I run across a Transportation Security Officer that takes their job so seriously it causes me physical harm.

Below is an adaptation of the formal report I filed to the TSA about an incident that happened on September 10th, 2017.

An Open Letter to the TSA

I have a medical condition and wear a medical pump. I always request to “opt out” of screening because I am uncomfortable sending my medical device through the TSA scanners.
 
On this particular day, I had a trainee with a seasoned TSO to complete my pat down screening. I am familiar with a newer officer practicing while the more experienced officer coaches. My suitcase was also pulled aside for a secondary check. The trainee began to give the required disclosure, but I stopped her. I requested to hold off on the pat down until my suitcase had been properly cleared. I wanted to observe the inspection. She had no problem waiting. Another male TSO cleared my suitcase and we resumed the pat down.
 
The sweet trainee delivered the required disclosure. I informed her that I was comfortable completing the screening in public, I have a medical device, and the infusion site is located in my stomach. I requested for her to not touch that area of my stomach. She was putting an inappropriate amount of pressure on the pat down when she was checking my back and I felt incredibly uncomfortable with her touching my infusion site.
 
I placed my hand on my stomach to protect my infusion site (something that previous TSOs have actually encouraged). The seasoned TSO stepped in to inform me that was forbidden. She stated that I do not get to choose where they can and cannot touch me. 
 
I informed her that I am allowed to disclose that I have a medical device, and a sensitive area due to that medical device, and they are not to touch that area because of that medical device.
 
She informed me that I was wrong.
 
I stated that it is TSA policy to not pat down areas where the TSO can see skin. I lifted my shirt to expose my stomach, showing her the infusion site. I informed her she is NOT to touch that area of my body for medical reasons.
 
She told me to put my shirt down and firmly repeated that I do not get to choose where they touch me. The seasoned TSO refused to consent to not touching my infusion site.
 
Due to the continuing confrontation with the seasoned TSO, I realized that my disease was starting to flare. I needed access to water to take additional medicine as soon as possible. I informed the seasoned TSO that my medical condition was about to get worse. I told her that I had an empty water bottle in my backpack. I requested that another TSO fill up that water bottle so that I could take more medicine for my medical condition.
 
She informed me that was forbidden because she had not cleared me from security because I was refusing the completion of the pat down. She asked if she should call over her supervisor. I informed her that I did require the supervisor’s involvement. 

By this point, the disease began to noticeably flare and I began convulsing. Another TSO fetched me a chair. I was still adamantly requesting water and my medicine, due to my medical condition. My request was repeatedly denied by the seasoned TSO, but a supervisor was on his way.
 
As I continued to uncontrollably convulse, I proclaimed loudly, “Medical discrimination! They are refusing me water and my medicine!”  By this point, the supervisor had arrived. Another agent told me to just “calm down.” I informed the additional TSA agents that I was not having an anxiety attack to where I could just “calm down.” I was slipping towards an adrenal crisis due to the TSO’s refusal to allow me access to my medicine.
 
The supervisor informed everyone that he was calling the paramedics. I stated I didn’t need paramedics, I needed water and my medicine that was located in my suitcase right there and yet I was forbidden from accessing it.
 
The paramedics arrived. Their first action involved sending a TSA agent to fetch water. They forced another TSA agent to open up my suitcase and hand me my medicine. I chewed the pills due to TSA’s refusal to allow me water. I could not wait on them any longer. 

Once the medicine kicked in, I was stabilized enough to complete the pat down.
 
By this time, the trainee had disappeared and the seasoned TSO was assigned to complete the pat down. But she was being observed by her supervisor’s supervisor. 

The seasoned TSO delivered her required speech. When she had finished, I informed her (in front of her supervisor’s supervisor) that I have a medical device and the infusion site is located in my stomach. I requested that she did not pat down that area due to the medical device and the sensitive area.
Amazingly, with authorities, multiple TSOs, and two paramedics observing her, she had no issue avoiding that area of my stomach.

I cleared by security and finished filling out the paperwork for the paramedics. They apologized with how the seasoned TSO handled my situation. I was inappropriately discriminated against due to my medical condition and I would like a complete formal review conducted of the incident.

TSA’s Response

Good afternoon Ms. [Name Redacted],

We appreciate that you have taken the time to contact the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) about a screening experience at [Airport Redacted] on September 10, 2017. We apologize if you feel that TSA did not provide the service you expected.

TSA’s Disability Branch (DB) requested that TSA officials at the airport look into your concerns, and a representative may contact you about your screening experience to better understand the incident.

In conjunction with the airport, DB would like to talk with you about your concerns. Please reply to this email with a phone number and time during which a DB staff member can contact you on week-days between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. EST. I will be available to talk during this time. If you are unable or choose not to communicate by phone, please reply to this email with your preferred method of contact.

Please provide the information within ten (10) days of the date of receipt of this correspondence. If we do not receive the information within 10 days, we will be unable to proceed with the processing of your complaint. However, the complaint may be reopened after the 10-day period if you can show good cause for no response during the timeframe.

Thank you,

[Name Redacted]
Disability Branch
Traveler Engagement Division
Transportation Security Administration
[Phone Redacted]

~Success is not a destination, it’s a journey~

The Aftermath

I spent over an hour on the phone with an incredibly nice woman who worked for the Disability Branch of the Transportation Security Administration. As I dialogued with her about the incident, we came to an incredibly troubling conclusion: The seasoned transportation security officer was following procedure. But that procedure harmed me due to my disability.

I did not bring this to TSA’s attention for money or restitution.

I wanted education.
I wanted awareness.
I wanted respect.

And I am excited to say that we reached an agreeable resolution.

The Resolution

Hi Amber,

Wanted to get back to you before too much time passed. I appreciate you sharing the information about your disability; Addison’s Disease, aka Primary Adrenal Insufficiency. I spoke with my supervisor about sharing the final document about Addison’s Disease with you. She agreed that it would be a great idea, and I will see to it that you get it. In making a determination about the document’s circulation, I decided that it will reach a wider audience if it is provided to ALL TSA airport management for their national shift briefs, where the information is shared with the TSA frontline screening workforce throughout the country. Training documents that will be provided directly to the [Airport Redacted] will include: Best Practices – Disability Etiquette; Best Practices – Reasonable Accommodation Requests, and Effective Communications. These materials provided by our office will serve to further educate and inform the officers at [Airport Redacted] about providing reasonable accommodation requests, effective communication and etiquette when interacting with individuals with disabilities and medical conditions.

I want to again thank you for speaking with me on September 15, 2017 to discuss your complaint regarding your screening experience at [Airport Redacted]. I want to also share about two services that may be of interest to you.

  • TSA Cares is a helpline for travelers with disabilities and medical conditions. TSA Cares agents have received special training to provide callers with specific information about the screening of travelers with disabilities and medical conditions. In addition, you may provide a TSA Cares agent with a flight itinerary before upcoming travel. The agent will notify TSA officials at the airports to allow them to prepare for your screening and assist you through the screening checkpoint. You can contact TSA Cares toll free at 855-787-2227 (Federal Relay 711) from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. EST from Monday to Friday and 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST on weekends and holidays. We strongly recommend that you contact TSA Cares no later than 72 hours before travel.
  • The Passenger Support Specialist (PSS) program was created to assist passengers with disabilities and medical conditions. Passenger Support Specialists receive specialized disability training, including how to assist and communicate with individuals with disabilities. Although they are not always available, the goal is to have a PSS in the vicinity of an airport’s checkpoints to provide proactive assistance and resolve traveler-related screening concerns. You can request a PSS at the checkpoint, or you can ask for the assistance of a Supervisory Transportation Security Officer.

Currently, I am having technical difficulties and unable to view any video footage, but did not want to delay reaching out to you regarding the informal resolution we discussed. You stated that as an informal resolution, you would be agreeable to the airport TSOs being informed about proper customer service protocol and of your specific disability. In order to get this process started, I am sending this email to receive your confirmation about the informal resolution. Please reply to this email and type, “I agree to this resolution” within ten (10) days of the date of receipt of this correspondence in order to close the complaint. If you do not reply with this statement within ten (10) days of the date of receipt of this correspondence, the Disability Branch will consider the proposed resolution agreed to, unless you can show good cause for not being able to respond during the timeframe. Please feel free to contact me by email and/or telephone at [Phone Redacted] if you need anything else. Again, thank you for sharing your experience with me.

Respectfully,

[Name Redacted]
Disability Branch
Traveler Engagement Division
Transportation Security Administration
[Phone Redacted]

~Success is not a destination, it’s a journey~

Concluding Thoughts

In a separate blog post, I shall elaborate on what caused this particular crash. Like I stated at the beginning, I am a frequent traveler, and I have never experienced anything quite like this. Although it was an unbelievably horrible episode, something amazing came out of it.

Y’all, can we just acknowledge that ALL TSA airport management is going to receive information on Primary Adrenal Insufficiency? TSA airport management will be required to share that information with their employees during shift briefs?

That. Is. Huge.

TSA employs over 55,000 people and there are approximately 47,000 Transportation Security Officers. Forty-seven thousand people will hear about Primary Adrenal Insufficiency all because one seasoned TSO refused to give me access to my water and medicine. Perhaps that information will enable just a single person to remain Clearly Alive. And when it does, the experience was totally worth it.

Amber Nicole is Clearly Alive

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    4 Comments

  1. Frankay91 October 17, 2017 at 15:56 Reply

    I am so sorry that you had to go through all of that.
    I enjoyed your quote at the end of your blog.
    I too believe that everything happens for a reason.
    You going through all of that has lead to the TSA being better informed about our condition.That is amazing.
    You are truly an inspiration. God bless you

  2. Britni October 28, 2017 at 21:50 Reply

    This is so awesome, cuz! The experience sucks, but dang girl! You rock!!!

  3. Amber Nicole October 28, 2017 at 21:51 Reply

    Thank you 🙂

  4. Amber Nicole October 28, 2017 at 21:51 Reply

    Thanks!

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