Thursday, May 9, 2013

TSA: All That BullShit And You Can't Even Buy My Insulin Pump & I Fucking Dinner!

I'm not against airport security - I get it. I'm against the lack of communication and the incredible inconsistencies with TSA screenings and screeners across the board and in all dimensions. Also, my language gets really salty in this post - But for good reason. 

Blog Facebook Page Status from April 28th .

It all started on Sunday morning, April 28th, 2013 at Philadelphia International Airport on my way to the Lilly Diabetes Blogger Summit, when I tried to do the right thing with my loaner insulin pump.  Instead of throwing it in my handbag or hiding it in my nether regions, I asked for a a visual inspection of my insulin pump and  was met with a surprising: Sure, no problem. 

And that “sure no problem,” made me really happy. Maybe this time would be different - Maybe TSA was going to get it right.

The TSA agent called for backup. I went through the “magic doorway" sans pump and waited for another TSA Agent to arrive and give my loaner insulin pump a good old visual inspection. 
The TSA Agent Pump inspector was nice enough, he really was. And we chatted about insulin pumps, even when he asked me to fondle my pump - his words, not mine. 
He swabbed my pump with a gray piece of paper and placed said paper in a machine that looked like a stenography machine with a computer screen. 
We waited for the results and TSA Inspector  was in the middle of telling me how he'd just watched a tv show about the 100 greatest inventions of the century & how  the insulin pump had mad the list. 
I was just about to ask him what network the show was on ,when the machine he'd placed the swab samples in, screen turned red & flashed: EXPLOSIVES DETECTED, in loud screaming caps.
"What does that mean?!" I asked in a panic. And FTR, I knew exactly what it meant, I was just scared shitless. 

He didn't look at me, HE just told me to wait until the female TSA Agents arrived. 
I asked: Is the machine broken? can we test it again?? Is it because I washed my hands 30 minutes ago? Is it the glycerin from the soap? 
TSA Inspector: Ma'am, it could be 1 of 10,000 different substances that test positive as explosive materials - But this isn’t protocol  - Please wait for the female TSA Agents to arrive. 
And then two female TSA Agents (one short and one tall) arrived, and  those two women scooped up my handbag an carry-on, and stood on either side of me (think Dorothy nestled between The Tin-man & The Scarecrow,) escorted me off too a little gray makeshift room in the middle of Philadelphia International, led me in and then immediately closed the door behind them. 
They asked me If  I was traveling alone and who packed my bags, 
And then the tall one told me that my device had tested positive for explosive residue and that they were going to go through my bags for explosives and explosive residue. And then then the tall one told me that she was going to give me an “extensive pat down.” 
And all that kept going through my head was: 

1. I was alone in every sense of the word
2. I didn’t feel safe or protected - In fact I felt the opposite of those two words - Vulnerable, unprotected and exposed
3. No one would know where I was if I didn’t show up at Indy Airport
4. Did this happen from washing my hands ( I saw FIGHT CLUB, I know what glycerin can do) or was some minuscule residue of insulin on my pump causing all this to happen? 
5. Why wasn’t anyone looking at me in the eye or answering my questions? 

Me: Has this happened a lot this morning?? Do you have issues with your equipment? Should I not have washed my hands??

The tall one didn’t answer my questions, she avoided them completely and  told me what was going to happen and why and then asked me if I had any sensitive areas on my body. 
Me: Yeah, all of it - My whole body is sensitive. Shoulders, vagina - All of it.
Tall TSAer: I'll be careful not to hurt you. 
Stand on this mat & put your arms  out and spread your legs wider apart. 
Yep, she told me to "spread them." 
And  then she told me exactly what she was about to do - I stared at her and tried to remain calm. And as I stood on the mat with my legs wide apart,  I looked across the room and saw Shortie riffling through my hand bag and she picked up& opened my blue silk Dbag.
Me: My insulin’s in there! 
Shorty: Her insulin is in here - I'm swabbing it.
Me: Jesus, be careful that’s a brand new bottle!!
Sidebar:  1 bottle of insulin costs me $138 - With insurance! Insulin allows allows me to live my life, it's  my elixir of life - And if she dropped it and that bottle broke, I was fucked.
Shortie dumped the bag out and out came my spare infusion site, insulin, two unused needles (just in case) and the bank envelope with my cash in it.
The same went on with my makeup bag and toothbrush holder & the zip lock bag that held my contact case, disposable contacts and backup glasses, the box of granola bars and the bottle of glucose tabs were also inspected.
My Carry-on was examined and she looked at my box of infusion sets like they could do some serious damage and asked, "What's this?"
Me: It's THIS: Then I lifted up my shirt ever so slightly and showed them my tubing and infusion site. 
My computer was swabbed and it's case was searched, same goes for my iPad. 
So were my sneakers.
And all the while, the tall one had divided my body into quadrants  
Left arm, shoulder, right arm and shoulder. My breasts were felt under and over, all around my abdomen was patted and my infusion ( left abdomen)  site was examined. 
  And then Tall TSAer looked at me and told me that she was going to put her hand under my yoga pants waist band and do 180 circumference check in the front and then in the back. 
I looked her in the eye and said: This is crazy. 
She started around with her thumb on the exterior of my yoga pants waistband and her four fingers on the inside of my waist band - her hand stayed on my abdomen & around the circumference of my waistband - nothing lower. But it was still too close for comfort - it was still too evasive and it made me extremely uncomfortable. When she stood behind me to start the second leg of her 360 abdomen search she said: Ma'am, unclip your, your..
Me: My insulin pump - IT’S MY INSULIN PUMP.
Tall TSA: Yes, your insulin pump. And she finished her tour. 
She pointed to my head and said:  Take your hair out of the clip. And then she but her gloved hands through my hair and swabbed away. 
Tall TSA:Now I'm going to pat your legs, up & down, front ( including your private area) and then do the same in the back. . And that's what she did - then she felt me & down and under the calf area of my yoga pants
ME: This is bullshit, you haven’t even bought me dinner yet.
FTR, she was not amused. 

Then she told me to balance myself by putting my hand on the table so she could check the bottom of my socks. 
And then she put the swabs in a machine,  pressed some buttons and a minute later she told me I was goods to go.
And I stared at her for a good 10 seconds until she said: Uh.... ma'am, I said you’re good to go. 
Me: I heard what you said. Are you going to tell me what exactly caused this?
Tall TSA: There’s nothing to report - you’re good. 
Me: Well apparently I wasn’t before, or I wouldn’t be here. 
And then I started to repack my bags, slowly and methodically, so I knew where everything was, and to give me a moment to fight back my tears. 
I felt humiliated and violated and no-one could tell me exactly why this happened. 
Tall TSAer kept looking at her watch as I repacked my bags and after about a minute said. Ma’am you gotta hurry up. 

And this would be the point where I kept my voice low and calm, but didn’t mince my words.
Me: You can wait while I get my shit together. You dragged me out of the security line, you won’t give me an explanation as to why this happened, you riffled through my things and you didn’t even buy me fucking dinner before you felt me up like some cheap date. You didn’t even say you were sorry for the inconvenience. So you can wait until I’m ready.

 And then I put on my shoes, grabbed my bags and got the fuck out of there. Tears were streaming down my face as I walked to my terminal. 
I understand the need for airport security, I really do. I remember 911, I’ve been in the London train station when the bomb alarms have gone off - I know the world we live in is very different than the world pre 911.

What I don’t understand is the constant inconsistency of the TSA, the lack of rhyme or reason - not to mention the lack of communication and respect for those being inspected. Some airports will do a visual inspection, others won’t - And I've argued with them that they should and can.  Some TSA Agents don’t even know what’s written on their own website re:  visual inspections, medical equipment, etc. 

I know, understand and accept the fact that having diabetes and a portable pancreas clipped to my hip makes me a target for a more thorough TSA inspection. 

I know, understand and accept that my airport security experiences won’t be like others with internally functioning pancreases - And I'm OK with that. 

What I don’t know, understand or accept is the inconsistencies of TSA Security and the lack of respect and common courtesy that some TSA agents don't give me or any other person with a medical condition and external hard/software.

According to TSA's on website, I had/have the right to have a witness present during a pat down, so why wasn't I ever told that?

I'm not against airport security, I'm against the lack of communication and the incredible inconsistencies with TSA screenings and screeners.    

If I have a question - Answer it - Lord knows I’m answering all of yours - And getting felt up and down by TSA Agents wearing latex gloves and who speak in soundbites isn’t my idea of a pleasant travel experience.  
And just maybe if you take a moment to look me in the eye and answer my questions - It will calm me down and help me to get through what you're about to do to me. 

And quite frankly, I don’t understand why every fucking time I go through the airport with my insulin pump I run into problems - I've written about my experiences with TSA time and again, as have many in the Diabetes On-line Community. And I/we always do the right thing  - I know what’s written on the TSA website - hell I print it out almost every time I travel! 
I have my diabetes documentation and I do my best to remain calm in a situation that is anything but. 

The problem isn’t on my end - It’s on TSA’s end & the fact that no two airports in the entire United States enforce the TSA rules & regulations the same way.

And for the record TSA: I didn’t clean or swab my pump when I was in Indiana, and when I went through security at Indy Airport - they gave my insulin pump a visual inspection - And it tested negative for explosives - And reinforcing the fact the problem wasn’t on my end - It was on yours - You’re equipment failed, not mine. Your whole system seems to be a major fail  - So man up fix what's broken.    

Personal FB Page Status from the morning of April 28th


Scott E said...

I can't tell you how pissed off I am now after reading this. When I saw your Diabetesaliciousness Facebook status, I didn't realize that it led to all of this... I feel so humiliated for you, I can't find the words to explain it!

Taking precautions is one thing, but doing so with the callous indifference and insensitivity that these agents exhibited is inexcusable. Simply inexcusable. I don't know if you plan to follow up with this further (if so, you've got fire and you're persistent -- they messed with the wrong person!), but I just feel so awful for you. It's just not right.

Laura K said...

This infuriates me. I have no other words.

Unknown said...

O. M. Word! I am so angry FOR you and the injustice of this. Having to answer questions while not being able to get answers to yours and being so personally wrong!!!

I am getting ready to travel with our 13 year old T1 son for the first time since getting his pump and I am terrified that something like this will happen and I keep wondering will they separate him from me and my daughter while he is forced to endure treatment like this, if so, they will see the Mama bear and you WILL read about us in the paper.

J Pierce said...

FREEDOM TO TRAVEL USA ( recently argued in Appeals Court, as amicus, for a constitutional review of the TSA procedures, including the criminal patdown (it is a crime from misdemeanor to felony in all 50 states for coerced, unwanted touching of genitals,female breasts, and buttocks).

I urge you to join our mailing list at our site, and anyone else who is outraged.

To get to some points on your experience.

1) The ETD (explosives threat detections) have never detected a real explosive on a passenger or in a carry on. Quite simply, their testing is not accurate.

2) You should have been told you could have a witness in the private room. More importantly, many of our members forced to fly to feed their families always have the BS searches in public. When the government has to hide what its doing from public view, that should give one an inkling that something is not right.

3) You were singled out based on a false positive result, not for your insulin pump. But, you do indicated that you expect to be singled out in normal circumstances because of your medical condition. We content that people with medical issues are HIGHLY PROFILED and this violates the ADA by definition.

4) You mention"I understand the need for security.." and "I understand that I should expect different treatment." That is BS.

What you should expect is the non-invasive, non-criminal searches prior to 9-11. And, 9-11 had nothing to do with government agents touching our crotches.

The need for security is that pre-9-11 metal detectors, with post 9-11 searces of carry-on baggage are good enough. Even today, passenger flights do not screen all cargo, so screening passengers' checked bags don't enhance security when you consider the cargo angle.

More importantly, there has been ZERO fatalities from suicidal airline passengers with working non-metallic bombs (PETN for example) for over 51 years.

Your genitals were examined and your were assaulted due to a risk that is much less than your risk driving to Philly airport (CONFESSION: I use PHL a lot for work, it is one of the few constitutional airports for the most part as they have kept out most scanners).

It is also estimated that the TSA procedures have increased more driving to avoid the TSA, and this may kill up to 125 people a year based on the increased mileage. Every year, the average miles/passenger/flight segment goes up.

In short, I think you were abused needlessly, you shouldn't put up with it, there is zero excuse in the world for the TSA doing this to you and the other countless people who have bad experiences ( is a good source).

Colleen said...

It wasn't fair and how come common courtesy can't be part of their training!

liz said...

Your post has my blood boiling! I'm so upset that you had to go through the inhuman treatment and humiliation!!

For me, as a T1, I no longer travel. I drive everywhere so I don't have to go through exactly what you went through. I've heard so many horible stories that I am now scared. It's not that I'm's that I would probably physically hurt the TSA agent that did that to me!!!
Sorry you were so abused by the TSA!!!!

Comedic1 said...

I have yet to have a problem with my pump. But of course I know my luck. I've seen these TSA folks on the train going to the airport. You can tell most of them have a high school education and could care less about their jobs. My brain tells me that we should work towards educating these clowns better but deep down I know better. I really wish I had a solution cause I know my day is coming.

Unknown said...

So sorry for your TSA woes. My wife also a diabetic carries insulin and syringes with her when we travel. So far no problems but I wouldn't be as forgiving about it if she was pulled aside and humiliated for something that a lot of people live with.

~Divabetic said...

Oh my God, Kelly! I'm so sorry! People are fucking ridiculous. I read your facebook post and I was ticked when I read that, but this is ridiculous. Some people are just utterly insensitive, and clearly they can't get their shit together over at TSA if they're pulling out perfectly normal looking people for a false positive and treating them like they just made a scene at security.

Oh, and I agree. She definitely should've bought you dinner first.

Natalie ._c- said...

I can't say it better than J Pierce said, but seems to me you were raped. Genital penetration without consent is rape. I REALLY think you need to follow up on this, since the actual cause was malfunctioning equipment on their part, not any wrongdoing on your part. This could have been a major trauma to a rape survivor (not that it wasn't a major trauma to you as well), and the TSA has no business inflicting harm on airline passengers. Please do what you can to make a stink about it. PLEASE!

Unknown said...

Wow. That is absolutely ridiculous. I would launch a complaint with the TSA.

Laddie said...

Delta (I don't know about other airlines) has a TSA PreCheck Program that allows for expedited screening for pre approved passengers. If you're part of this program and the airport is one with this program, you have to take your phone out of your pocket and not much else. No shoes or belts off. No computer out of the briefcase,etc.

It seems to me that there could be some sort of registration program for those of us with medical devices to minimize the extra screening.

Your experience was horrible. At least when I had a similar experience, they were nice to me. But what a waste of resources for them to spend all this time treating people with insulin pumps like criminals.

Moira said...

Sorry -- I have not had time to comment until now. I read this three times, more upset each time. You know, this isn't even about the pump. It's about freaking human dignity. Just so wrong. I hope you hear from them, and I wish I could have been there -- or one of us there -- to support you.

Stupid Girl and the Train Wreck said...

I wonder what my husband will encounter in airport security on his trip yo Ohio for his high school reunion this summer. He was warned we he got his pirotec license that his name automatically goes on the FBI watch list because he now has a license to buy explosives and he will be detained and checked at every airport he attempts to board a flight on. He can be a major dick sometimes too. That ought to make for an interesting story.

Its ridiculous to make you go through all of that just because you have to carry your pump on board. I wonder how they would act to finding my glycerin pills in my luggage.

Khürt Williams said...


As I read this blog post the more emotional I became. Several emotions ran through me simultaneously -- anger and sadness. Anger -- more like pure fucking hatred -- coursed through my blood and I visibly teared up when I thought about how helpless you must have felt.