When I went to the airport today, I was put in the uncomfortable position of a so-called "naked" full-body scan. Today's experience was very different from the last flight I made, nearly two weeks ago; at that time I only had to go through a magnetometer. Today there was no option -- it was either the full-body scan, a humiliating pat-down or no flight. All passengers flying out of Washington, DC were subjected to the new procedures. So, like confused cattle, our uneasy line of air travelers was herded through the machine.
But my experience today was nothing compared to that of Thomas D. "Tom" Sawyer, a 61-year-old retired special education teacher from Lansing, Michigan. Sawyer was reportedly on his way to a wedding in Orlando when his medical condition caught the special attention of security.
As a survivor of bladder cancer, Sawyer wears his pants two sizes to large to accommodate medical equipment he must now wear. “I have to wear special clothes and in order to mount the [urostomy] bag I have to seal a wafer to my stomach and then attach the bag. If the seal is broken, urine can leak all over my body and clothes,” he recounted to MSNBC.
On Nov. 7, Sawyer said he went through the security checkpoint at Detroit Metropolitan Airport. “Evidently the scanner picked up on my urostomy bag, because I was chosen for a pat-down procedure,” he said. Because of his medical condition, Sawyer says he asked to be screened in private. “One officer looked at another, rolled his eyes and said that they really didn’t have any place to take me,” said Sawyer. “After I said again that I’d like privacy, they took me to an office.”
After he removed his belt for security, Sawyer's over-sized pants fell down around his ankles. “I had to ask twice if it was OK to pull up my shorts... And every time I tried to tell them about my medical condition, they said they didn’t need to know about that.”
But when one TSA agent used his hand to pat-down Sawyer, his urostomy bag became dislodged and the urine began to pour down the front of him. “I tried to warn him that he would hit the bag and break the seal on my bag, but he ignored me. Sure enough, the seal was broken and urine started dribbling down my shirt and my leg and into my pants.”
What's more disturbing is the TSA agents' response. The pat-down continued and they dismissed him without a second thought. “He told me I could go. They never apologized. They never offered to help. They acted like they hadn’t seen what happened," he said.
Sawyer says he was humiliated and "couldn't even speak." He had to walk through the airport in his urine-soaked clothes, unable to clean himself up until he was onboard his plane. He plans to file a complaint with the TSA.
In response, one TSA spokesman said the agency encourages air travelers with medical conditions to consult the TSA website. However, the website clearly states that security officers "will not ask nor require you to remove your prosthetic device, cast, or support brace."
Sawyer is not the only air passenger whose delicate medical condition has recently caught TSA officials breaking with official protocol. As we reported, one flight attendant -- a breast cancer survivor -- was forced to show security personnel a prosthetic breast.
“I am a good American and I want safety for all passengers as much as the next person," Sawyer said. "But if this country is going to sacrifice treating people like human beings in the name of safety, then we have already lost the war.”