With age come such things as catheters, colostomy bags and adult diapers. Now add another indignity to getting old — having to drop your pants and show these things to a complete stranger.
Two women in their 80s put the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) on the defensive this week by going public about their embarrassment during screenings in a private room at Kennedy Airport. One claimed she was forced to lower her pants and underwear in front of an agent so that her back brace could be inspected. Another said agents made her pull down her waistband to show her colostomy bag.
While not confirming some of the details, the TSA said a preliminary review shows officers followed the agency’s procedures in both cases, but experts said the potential for such searches will increase as the US population ages, and receives prosthetics and other medical devices, some of which cannot go through screening machines.
“You have pacemakers, you have artificial hips, you have artificial knees,” said US Representative Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. “As we get older and we keep ourselves together, it’s going to take more and more surgery. There’s going to be more and more medical improvements, but that can create what appears to be a security issue.”
Prosthetic devices can set off metal detectors, and certain devices such as catheters and bags are visible on body scanners, making those passengers candidates for more thorough inspections. Metal detectors and wands can disrupt some devices, such as implanted defibrillators, so those passengers must ask for pat-downs instead.
Ruth Sherman, 88, of Florida, said she was mortified when inspectors pulled her aside and asked about the bulge in her pants as she arrived for a flight to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on Nov. 28.
“I said: ‘I have a bag here,’” she said on Monday, pointing to the bulge, which is bigger or smaller depending on what she eats. “They didn’t understand.”
She said they escorted her to another room where two female agents “made me lower my sweatpants and I was really very humiliated.”
She said she stood with her arms and legs outstretched, warning the agents not to touch her colostomy bag. Touching the bag can cause pain, she said.
“It’s degrading. It’s like someone raped you,” Sherman said. “They didn’t know how to handle a human being.”
The next day, agents took 85-year-old Lenore Zimmerman of Long Beach, New York, into a private room to remove her back brace for screening after she decided against going through a scanning machine because of her heart defibrillator. Zimmerman said she had to raise her blouse, and lower her pants and underwear for a female TSA agent.
Bruce Zimmerman, her son, said the agents “should’ve patted her down.”
“To have her pants and underpants pulled down is just beyond humiliating,” he said on Monday. “This is my mother we are talking about.”