In the face of a potential public relations storm, the U.S. government is defending a decision by airport security officials to force a 95-year-old woman with leukemia to remove her adult diaper for a pat-down.
“We have reviewed the circumstances involving this screening and determined that our officers acted professionally and according to proper procedure,” the Transportation Security Administration said in a statement Sunday.
The incident in question occurred on June 18 at Northwest Florida Regional Airport, and quickly gained media attention after the woman’s daughter, Jean Weber, went public with her complaint.
In an interview with CNN, Weber said that the incident occurred when her mother was going through airport security and a TSA agent discovered something “suspicious” on her leg. The officer then took her mother to a private, glassed-in area for further screening. According to Weber, the agent told her that her mother’s diaper was “wet and it was firm, and they couldn’t check it thoroughly.” The women then left to find a bathroom to take off the diaper, as the TSA officer had requested.
Weber said she began to cry during the ordeal—prompting her own pat down—but that her mother remained “very calm” and wasn’t bothered by the fact that she had to continue her journey without underwear.
Weber, who has filed a complaint with TSA, said that she understands the agents were just doing their job but that the procedure needs to be changed to spare others the embarrassment and discomfort her mother went through.
"If this is your procedure—which I do understand—I also feel that your procedure needs to be changed," she said.
The administration heightened airport security last year, including full-body scans and pat-downs to prevent passengers from carrying explosives onto planes. The intention was to prevent attacks similar to the so-called underwear bomber’s failed 2009 attempt. But the agency's strict inspection policies have repeatedly drawn complaints from passengers who say that the procedures can go too far.
The TSA estimates that only 3 percent of passengers are subjected to pat-downs, and that the inspections occur only after someone has triggered a metal detector or declined a full-body scan.