Alaska Journal of Commerce
EDITOR'S NOTE: Reporter Rob Stapleton wrote a story allowing Alaska Airlines to respond to some passenger complaints.
Boarding airlines, once a minor step in travel, has become a most unpleasant experience for people who have had surgery that includes titanium implants.
It leaves us subject to the whims of the federal Transportation Security Administration, including individual TSA agents whose physical examinations of our bodies may constitute physical assault.
Passengers who object to such screening are not allowed to board the aircraft.
Such was the situation I encountered on a recent flight returning from a business trip to Kodiak, when trying to board Alaska Airlines.
Out of respect for airport security, I had packed within the TSA guidelines, limiting toothpaste and lotions to a maximum of 3 ounces, and leaving my Leatherman gadget knife at home.
In the boarding area at Kodiak, I placed into the security basket my laptop, digital cameras, a cell phone, coins from my pocket and my shoes. I also had removed my winter jacket, but kept on a fleece pullover, over a lightweight turtleneck, to keep warm because my socks were wet from slogging through slush to get to the airport entrance.
After presenting my boarding pass, driver's license and a card from my surgeon that stated “the owner of this card has a total joint replacement and has in place a permanent metal implant. This implant may activate a metal detection device.”
I also told the TSA agent I had a metal plate in the ankle on the same leg, implanted to repair a broken ankle several years ago.
I was directed to another TSA agent, whose metal detector, of course, recognized these metal objects.
Having been on previous flights from Anchorage to Seattle and back and gone through similar screenings, I figured this woman would likewise lightly pat down -using the backs of her hands - my arms, legs and chest.
This Kodiak TSA agent proceeded to squeeze my arms and legs, particularly hard on the ankle where the plate was embedded during surgery. She then very roughly rubbed her hands down my chest, jerking up my left sleeve to examine my watch before rubbing roughly down my back.
Once back in Anchorage, I talked with TSA officials, who gave me a customer service phone number to call. I did call to relate that the way I was treated amounted to physical assault. The agent said he would check on it. When I called him back two days later he said the TSA agent in Kodiak had only done her job.
I asked exactly how TSA was supposed to touch passengers on specific parts of their bodies. He said that this was a national security issue and he could not give out that information.
There are a growing number of Alaskans and visitors to our state who have had hip or knee or other surgeries that involve implants that activate metal detection devices.
At the same time, all of us deserve to be treated with respect, not physically assaulted by government agents in the name of national security as if we were criminal suspects.
Margaret Bauman can be reached at [email protected]