The TSA's Child Problem

The Transportation Security Administration is taking a lot of heat this week because of two recent high-profile incidents involving kids.

4-Year-Old’s Pat-down

Earlier this week, reports surfaced about a “uncontrollably crying” four-year-old who was subjected to a TSA pat-down at Wichita’s airport. Apparently the child scampered through security to give her grandmother a final hug. According to the little girl’s mother (who wrote about the incident on Facebook*), “It was implied, several times, that [the grandmother], in their brief two-second embrace, had passed a handgun to my daughter.”

*The post appears to have since been removed.

TSA: One of the 5 ‘F-Words’ of Flying?

The mother also complained that she was initially not allowed to stay with her child for the pat-down, which flies in the face of TSA policy which says parents can remain with children during such screenings.

7-Year-Old Disabled Child’s Ordeal

Parents of a 7-year-old girl with cerebral palsy who walks with crutches and leg braces and cannot go through metal detectors, objected to the “aggressive” TSA agents at JFK who were about to pat the child down. After the father began video-taping the scene, it was decided that an inspection of the child’s crutches was enough and the family left for the gate. Later, however, the TSA showed up at the gate to say the child had to return to the security checkpoint for more screening. The family missed their plane.

What the TSA Says

The TSA responded to the incident involving the 4-year-old’s embrace of her grandmother as follows:

“TSA has long had a security procedure where if somebody has contact with a person who is undergoing additional screening, they must also undergo additional screening. Why you might ask? You’ve probably heard the old saying that the hand can be faster than eye? Well? that’s the reasoning behind this procedure.” – TSA Blog, 4-24-12

FareCompare asked the TSA to respond to the incident involving the 7-year-old disabled child, and we will update with any new information provided.

New TSA Security Measures for Kids 12 and Under

TSA Programs for Kids, Travelers with Disabilities: Good Enough?

This is not the first time the TSA has received negative publicity over its dealing with kids. After a video of a frightened 6-year-old’s pat-down went viral last year, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood himself said, “I wouldn’t want my granddaughter treated like that.”

Incidents like these prompted revised security procedures for children aged 12 and under, who are now allowed to keep their shoes on and undergo less invasion screening measures. It also greatly reduces the need for pat-downs, but such procedures are not ruled out entirely for kids.

TSA vs. Private Screeners

The TSA also launched TSA Cares which provides information for travelers with disabilities or medical conditions to help them get through checkpoints with minimal disruption – this program also includes a special hotline travelers can call for further assistance.

But the question remains, is this good enough? Some travelers have complained that many rank-and-file TSA officers don’t seem to know their own organization’s policies regarding kids and disabled passengers.

At the same time, the TSA faces difficulties from travelers who resent the screening process and take it out on officers, like the Rapid City passenger who asked, “Do you want me to put my explosive belt on top of my explosive shoes?”

New Security Guidelines of Passengers 75 and Older

TSA Effectiveness – Debate Rages On

Others say, the entire program has gone off-track by focusing attention on those least likely to do harm. Still others maintain this is the price we have to pay for protection in a world where terrorists take down entire buildings.

The arguments have been fierce on all sides since the TSA was formed back in 2001, and the debate over the agency’s effectiveness – and focus – continues to rage.


Published: April 25, 2012