March 05, 2008

The Pittsburgh Airport Incident

I mentioned the other day that my wife and I had an ugly incident in the airport in Pittsburgh while we were traveling last week. I indicated that I would have more to say about the matter in the days to come. Well, here it is at last.

On Monday, February 25, 2008, my wife and I were returning to Houston after visiting my wife’s hometown, where we were seeing to her mother, who is seriously ill and expected to pass away soon. It was a difficult time.

Because my wife, Paula, uses a wheelchair, we needed to access the private screening lane at approximately 10:00 a.m. As instructed by the TSA staff member at the podium at the head of the line, we placed our personal property on the lower shelf of the metal table so that I could push Paula down to the private screening room and then return to place these items on the x-ray belt. It was important to stay with these items because they included a wallet with approximately $100 in it, a personal laptop computer, a cellular phone, my wife’s purse and a carry-on bag containing a number of collector coins and some jewelry that Paula’s mother wished her to have, as well as both of our medications. We were carrying these latter items in the carry-on bag out of concern that they would disappear from checked baggage.

We first encountered the screener named Monique at this time. She was carrying a number of gray plastic crates to place in position for travelers to use. I told Monique that I did not want these items going through screening without me because of the valuables inside the bag, and that the previous TSA employee had told us that we could place the items there. Monique told us that we could not do so. When I reiterated my first statement, Monique said, "You're going to do it my way" and began to move the items to the x-ray conveyor and push the items through the x-ray without my permission. I was upset because this meant these items would have to sit at the end of the x-ray unattended until I could get my wife to the private screening room and then pass through the line myself.

During this time, Monique passed by Paula’s wheelchair several times, striking her in the back with the gray bins each time she passed. We at first assumed this was an accident but came to believe that this was intentional because of the repeated act of striking her in the back as she passed.

At this point Monique insisted Paula move her wheelchair. It is a motorized wheelchair, but no battery was connected because we considered the difficulty of traveling with them to outweigh the benefits. Paula could not move her wheelchair by herself because of her disability, so I needed to move the wheelchair for her to the screening room. Monique was angered by this, and was upset that my wife could not get out of her way fast enough to suit her or reach the screening room unattended. We were disturbed when we reached the private screening room and discovered it would be Monique who was to conduct Paula’s screening. According to Paula, Monique repeatedly kicked and hit her chair when she asked her to stop because the jarring of the chair caused her great pain due to chronic pain associated with her disability. Paula further states that another female screener was in the room when Monique conducted her screening and became so visibly upset by Monique actions and verbal abuse that the female screener left the room.

After screening was completed, Monique informed Paula that she needed to conduct a bag search on the bag containing the coins, jewelry, and medication. Monique was angry that Paula did not have the bag to the small padlock on the bag and continued to be very rude and abrupt. During the search, Monique’s rudeness continued in my presence, and inquired why we were carrying certain of the items. I stated, "Lady I don't know what your problem is," to which Monique responded, "I'm no lady." In reply, I said, "No you're not, but I'm not going to say what I think you are". At that point, Monique aggressively responded "You want to start calling names? You want to start calling names?" Her manner was unprofessional and of such an aggressive, confrontational nature, that I believed Monique was trying to provoke a fight in order to have me arrested. I would also like to state that I do not believe it was her business to ask why we had medication, coins and jewelry in our carry-on luggage.

Monique summoned a man named Ron, and Paula and I indicated that we wanted to file a complaint. Ron started to hand us two sheets of paper, but then gave us only one. The form Paula was given by Ron did not have a place to include our names and contact information, which left us concerned about follow through. Paula completed the form we were given in detail, and I then turned the information in at the podium, though I do not remember the name of the woman to whom it was given. We then headed to the gate for our flight.

After arriving at the gate, I went to one of the magazine stands to get a soda for Paula so that she could take her medication due to the pain caused by Monique’s jarring of the wheelchair and her back. A female TSA employee, who turned out to be the same woman who left the private screening room, approached me. She expressed her concern over the way Paula was treated and was aware that we were not provided with the Customer Service Representative's name and telephone number. She provided us with the Customer Service number and contact information. She stated that she had taken her break and followed us because the treatment we had received was not right, and that Monique constantly treats passengers this way but is never disciplined because someone seems to be either covering for her or afraid to take action, despite the fact that Monique is often rude and or brutal with passengers. She related that there have been past incidents that involved physical altercations with passengers, and no action taken, and she asked us to please follow up on our complaint, which was already our intent. She was quite concerned with having her anonymity concerned, however, because of the lack of action against Monique and fear that she would face retaliation (including possible termination) for assisting us in this way. I view her actions as being in the highest spirit of professionalism and to be commended rather than punished.

I have since been in contact with the Pittsburgh Customer Service Representative, and have initiated a complaint process through her, as well as with my elected representatives in Washington, DC.

I'll be the first to concede that airport security is important. That said, such treatment is not necessary, and is clearly an abuse of authority. I'll keep you folks posted on the outcome of the process I have initiated as it moves along.

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Why did you have to be an ass? Just go through the damn security like everyone else. Why do you think you are "special"?

Geez. Quit whining.

|| Posted by D Garcia, March 5, 2008 09:53 PM ||

Where did I ask for special treatment?

The expectation that we had was that we would be treated according to TSA regulations and federal law, which we were not.

When we attempted to file a complaint about the issue, as is our right under federal law and TSA regulations, we expected to be given the complete form to fill out, not merely a part of it, and then to have our paperwork filed and action taken according to proper procedures. That did not happen, as has been confirmed by the TSA representative I am now dealing with at the Pittsburgh airport.

If you think a physical assault upon a woman in a wheelchair is acceptable, then I think you have a serious problem.

|| Posted by Rhymes With Right, March 5, 2008 10:23 PM ||

You are a hero for standing up for yourself and your wife. Bravo.

I sincerely hope that D. Garcia was kidding.

|| Posted by Dan, July 25, 2008 03:21 PM ||

Just a quick update -- the incident was investigated and TSA was able to confirm most of my account.

According to the information I received from TSA, Monique was seriously disciplined (they couldn't tell me how due to personnel regulations, but implied she was terminated). The supervisor who gave us only half the complaint form (and then never turned it in) was also disciplined. And the TSA employee who went above and beyond the call of duty to see that we were able to file a proper complaint received a commendation.

|| Posted by Rhymes With Right, August 30, 2008 07:42 AM ||

I have had some terrible experiences with the TSA so I sympathize with you. I have also had the experience of them not even getting in right to begin with. My last trip to Boston with my girlfriend and her daughter was a perfect example. We went through the scan with no problems, but when my girlfriend's daughter went through, she had a full bottle of Diet Coke which they confiscated. My girlfriend made the comment "I have a bottle of Diet Coke and they didn't confiscate it". I shot her a look like "Oh my god, you did not just say that" I knew what was coming next..immediately a large black woman came over and not only made my girlfriend go through the line again, but pulled her aside for and intense screening. Now, was this necessary? Had she been a terrorist, she would not have drawn attention to herself by mentioning that she got through with a bottle of cola. It was just retribution from the TSA lady for making them look bad.
Now how to say this without sounding racist...well, what the hell, I'll just say it because it's true. WHY ARE ALL THE TSA AGENTS BLACK? Not only black, but seem to be very arrogant, uneducated and on a power trip? To the point where I would say, they wouldn't be able to keep a job in the private sector with their attitude. Is this how the govt tries to put those on welfare back to work?
The TSA needs to do the "secret shopper" thing and start sending supervisors through the line incognito, to see how inept their agents are adn start weeding out those who are unprofessional and on a power trip. I don't care how many times these people are cursed at, treated badly or whatever. They need treat EVERYONE with respect. They are not cops, but feel the need to act like cops. I'll leave the discussion of why they treat elderly white women badly and ignore those who are obvious middle eastern and Muslim, the ones doing the terrorist acts, for another time.
To the guy above D.Garcia who made the snotty comment. You're an ass and no doubt you work for the TSA. This man and his wife did not ask for special treatment, they only complained about the crappy treatment they recieved.

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