TSA officers at Dulles International Airport did an extensive pat-down of a 96-year-old woman in a wheelchair, angering her daughter and thousands of others who have watched video of the incident online.
“My 96 year old mother being extensively searched by the TSA,” Clarkson wrote. “The 3 of us were all in wheelchairs. Only my 96 year old mother was subjected to this prolonged, repetitive search.”
The post has nearly 9 million views and more than 140,000 shares.
Clarkson, her mother and fiance we headed back to Indianapolis after visiting her son who lives in Elkridge,Md., when they were wheeled to a security checkpoint at Dulles, she said. She said her fiance had cleared security and she was preparing to go through when she noticed her mother had been pulled aside. For the next several minutes she watched as a TSA officer patted her mother down. She said she tried to ask why her mother was being searched, but officers did not respond. And so, she decided to record the incident.
“I’ve never seen a pat down like that — that long and that repetitive,” Clarkson said in an interview. “I just thought ‘what in the world?'”
Clarkson’s recording shows her mother sitting in a wheelchair as officers begin the pat-down process. One officer asks her to remove her windbreaker, which she slowly, and with some effort does. And then the pat-down begins — up and down both arms, legs, back, inner thighs. She is even asked to adjust her weight so that the officer can check underneath her — once on her right side and once on the left. The agent also feels the area around her stomach and breasts and has her lift her legs.
“This is uncalled for….She’s 96-years-old, she’s not Gumby,” an unidentified man says at one point.
“Oh, for God sakes,” someone can be heard uttering.
A TSA spokeswoman said the officers were doing what they have been trained to do.
“TSA is committed to ensuring the security of travelers, while treating all passengers with dignity and respect,” TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said. “In this instance, the TSA officer provided advisements during the pat-down and was extremely polite. The passenger was very cooperative and gave no indication that she was agitated or in discomfort. She received a pat-down and was cleared for her flight.”
As the search continues, Clarkson can be heard growing more agitated. At one point when a second TSA officer moves in front of Clarkson, as if to block her ability to record, Clarkson says loudly, “Excuse me, you don’t need to block my filming this.”
The second officer remains in place, so Clarkson moves beside her.
The pat-down continues.
At one point the officer asks, “Are you able to put your arms up?” Clarkson’s mother complies, but Clarkson interjects to tell the officer that one of her mother’s arms is stiff and shouldn’t be lifted.
“What in the hell do you think she’s going to do? Set off a shoe bomb?” a voice that appears to be Clarkson’s says at one point.
The search continues. The officer swabs her rubber gloves and places the swab in a machine, perhaps to check for traces of explosives?
Through it all, Clarkson’s mother sits quietly, expressionless.
Toward the end of the video, Clarkson again says: “Are you kidding me?
An unidentified male voice responds: “Ma’am, it’s simply our procedures.”
After more than four minutes, the officer says to Clarkson’s mother: “You’re set to go. Thank you very much.”
But that wasn’t the end of the trio’s ordeal. They arrived at their gate only to find that it had been switched. When they arrived at the new gate, they were told their 10:45 p.m. flight had been canceled due to weather. Clarkson tried to find a nearby hotel, but had no luck so they ended up spending the night at Dulles.
Officials at Dulles said that Clarkson reached out to them via the airport’s online comment form and asked to be put in contact with TSA regarding her concerns. They also posted a note on the the airport’s Facebook page in response to concerns they’ve received about the incident.
Clarkson said all she has received from TSA is an automated response.
“All I wanted was for them to admit their people went overboard [with the search],” she said.
TSA maintains the officers followed procedures.
Said Farbstein: “It’s what a pat-down of someone in a wheelchair looks like. It was conducted by the book.”