Debunking TSA Incidents – Passenger vs TSA & Austin Police

[EDIT FOR CORRECTION: 28-DECEMEMBER-2010 – 2:46PM EST – Original report stated Ms. Hirschkind refused the TSA AIT scanners, however AUS does not presently have AIT scanners]

Last Wednesday, the 22nd of December, a disturbing news story about a woman with a pace maker, who is a rape survivor, being knocked to the ground, handcuffed, dragged 25 yards, arrested and banned from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) after she alarmed the walk through metal detector, then refused the  Transportation Security Administration (TSA) pat down, was first reported on by the TV news station KVUE in Austin, Texas.

The story, which has now been recounted by news outlets around the world, details an incident involving Claire Hirschkind, the TSA and Austin Police Department. KVUE, the Associated Press and others have written that Ms. Hirschkind arrived at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport to catch a flight out to California to spend Christmas with her friends when she encountered a nightmare scenario, after stating she has ‘equivalent of a pacemaker’ implanted in her, following her alarming at the walk through metal detector.

Ms. Hirschkind has stated to media outlets that she was escorted by a female TSA Transportation Security Officer (TSO) and three Austin Police Officers, then informed she would be patted down. Ms. Hirschkind claims she turned to the police officer and said ‘I have given no due cause to give up my constitutional rights.  You can wand me,’” with the TSO responding ‘No, you have to do this.” Ms. Hirschkind then claims she agreed to the pat down under one condition, saying “I told them, ‘No, I’m not going to have my breasts felt‘ with the TSO responding ‘Yes you are.

Ms. Hirschkind claims that at the time she refused the pat down “the police actually pushed me to the floor, (and) handcuffed me.  I was crying by then.  They drug me 25 yards across the floor in front of the whole security.”

Since there are multiple sides to every story, I have spent the past few days working to track down factual information, gather information from people in Austin, TSA incident reports and most importantly … from those who have seen the security footage.  When all is said and done … security footage tells a vastly different story from Ms. Hirschkind’s story.

Oddities in Ms. Hirschkind’s story begin to appear early on in her encounter with the TSA, such as claiming that she was escorted by a TSO and three Austin Police Officers, in fact at the point when Ms. Hirschkind was escorted to a pat down area there were not three police officers present. Law enforcement became involved after Ms. Hirschkind refused to be patted down three times.  Ms. Hirschkind was informed of pat down procedures and that they were mandatory by a TSO, then by a Supervisor TSO (STSO), then by a TSA Checkpoint Manager. At this time it appears that Ms. Hirschkind was informed that she could either be patted down, or she was free to leave the airport with an escort from the Austin Police Department.

Following Ms. Hirschkind’s third refusal of a pat down, the TSA requested a police officer to escort her from the airside security checkpoint area of the airport back to the pre-security side.  It appears that the Austin Police Officer informed Ms. Hirschkind for a fourth time that TSA pat downs are not optional, and if she wishes to catch her flight she needs to be patted down.

Following Ms. Hirschkind’s initial interaction with the Police Officer, she became quite belligerent and threw herself to the ground, not an officer knocking her to the ground as she reports.  Once on the ground additional Police Officers arrived at the TSA checkpoint to assist the initial officer, at which time Ms. Hirschkind was handcuffed, placed in a wheel chair and removed from TSA checkpoint … not dragged as reported by Ms. Hirschkind.

Once Ms. Hirschkind was removed, by wheelchair to the lower level of the airport, it would seem police asked her if there was anyone available to pick her up due to the questioning of her potential mental status.  At this time Ms. Hirschkind appears to have had a seizure, the Police called for an ambulance and Ms. Hirschkind was removed from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport by ambulance.

…as for Ms. Hirschkind being arrested … no charges have been filed against her by the Austin Police Department or Transportation Security Administration.

Something about this story didn’t sit right with me from the moment I first read KVUE’s report … and now I know why it didn’t seem right … because the news story left out significant pieces of information.

Folks … if you are going to embellish on an encounter with the TSA remember this … there are cameras nearly everywhere I an airport, and raw security camera footage doesn’t take sides.

Happy Flying!



  1. As much as i love the TSA – It didn’t seem right to me when
    i saw the video interview she gave. Although i know absolutely
    nothing about this woman, she seemed to be on the unstable side in
    the video. Just a little off. It is good to know that the TSA is
    allowing people to leave the airport if they don’t want to be
    scanned or touched.

  2. ABIA doesn’t have any WBI, per the TSA’s website. She set
    off the metal detector, and that’s when she was asked to do the pat

  3. Rick,

    You appear to be correct. On Dec 14 the Austin Airport Advisory Commission passed a resolution to block the AIT scanners.

    My focus wasn’t on the scanners, but on the events around what happened to the woman in the news story.

    Thanks for pointing that out. I’ll correct
    the blog entry when I get back to my computer in a few hours

    Happy Flying!


  4. Rick beat me to it! AUS has no WBI. I should know, I feel like I spend my whole life there…..

    I guess I have been really out of the loop! I didn’t hear about this story until recently.The TSA peeps here in Austin are some of the nicest ones I have come across, and I have never had any issues with them.

  5. I’m appalled by the theatrics of security and horrified by the management of the TSA, so I’m not one to defend them. But I also felt something “off” about this one as soon as I saw the interview with the lady. Glad to know it wasn’t what she claims. There are always people who will seek attention.

    I know this is probably unlikely but are there links to the footage? I’ve had people forward me this story and I think it’s doing damage to those who’ve suffered real abuses and obscures the real problems with the TSA and privacy abuses.

  6. Steven, kudos to you for your diligence in tracking down the truth on this one.

    I’m no fan of the TSA or its Canadian cousin CATSA and I deplore the Security Theater but this is no way to bring an end to the charade. Once the real facts of this incident are widely published (get ready to answer your phone), the general public will naturally view any new stories with skepticism.

    I feel especially sorry for “real” victims of sexual abuse who endure this degradation every day and will, unfortunately, be lumped in with Ms. Hirschkind.

  7. Eyeno,

    I have real issue with the TSA. These issues involve policy, procedure, management and deployment of resources. Unfortunately these topics rarely make for flashy headlines or easy to digest sound bites for news stories. When they come up in the news, I get calls, emails and air-time …but the other 350 days of the year I take my time to research and try and deal with the real issues.

    False stories of the TSA acting incorrectly do nothing to help change the direction of the TSA … something that many people agree needs to happen … in fact false stories like these against the TSA just make impacting change harder. This is why I debunk the incorrect stories that make their way into the major media channels.

    Happy Flying!


  8. Maria,

    The security footage has not been publicly released. The TSA has made security footage available in the past via its own blog and YouTube and I hope they release this footage as well. The footage from this incident was captured by cameras owned by the Austin Airport, not the TSA which may explain some of the issues in this footage being released.

    Happy Flying!


  9. One wishes that the television station had investigated a little more thoroughly before reporting … but alas, that’s not entertainment!

  10. Thanks for clarifying this incident (though to be honest, I wasn’t aware of it initially either). While I’ve heard of all the nightmarish incidents involving the TSA, personally (and I travel a fair bit), I’ve had mostly non-memorable interactions (a good thing) and occasionally, extremely pleasant interactions (recently, one in particular at BHM). But it is refreshing to hear that it sounds like this was handled as professionally as possible, particularly, given the somewhat unstable state of the passenger in question.

  11. As the year winds down, how about a top ten review of FAQ regarding TSA rules, based on all your great columns? IMHO, there really no other credible source for objective reporting on these topics.

  12. Unstable or not, why cannot someone be screened in a non invasive manner. For a rape victim a porno scanner or an aggressive pat down are simply not an option. Victims of rape fight for years to feel they again have control over their bodies and this directly undermines that effort. I can see numerous situations where individuals did not approach or deal withi the TSA in a way to create a positive outcome but the TSA also needs to be more consistent and sympathetic in it’s approach.

  13. Sheri

    At the time of this incident , the airport in Austin did not have the “porno scanners.” The airport only had standard walk through metal detectors.

    Happy Flying!


  14. So, she was willing to be wanted to have them only pat down the area setting off the metal detector. What was unreasonable about her request that the TSA not grope her entire body when they did not need to. I see the TSA here as being unreasonable. Suddenly the wands have dissapeared in all the airports necessitating a full on groping pat down. Now who was the stupid TSA executive that decided that was a good idea?

  15. Sorry correction on typo above – willing to be “wanded” not wanted. I agree with Sheri – there has to be other ways to clear people without this intrusive violation of our 4th ammendment rights. As a woman I find the fact that someone can invade my private body space disturbing. I’ve no problem providing background info, letting them search my luggage, doing a criminal check, etc. etc. but my body is mine and private and not for groping just because the TSA thinks I “could” be a terrorist – hell the agent groping me “could” be a pedeophile, they “could” be a druggie, they “could” be a rapist, they “could” be a terrorist. We can’t violate the constitution or it’s ammendments based on “could” we need more than that – our constitution and the people demand it. As for Clair – mentally stable or not – good for her.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.