On the 2nd of October Michelle Dunaj, a 34 year old terminal Leukemia patient passed through Seattle Tacoma International Airport (SeaTac) on her way to Hawaii for what she referred to as the “last trip of her life.” Ms. Dunaj’s routine screening by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) at Sea-Tac has since become international news as she levied some serious allegations towards the TSA in regard to how she was screened.
The TSA, an agency not widely liked by travelers or politicians, is an easy target for the media to shred, and at times they deserve it. The allegations against the TSA by Ms. Dunaj’s, who is scheduled to enter hospice on the 17th of October, make excellent headlines and are an ideal story for putting the TSA in a negative spot light … but are Ms. Dunaj’s factual?
Ms. Dunaj claims that the TSA opened and contaminated liquid medications in an IV bag, required her to pull back bandages that cover her feeding tubes and other medical ports in place, and that she was denied a private screening. The allegations against the TSA are severe and disturbing, however pieces of Ms. Dunaj’s story would require multiple TSA Transportation Security Officers (TSO) handling different aspects of the screening process to make massive errors all at once, which while possible is unlikely.
As anyone who reads Flying With Fish knows I challenge the TSA regularly, and not just on popular topics, however I also defend the agency when it is wronged, because the only way to be truly objective about the TSA is to make sure the information is accurate, even if unpopular. Over the past day I have sought information regarding Ms. Dunaj’s screening at Sea-Tac and have discovered that her story may not be as it seems.
In searching for information I reached out to a TSA Supervisory Transportation Security Officer (STSO) at Sea-Tac, as luck would have it, this STSO was on shift at the time of Ms. Dunaj’s screening. This STSO is one who is blunt and straightforward about the agency, never sugar coating the TSA, and who believes the agency needs significant change.
The TSA STSO says he recalls a passenger being screened with multiple medical tubes, and while they were not involved in the screening, they have first hand knowledge that two TSA TSOs handled the screening and an STSO was present at the pat down.
The STSO writes:
“The TSO checking the medications checked the bag by hand as per normal and ETD swabbed items in the bag, including the exterior of IV bags, before clearing the bag.
The passenger was screened and patted down in the presence of an STSO on the secure side of the checkpoint following TSA’s pat down guidelines, whether you agree with pat down procedures or not, they were followed. At no time was the passenger asked or required to remove bandages or lift bandages. I am sure many people see TSOs are idiots with no common sense, but as you know the vast [majority] of us do not act without thinking. Clearly asking someone to remove bandages could further impact a person’s health, not to mention we are not medical professionals with ability to assess what tubes go where and what they do. “
The STSO went on to discuss that other passengers who requested private screenings were allowed private screenings during the shift and that no reports were filed for the cleaning up of medical liquids, which would have been logged. They also went onto state, “I hope we release the security footage to clear the agency. We have enough real problems as is that could use some scrutiny. ”
While I have trusted this TSA STSO as a source in the past, I followed up with the TSA this morning to verify specifics from the detailed description I had received and was in contact with David Castelveter, the TSA’s Director of External Communications. Mr. Castelveter stated the standard agency statement that the agency reviewed the security footage, that at no time was the medical liquid opened or bandages removed … which I expected, but what I needed was for the agency to confirm or deny the information I had received from the Sea-Tac STSO. After a brief discussion, Mr. Castelveter confirmed that the information I received from the Sea-Tac STSO regarding the multiple involved Officers was correct.
This information has not been reported on by CNN, The Associated Press or others. Why? I can’t tell you why, but it is pertinent information when determining if Ms. Dunaj’s screening was in fact improperly handled and worthy of national headlines.
The argument that Ms. Dunaj’s was denied a private screening can be debated in her own statement, “I asked them if they thought that was an appropriate location, and they told me that everything was fine.”
Asking a TSO or STSO is they thought the location of the pat down was appropriate is not the same as asking for a private screening. TSA TSOs pat passengers down all day, every day. The current ‘enhanced pat down’ can be invasive, and the agency’s protocol for enhanced pat downs can be debated, however Ms. Dunaj received a proper ‘enhanced down’ in the same location nearly every other passenger is patted down.
How Ms. Dunaj felt while being patted down is how many people feel. Many passengers feel as if they are being treated like criminals, and that everyone is watching them. Many passengers perceive the enhanced pat down as embarrassing … I can understand that, I have been subject to it … but that is not the same as the TSA requiring a passenger to lift their shirt, remove bandages and having their medically necessary liquid medications opened and contaminated.
I hate to debunk a dying woman’s story to the media … but there are multiple sides to every story. I sincerely hope the TSA releases the security footage of Ms. Dunaj being screened so this story can be put to rest and we can focus on the real and important issues related to the agency.