Debunking TSA Mistreatment Of A Dying Woman

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.


Happy Flying!






  1. snuggliestbear, because I have spent years using logic, facts, statistical analysis, risk assessment, empirical evidence.

    It doesn’t work.

    That’s why I’ve switched to sarcasm and the theater of the absurd.

  2. P.S. I would point you to some links demonstrating the years’ worth of those arguments I have made using empirical evidence, but every time I try to include a link in a comment here, it gets booted to spam. So I’ll just give you a couple of titles; if you’re interested, you can click the link at my name and do a search there, and those articles will come up:

    “History repeats itself with TSA’s strip-search tactics”

    “De profundis clamavi, or why we can talk till we’re blue in the face but until we put our money where our mouth is we won’t get rid of the TSA”

  3. @Kris Ziel: The referenced bomb attack was in 1994. Liquids were allowed in US and globally for another 12 years. Why didn’t the global aviation industry respond then? It costs very little money to tell people not to bring liquids.

    The reason is the incident rate is almost non-existent and of the recorded bomb attacks – non originating in the US – no measured success in bringing down an entire plane. The risk is acceptable….if anyone reading this disagrees, and has flown as an adult since 1994, then you are practicing congnitive dissonance.

    It appears by the way the fact that the intelligence communities have uncovered plots (weak plots if you research the liquid bomb plot from 2006) indicates we have decent protection against a difficult attack mode without throwing away our American liberties.

    @Kris. Regarding the 9 out of 10…about 40% of the 675 million annual passengers are scanned. I would say 6 out of 100, less than 10%, scanned passengers are singled out according to the manufacturer. My personal counting last year showed from 10% to 21% at 2 airports I observed. So, at 6% of 40%, that is 16.2 Million passengers per year getting secondary screening. By the way, not one of them was a suicidal airline passenger with a working non-metallic bomb. Not counted are the people in wheelchairs who get groped on their genitals.

    Conclusion: Criminal Genital touching and scanner searches are unnecessary for primary screening.

    The incident rate is almost non-existent. Despite the Phillipines attack, the plane still landed.

  4. @Snuggliestbear. As a business traveler myself, I agree that a single person opting out won’t change things. However, the inconvenience of time which a lot of your comments point out is, to me, a secondary concern. It really boils down to whether one agrees the 4th amendment should be preserved from “non-law enforcement dragnet searches done under a supposed ‘administrative reason’ “.

    Essentially, the TSA has the legal right to perform a security search. Metal detectors test for a specific physical presence of metal, associated with most guns, and does not perform an inch-by-inch search of ones’s body. This has been judged as a reasonable technique.

    The scanners perform an inch-by-inch general search of one’s body, without any specific identification of weapons or explosives. It catches things like mastectomy scars, medical devices, etc. It also has other false positives for explosive materials.

    The issue with opt-out sexual assault patdowns or secondary post-scanenr sexual assault patdowns is that this is a crime in all 50 states. It is not always a “sexual statute” crime, but it is a crime.

    So, we have to decide as Americans if we want to get rid of the 4th amendment for searches of one’s persons, and also if we accept criminal touching by the government (private corporations are not subject to the Constitution, but if they touched your genitals they would be committing a crime and subject to arrest. It may be possible for a legal contract to waive that as a crime and permit consensual sexual touching for adults. Children cannot have these crimes waived by their parents though).

    The way to fight this is to personally resist in all legal manner possible, as well as get our government representatives to uphold the Bill of Rights. Sadly, many reps do not.

    One analogy to think about. We don’t outlaw handguns (we could leave rifles legal) despite the fact that Americans kill 8000 people a year – an actual measured threat. There are terrorists living in our urban cities (we call them ‘gangs’) cities who kill Americans, but we have not implemented illegal searches on everyone in these cities in order to regulate illegal handgun possession.

  5. “but we have not implemented illegal searches on everyone in these cities in order to regulate illegal handgun possession.”

    Unfortunately, we have implemented illegal searches, such as Terry stops and stop-and-frisks — over 1,800 EVERY DAY in New York City — 90% of the time targeting blacks and Hispanics. These stops will, sooner or later, come to all of us.

    That’s the point of fighting this stuff, these violations of civil liberties, in whatever form it takes, whether on the streets or at the airport. Not only because it’s wrong, it’s wrong on its face, which is reason enough, but because sooner or later, these abuses that are now used on the “undesirables” of society eventually come to be used on all of us.

    But then that’s another historical fact I’ve presented umpteen times that goes nowhere and persuades no one.

    Just like the fact that the MMW (millimeter wave) scanners have a 54% false positive rate. That fact persuades no one either.

    Or the facts that Jeff so astutely presents and which I and others have repeated umpteen times. Over and over and over. We can present them till we’re blue in the face. When it comes to bogeymen, of which “terrorism” is one, people don’t respond to reason; they respond to fear.

  6. Wow. I normally don’t read this site, but Chris Elliott linked to it today, and that’s what brought me here.

    Your “logic” is amazing. Basically, since TSA bureaucrats deny the sick woman’s version of events, they must be right and she must be wrong. Try that sort of argument in a courtroom, if you ever feel the judge is in need of a laugh!

    But for the sake of argument, why don’t you try to determine the TSA’s impartiality in their responses, by calculating how many times the TSA has denied a passenger’s version of events, vs. the number of times TSA has frankly admitted that they were true? Oh, and be sure to factor into your equation the fact that in the teeny number of cases where TSA acknowledged outrageous misconduct, there was either film footage, or a plethora of witnesses, or other concrete evidence!

    Won’t be coming back to THIS site any time soon…

  7. First time reading Flying with Fish thanks to the link from Chris Elliott. I am pleased that you reached out to multiple sources to get information. Legwork and personal conversations, that’s like old school journalism! Thank you for being one of the few in the industry who seem to be doing that rather than doing all your research on the internet and taking as gospel 1 person’s account. It’s nice to have perspective from all sides and let the reader form their own opinions.

  8. Franklin,

    I assume you mean a “moron” not a “Mormon?

    Either way, what people see on a regular basis is the front line, which is problematic … but just wanted to clarify you didn’t mean to mock Mormons.

    Happy Flying!


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