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TSA denies having required a 95-year-old woman to remove diaper

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Woman patted down by TSA files complaint
  • NEW: The woman's daughter says the TSA agents acted professionally
  • The TSA says it "did not require this passenger to remove an adult diaper"
  • The Depend undergarment was "wet and it was firm," daughter says she was told
  • The woman's daughter says her mother removed the diaper in a restroom

(CNN) -- The Transportation Security Administration has denied that its agents required a 95-year-old woman to remove her adult diaper last week before allowing her to pass a screening checkpoint at Northwest Florida Regional Airport.

"While every person and item must be screened before entering the secure boarding area, TSA works with passengers to resolve security alarms in a respectful and sensitive manner," the agency said Sunday night in a statement. "We have reviewed the circumstances involving this screening and determined that our officers acted professionally, according to proper procedure and did not require this passenger to remove an adult diaper."

A response released earlier Sunday by the TSA said that the agency had reviewed the circumstances "and determined that our officers acted professionally and according to proper procedure."

The woman's daughter, Jean Weber, told CNN on Monday that the TSA agents acted professionally and never ordered the removal of her mother's diaper. However, Weber said the agents made it clear that her mother could not board the plane unless they were able to inspect the diaper.

According to Weber, it was her idea to remove the diaper so it could be inspected and they could make their flight.

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"They were doing their job according to the instructions of the TSA and their policies," Weber said, later adding that the options offered them were to remove the diaper or "she was not going to get on the plane."

On Sunday, Weber told CNN that the June 18 incident occurred when she and her mother were traveling from northwest Florida to Michigan, where her mother was planning to move in with other relatives prior to moving into an assisted-living facility.

"My mother is very ill, she has a form of leukemia," Weber said Sunday. "She had a blood transfusion the week before, just to bolster up her strength for this travel."

At a security checkpoint, a TSA officer ushered the wheelchair-bound woman into a glassed-in area where a pat-down was performed, Weber said. Weber said an agent told her "they felt something suspicious on (her mother's) leg and they couldn't determine what it was" -- leading them to take her into a private, closed room.

Soon after, Weber said, a TSA agent told her that her mother's Depend undergarment was "wet and it was firm, and they couldn't check it thoroughly." But her mother had no clean diapers in her carry-on luggage and the departure time for the plane was approaching, Weber said.

"They said, 'You can get her luggage back to get more out of her luggage,' but the luggage was checked and I didn't know how long it would take to get her luggage," Weber said. "I asked if I could take the wet Depends off and they said yes but said I had to take her back to the lobby of the airport -- to the restroom out of the screening area."

She said she and her mother then went to a bathroom and removed the wet diaper, then went back through the screening checkpoint.

Weber said her mother, a nurse for 65 years, "was very calm" despite being bothered by the fact that she went on to complete her journey without underwear.

By this weekend, the elder woman -- who was not identified by name -- was doing "fine" in Michigan with her relatives, Weber said Sunday.

This is not the first time that the TSA's pat-downs of passengers have come under fire, nor the first time that the agency has rallied behind its officers and policy.

Last year, the administration announced it was ramping up the use of full-body scanning and pat-downs to stop nonmetallic threats, including explosives, from getting on planes. The goal is to head off attacks such as the one allegedly attempted on Christmas of 2009 by Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab, who allegedly had a bomb sewn into his underwear on a flight from the Netherlands to Michigan.

The TSA estimates that only 3% of passengers are subjected to pat-downs -- and then only after they have set off a metal detector or declined to step into a full-body scanner. Yet the new policy has triggered an uproar online and in airports, from a small but vocal number of travelers who feel their rights and privacy were being violated.

The federal safety agency has made some adjustments to its policy, but no major changes.

"Every traveler is a critical partner in TSA's efforts to keep our skies safe," Administrator John Pistole, who ordered the new approach, said last fall. "And I know and appreciate that the vast majority of Americans recognize and respect the important work we do."

More recently, outrage erupted over a video-recorded pat-down of a 6-year-old passenger last April at New Orleans' airport. The video, which was posted on YouTube, shows the girl protesting the search by a female security officer at first, though she complies quietly while it is under way.

Pistole addressed this controversy at a Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee meeting last week, explaining the pat-down was ordered because the child had moved while passing through a body imaging machine. He told committee members that "we have changed the policy (so) that there'll be repeated efforts made to resolve that without a pat-down."

The next day, TSA spokesman Greg Soule said that the new policy -- which will apply to children age 12 and younger -- was in the process of being rolled out.