TSA—It's Getting Messy

Funny business, indeed.

We are daily discovering the unintended consequences and unforeseen challenges of the new TSA security measures. How does one discreetly notify a TSA agent that one has an external urine bag without broadcasting that little tidbit loud enough for others to hear? A man named Tom Sawyer (no lie) and one TSA agent apparently learned the hard way that it's difficult to keep anything private in the age of underwear bombs.

Source: Getty Images

Which brings us to another uncomfortable challenge: breast cancer survivors wearing prosthetic inserts. Some security types have suggested that female suicide bombers might use their breasts as bombs, either with implants or bra inserts. This leaves breast cancer survivors vulnerable to increased scrutiny (though if you start checking every woman with implants at LAX, you might as well shut down the whole operation).

One news story tells of a U.S. Airways flight attendant (presumably in uniform with ID) who'd had a mastectomy and who was ordered to show her prosthetic insert during a security screening. Cathy Bossi opted out of the scanner because of radiation concerns and went for the pat-down. "The TSA screener put her full hand on my breast and said, 'What is this?'" When Bossi explained what it was, she says the agent told her, "Well, you'll need to show me that." So, in front of everyone, she did just that.

For many women, having their prosthetic inserts "discovered" in airport security isn't new. "I am a frequent flyer, thirty years plus with lifetime 'executive' or 'platinum" status on two airlines," one breast cancer survivor wrote me. She wears either a silicone or foam bra insert ("depending on condition of my skin at the time") and says "I have been humiliated many times as screening rules changed: at first, when male screeners did the body screening on females, and they would say, 'Why do "they" feel different?'" She says even female screeners have occasionally embarrassed her, "sometimes screaming across the security area to another person."

Now she's preparing for the new procedures, uncertain what to expect.

A second woman, another veteran traveler, wrote me that she's already been through them. "I have breast inserts on both sides following a mastectomy seven years ago, as well as double knee replacements," she says. She's gone through both the backscatter scanners and an enhanced pat down. "The only problem was that I apparently moved during the scan (at O'Hare) and screwed up the image, for which I got yelled at by the TSO — wasn't my fault — she said something to me and I turned my head!" She got used to being "wanded" years ago after the knee replacements "and had figured out a travel wardrobe to minimize touching. Now I have to go back to the drawing board." Still, this woman says after having gone through a pat down at an airport in Florida, she'll opt for the scanner. "At least I don't have to get poked that way."

What to do? One breast cancer survivor in the story about the flight attendant said that next time, to avoid an embarrassing pat down, she'll just pop out the insert ahead of time and throw it in the bin with her shoes and plastic bag of liquids. "Let the TSA scanners be embarrassed .... not me anymore!"

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