TSA addresses harassment of sick girl in wheelchair

The TSA has once again been forced to respond to an instance of abuse because a video went viral. Not apologize, mind you, just respond.

If it hadn’t been for that video, the experience of 12-year-old Shelbi Walser would’ve been just another day in American airport screening, a story of harassment told only to family and friends, unknown to the rest of us.

But because the story and video got such wide play, the TSA was finally forced to step forward. And what did our security overlords say?

An agent in Tampa provided his cell phone number to the family, offering to personally walk with them through security after Shelbi’s next treatment in Florida.

Oh, great. So the next time Shelbi and her mother pass through Tampa, they might, if they can get a hold of this guy, not be abused as they go through the checkpoint. As for other airports, I guess they just have to take their chances. After all, the TSA did nothing wrong:

“We regret that the experience of this young lady was not a positive one as we always strive to screen passengers with dignity and respect while ensuring the safety of all travelers. Everything TSA does is designed to protect against another terrorist attack. In all likelihood, this traveler would have presented no risk, yet we could take no chances. She alarmed for explosive residue and TSA took the necessary steps to resolve the alarm.”

You see? No apology given because no apology needed. Merely “we regret that the experience of this young lady was not a positive one.”

Not “we’re sorry” or “we apologize” or “we were wrong.” Of course not. We simply “regret” that this 12-year-old girl didn’t like the way we handled things. “We could take no chances,” which is why we detained her for almost an hour, prevented her mother from comforting her, and then merrily sent her on her way even though we know we “resolved” nothing.

But it’s always this way. The TSA didn’t apologize to Lenore Zimmerman or Ruth Sherman or Lena Reppert or Carolyn Durand or Nina Gilkenson or Sommer Gentry or Amy Alkon or Andrew Ian Dodge or Michelle Dunaj or anybody else either. Oops — sorry; they did apologize to Thomas Sawyer for spilling his urine all over him, but then they went and did it again a few months later.

I would direct the TSA to a site that explains, step by step, how to make an apology if I thought it would do any good. But as we know, the TSA is never wrong. Only you, dear traveler, are wrong.

(Photo: zappowbang/Flickr Creative Commons)

  • CelticWhisper

    So I know this is a little late, but in the spirit of not letting the bastards get away with nuthin’, I’ve penned the following letter to my elected officials. I waive all claims to ownership over this text, so feel free to steal, lift, swipe, snurch, and pilfer it to your heart’s content.

    «Title» «Last_Name»,

    I am writing to inform you of another in an ever-growing line of abuses perpetrated by TSA airport security screeners against the American traveling public.

    This past December, TSA screeners at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport detained a handicapped, wheelchair-bound twelve-year-old girl named Shelbi Wasler for over an hour because they suspected her of having come into contact with explosives. While it is not unreasonable to want to investigate traces of explosive compounds, the agency failed to employ the slightest shred of common sense or compassion in handling the situation; aside from failing to consider the likelihood of the girl’s wheelchair simply having rolled through the substance over the course of her day, as Shelbi became very visibly distressed and upset, they prohibited her mother from having any contact with her to comfort her.

    That they did this is disgusting and completely unacceptable. TSA has, in the past, publicly stated that it does not separate parents from children. As this is not the first time they have done exactly that in stark contrast to their statement (in Spring 2012 they surrounded, screamed at, and terrorized a four-year-old for hugging her grandmother), I can only assume they are lacking in honesty as well as compassion. The excuse that allowing contact between screened and unscreened passengers constitutes a security risk is similarly unacceptable – there can never be justification for compounding the existing distress placed on a child by an intimidating encounter with hostile uniformed strangers with the added dismay of being denied comfort from a parent. Put yourself in the child’s shoes for a moment – confronted with “stranger danger,” the first place a scared child is going to turn for reassurance is his or her mother – to actively prevent contact under threat of arrest is nothing but unforgivably cruel. No amount of security justifies
    it, and if TSA and its employees do not realize that, they have no place interacting with the American public at all.

    Also, TSA’s response to this incident is nowhere near a real apology. Nowhere have they admitted fault or taken responsibility for the upset they have caused Shelbi Wasler and her mother. At no point did TSA or any of its employees acknowledge the fact that their compassionless actions were both wrong and directly responsible for this girl’s distress, and at no point did they ever pledge to modify policies or procedures to prevent this from happening again. To be blunt, the response amounts to “We’re sorry you didn’t like it. We are going to continue doing it.”

    An article detailing the event, as well as TSA’s non-apology, can be found here: http://bit.ly/UVdz2r

    A breakdown of why TSA’s response should offer no reassurance can be found here: http://bit.ly/ZSXhLq

    I call upon you to take swift and firm action to force TSA to both admit fault for this particular instance of wrongdoing and to amend, in a fashion prescribing serious career repercussions (beyond simple re-training) for violations, its protocol for screening children to ensure that this incident will not happen again. TSA clearly has no intent toward such reform themselves and so it falls on the people and our elected officials to force the agency’s hand.

    Sincerely Yours,


  • marilyn

    that’s weird…after my experience I
    talked to the director of security at Minneapolis airport and he said the same
    thing…call him ahead of my next trip and he would walk me thru…it must be a
    standard line.

    • 1amWendy

      I did that once and it was one my my biggest mistakes. The TSA screener, in response to a supervisor request for a “quick pat-down”, proceeded to tell me she needed to “show her boss she knew what to do”, and proceeded to give me the most invasive pat-down ever. That’s when the hands went down my pants and everywhere else. Ewww. Complaints, as usual, went nowhere. And i went straight to DC with mine.

  • frostysnowman

    Typical TSA non-apology: We’re sorry you are offended by our procedures, but that’s your problem because we don’t do anything wrong..

  • RonBonner

    The incident happened at DFW. Nothing TSA does at Tampa is going to fix the ongoing problems at DFW.

    DFW is where I thought a TSA screener, who was so angry, was about to hit me. This person was a two stripper (LTSO) so not a new TSA hire.

    I filed a complaint with TSA. I even had an email from the so-called DFW Customer Service Manager (CSM) telling me that the TSA employee ” has not violated any TSA polices or procedures”.

    Nothing I did in complaining to TSA did anything to get some form of resolution unless TSA’s refusal to even fairly address my complaint is resolution in the eyes of TSA.

    TSA internal personnel controls are so poorly implemented that I think a special prosecutor is needed to find out what is really going on behind the scenes and to clean up the TSA pigsty.

  • 1amWendy