Jacob Wisnik is a 10-year-old who has had diabetes for as long as he can remember. He wears a pump that delivers insulin as he needs it, and he's gotten used to the ways this is a hassle in his life. He has even gotten used to the fact that he sets off the scanner at airports and has to be patted down by security agents. But his hard won composure was shaken this weekend while going through security at O'Hare airport. He was "put through borderline humiliation," says his mother, Eva, who wrote to me from the car coming back from the airport, still shaken by having to stand by while her 5th grader was marched through the terminal by armed guards, put in a private examination room, then poked and prodded.
As it happens, Jack was wearing a new kind of pump, one that could not go through the bag scanner and had to stay clipped to his person via his belt. When he flew to Chicago he'd put that clip to the side, near his hip. But on the trip home it was clipped right in front, over his groin. He set off the machine and was told by officers that he could not touch or move the pump, his mother says, and that the only option was a pat-down of his genital area.
Eva Wisnick has since been in contact with the TSA and was told that "a new regulation was put into place on Sept. 26, 2011 that children under 12 who set off the alarm have a right to pass through multiple times before being patted down," she says. In other words, Jake could have gone back through the scanner, moved the pump to a less sensitive spot, come back through and been patted down. "Instead of suing the TSA for their violations," Eva says, she's hoping to get the word out so that "this bad experience for Jake has positive outcomes" for other families in the same situation.
She is not the only one who wants to spread the word, though. And I thought it would be fitting to hand the floor to Jake, who came home and wrote about his experience and how it made him feel.
There's Got to Be a Better Way
Today we traveled home from Chicago's O'Hare airport. It seemed normal until we got to the security desk. In an instant, I felt dread enter my body. Every time I go through airport security, I get screened because of my insulin pump. I am 10 years old and have been diabetic since I was 4. It's hard enough managing my diabetes each day; the way I am treated by TSA makes me feel not only upset about my disability, but worse of all they make me feel uncomfortable with myself. They make me feel this way because when my insulin pump beeps they have to pat me down or make me touch my pump and then they swab my hand to make sure I am not carrying explosives. For those few seconds they won't let anyone touch me including my mother. I feel alone and worse I feel as though I have done something wrong.
Although I have traveled many times through many airports, today was a nightmare! I walked up and told the screener that I am diabetic and wearing a pump. I told her it beeps when I walk through the machine and asked if I should go through the x-ray machine as opposed to the fancy new machine that scans your whole body. She said "go ahead" with a look of cluelessness in her eyes. I did, and it beeped, and then they saw that my pump was clipped over my groin area so they would have to take me to a special screening room.
My mom kept asking whether I could move the pump or go back through the screener, but they said no. My mom had to come with me to be screened, and my 12-year-old sister said 'what do I do?' because all of our stuff was on the conveyer belt. She looked scared. I felt more humiliated than scared. When a thousand eyes are watching you because they think you may be a deadly threat it is so uncomfortable and humiliating. I marched to the screening room barefoot. I suppose they were trying to follow regulations, but I was on the verge crying.
O'Hare airport's TSA officers need sensitivity training. When I was getting my "pat down" I thought of all the times I have been told to not let anyone go near my private parts. How was this ok today? How do we make sure no other child has to go through this humiliating experience?
-- Jacob Wisnik, 10
Has your child been mistreated going through airport security? Is what he experienced a necessary side-effect of a new age, or an overreaction and misreading of the rules?