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TSA Myth Busters: Was a Nine-Year-Old Child with a Pacemaker Prevented from Flying Home?

Wednesday, August 24, 2016
Myth stamp image

There have been some reports that a nine-year-old child with a pacemaker was prevented from flying home because TSA thought his pacemaker was a bomb. Long story short, nobody thought his pacemaker was a bomb, and the boy and his mother made their scheduled flight home on time.

We conducted a thorough review to see what happened. Here’s what we learned:

Last Saturday, a mother and her nine-year old son presented themselves for screening at a Phoenix TSA checkpoint. The mother made our officers aware that her son had a pacemaker.

Our officers screen thousands of people with pacemakers daily. We use alternate screening procedures that allow the passenger to bypass the metal detector. When somebody is permitted to bypass a metal detector, it isn’t just a free pass. They still must undergo alternate screening so we can ensure they’re not in possession of any prohibited items.

As with all passengers with pacemakers, her son was permitted to bypass the metal detector and enter the checkpoint. Our manager explained to the family the screening that needed to occur and subsequently the boy’s mother consented to the appropriate screening.

After screening, the mother and her son were escorted to their gate by American Airlines personnel, where they boarded and completed their scheduled flight.

Our screening procedures are in place to keep the flying public safe, while accommodating the diverse needs of millions of passengers a day. If you or a loved one has a disability or medical condition, please feel free to contact our TSA Cares Helpline prior to traveling. TSA Cares is a helpline that provides travelers with disabilities, medical conditions and other special circumstances additional assistance during the security screening process. Please call 72 hours prior to traveling with questions about screening policies, procedures and what to expect at the security checkpoint.

Travelers requiring special accommodations or who are concerned about the security screening process at the airport may also ask a TSA officer or supervisor for a passenger support specialist who can provide on-the-spot assistance.

Bob Burns - TSA Social Media

Comments

Submitted by Tom on

Good job...but it's never easy!
Tom

Submitted by Anonymous on

I'm one of those passengers with an implanted cardiac device who has used alternate screening procedures -- first pat-downs at the advice of my cardiologist and then the newer scanners that are safe for cardiac devices.

I'm writing to express my appreciation to the hundred or so TSA personnel who have given me pat-downs over the years -- every procedure was conducted with professionalism and with respect.

Submitted by RB on

The mother certainly does not tell the same story as TSA. So who should the public believe, a group who has been dishonest multiple times over the years or a person with no known history of lying?

Submitted by Anonymous on

Someone is not telling the truth about this incident. The TSA account is much, much different than the mothers.

Submitted by Anonymous on

So you are claiming that the child is lying about he was treated? All those officers pictured were fake?

Submitted by Susan Richart on

Did you write this, Bob? Paragraph 4 is totally out of place and irrelevant to what comes before and after it.

Further, if screening of these two was unremarkable as the you seem to indicate, why were they escorted to their flight by AA personnel? Why did the screening take over an hour? Why was the intimidation squad sent to surround these two passengers? Do they teach the intimidation squad tactic at the "training academy" or are these people lookie-loos who have left their stations to come see what is taking place?

Methinks you've left out a good part of this incident, Bob, in your desperation to make your screeners look good.

screen shot/DHS IG statement

Submitted by Mike Black on

I have needed the assistance of the PSS (passenger support specialist) a few times because I have 3 children with autism. It can be very stressful for a child with autism to go though the "normal" screening protocols. With help from the PSS, we were able to make a smooth transition though the TSA checkpoint(s). They were a huge help. We were able to go through a separate line/screener where we were the only ones going through it. If you are not sure if you might need assistance or not, it is a lot better to ask for help and not need it, than need it after the fact. If you think you might need assistance at a checkpoint with a PSS, it's always best to set it up at least 1 or 2 days before traveling. It doesn't matter where you flight out of, the main call center will really the info and message to the TSA supervisor at the airport. It was nice because one of the times we let them know approx. what time we would be coming through the checkpoint, so they already had the TSA supervisor and a PSS waiting for us before the checkpoint and had a dedicated screening line for us.

This is the website: https://www.tsa.gov/travel/passenger-support
This is the call center number for PSS: (855) 787-2227

Submitted by Anonymous on

So, you're saying they weren't delayed an hour for additional screening, as was reported?

Submitted by Anonymous on

So, you're saying he was t delayed by TSA for an hour, as was reported?

Submitted by Anonymous on

How did he get away unassaulted? Shouldn't you have thrown him to the ground just for the practice?

Submitted by Linda Carter on

been using TSA Cares for years now and it works... as when i go through TSA security i usually end up doing some teaching to TSA for how to deal with respiratory issues and mobility issues at the same time and what type of life support equipment i use daily and when traveling. would love to have others contact me as to how to go through with respiratory equipment that is not listed on the TSA website under disability.

would like to see it updated as to what is not listed should be listed.

please feel free to contact me for more information on respiratory disaster planning and traveling with respiratory needs.

Ms Linda

Submitted by RB on

http://www.popsugar.com/moms/Boy-Pacemaker-Denied-Alternate-Security-Scr...

Entirely different story here.

How many 9 year old boys, with pacemakers, who have flights originating in the United States has TSA found to be terrorist? I'm bet the number is less than ONE.

It would seem that TSA would really try to not do things that make the rounds of online news sites and blogs. Each new story just further undermines TSA's already poor reputation and lowers the public's trust in an already troubled agency.

I think something did happen with this kid and TSA's demonstrated inability to accommodate people with special needs is once again on full display.


Submitted by John Wagner on

Perhaps you did not get the truthful word from those involved. If you go to the lady's Facebook page (I'm sure you have her name), you will see a picture of all the supervisors standing around staring at her. She also says she has THREE rescheduled boarding passes to prove she did not make her scheduled flight. Please investigate further. She also says she has names and contact information from other passengers who witnessed the entire affair.

Submitted by SSSS For Some Reason on

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Submitted by Laura Monteros on

I'm glad the boy and his mother got through OK, but really--he is 9 years old, and probably had a letter confirming he has a pacemaker. My mom had to carry one for her knee replacement. Why would he need an alternate screening?

Submitted by Anonymous on

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Submitted by Jim Maurer on

The mother has documentation and photos that show that they did not make the flight. Is TSA saying that she is lying? Is there any video from the screening area? Or is it not usable, as usually happens in a case like this?

Submitted by Anonymous on

I've read different accounts of this story and I have some questions. It sounded like the boy alarmed the explosive residue test. Instead of patting down the boy, your workers patted down the mother and searched their bags. The mother objected to the patdown and that's where things escalated. In the end, they made their flight and nothing was found. Is that correct?

If the boy alarmed the explosive test, why wasn't he patted down and why was a travelling companion patted down instead? Is it because you don't want the bad optics of patting down a child? If he really was carrying a bomb, he would have got on the plane without the patdown.

If the boy alarmed the explosive test, but nothing was found, that is yet another false positive for this test. Has this test ever found anything harmful? It seems like it easily alarms on too many harmless items. It seems like a flawed test that shouldn't be used until it can be improved. I get this swab test fairly often when I fly. I've never set off the alarm but I always am concerned that I will. Passengers shouldn't have to worry about causing a false alarm because they used the wrong soap or lotion or walked across a piece of grass.

Submitted by Adrian on

I assume you'll also be posting a summary of the "thorough review" the TSA is certainly conducting on their role in the stampede at JFK Airport. When might we expect that?

Submitted by Ron4Cebu on

I think that the TSA does a great job considering working with the public is a " Mission in Patience "
I work with the public in Private Security , DAILY , just doing my job to keep people and their property safe makes me a " TARGET " for undeserved abuse.

Submitted by Anonymous on

By Bob's own logic, as stated in his comments made on this blog, there is no reason to believe any of this. In the Hannah Cohen case, Bob said multiple times that unless someone was physically in Memphis, they had no way to know what really happened:

July 1: "where [sic] you there? do you know what he did or didn't do? Me either"
July 1: "again, where [sic] you there? Me either"
July 1: "that is your assumption having not been there"
July 7: "...you GUESS because like everyone else here, you were not there"
July 7: "so you saw the video? You heard the audio? or where you there?"

The pacemaker incident happened in Phoenix. Bob is "...currently assigned TSA headquarters [sic]," which is in Arlington, Virginia. He does not say he was in Phoenix. Therefore, he does not know what happened in Phoenix. All he has is a report made by someone else. He won't allow reports made by others in the Hannah Cohen case, so why should a report made by others be allowed in the pacemaker case? Just because it's a TSA report? Well, it's not like the TSA isn't an interested party with a legal stake, or an entrenched bureaucracy trying to protect its interests.

(Please don't say that the "where [sic] you there" comments were made by bob-2, aka West. That would be lame, since both represent the TSA blog. Not to mention that bob-2 is in Greensboro, not Phoenix.)

Submitted by Anonymous on

Her post on Facebook never said she didn't make it home. She claims she was harassed and treated poorly by the TSA. Big difference.

Submitted by Bear Blogger on

I think it is very important that you continue the Myth Buster reports. Social media includes a great deal that is not true, and people do not always check stories before forwarding emails either.

Submitted by Anonymous on

This is a VERY carefully worded statement, and does not actually contradict anything the woman says.

For instance, there's this line: "Our manager explained to the family the screening that needed to occur and subsequently the boy’s mother consented to the appropriate screening."

"Subsequently" could be an hour later or three hours later. The consent to the "appropriate screening" may not have referred to the same screening she had previously had explained to her.

If she had to re-schedule her flight three times, she would have "made her scheduled flight" but not her ORIGINALLY scheduled flight.

There's no mention in here - and therefore no denial - of how many TSA agents were involved, whether police were involved, and whether the local DHS head became involved. In the law, there's a principle of evidence that refers to a failure to deny something one would normally be expected to deny. That's called an "implied admission" and I wonder whether that's what we are looking at here.

Submitted by RB on

Laura Monteros said...
I'm glad the boy and his mother got through OK, but really--he is 9 years old, and probably had a letter confirming he has a pacemaker. My mom had to carry one for her knee replacement. Why would he need an alternate screening?

August 24, 2016 at 11:30 PM

..........................

You don't think that large scar down his sternum is good enough proof?

Submitted by RB on

How about some hard proof that things happened like TSA says it did, Bob?

Me thinks TSA is trying to cover up another Traveler Abuse Story.

This is what the mother says:

“We were told immediately by the TSA that he was not allowed to be screened alternatively and instead would need an exemption,” said Ali.

An exemption the family never requested and held them up for more than an hour.

“[I was] shocked beyond belief. In walks the head of the Department of Homeland Security for the entire airport, followed by other supervisors, and managers with ten other people from TSA,” said Ali.

“And four police officers,” Chille chimed, completing his mother’s sentence.

“With everything, guns, Tasers, all that,” said Chille.

“One of the TSA agents told me they’d prevented terrorist attacks using nine-year-old boys with pacemakers and children before, so I laughed and said, ‘Oh when?’ At that point, the TSA agent became very quiet and said, ‘Oh we’re not at liberty to discuss this,’ ” recounted Ali.

“At that point the TSA agent said he wouldn’t be flying today,” Ali said.

In a statement to FOX 9, TSA Spokesman Nico Melendez wrote, “TSA is committed to ensuring all travelers are treated with respect and courtesy. TSA is reviewing Saturday’s incident and working to contact the family,” Melendez concluded.

“TSA has not contacted me. No one has apologized. No one has reached out,” said Ali.

Read the whole story here:

http://www.fox32chicago.com/news/195256514-story

Sure would be nice if TSA found a tiny bit of integrity to display once in a while.

Submitted by Dwayne Thornberry on

I don't believe you.

Submitted by Rebecca Hanley on

Exactly.

Submitted by Ali Bergstrom on

Thank you so much, everyone on here, who is demanding the TSA to do better. This happened TO ME and my NINE YEAR OLD SON. There is video footage of the horrendous incident, there are witnesses, and there is the VOW of my beautiful, wise, empathetic son to MAKE SURE that this never again happens to another heart kid. Do you REALLY think the public and myself are going to let this go? My son felt de-humanized and bullied. Your childish and insulting "myth busting" blog post just makes this bullying and harassment WORSE. Why not have basic decency and REACH OUT TO ME and APOLOGIZE for your disgusting behavior and the subsequent support of this abusive treatment by every higher up at the TSA?

Submitted by Fix The TSA on

West, please post links to any and all public statements by the TSA about this case.

You say you won't comment about TSA abuse cases in the news, but then this blog does a PR emergency statement denying anything happened and blaming the passenger if it did.

That is a comment.

You have also stated that you will provide links to public statements about such cases when requested.

I am requesting such links.

Submitted by Fix The TSA on

A mother should not have to call a government agency and reveal private medical information about her minor child to travel by plane in America.

Submitted by RB on

Ali Bergstrom said...
Thank you so much, everyone on here, who is demanding the TSA to do better. This happened TO ME and my NINE YEAR OLD SON. There is video footage of the horrendous incident, there are witnesses, and there is the VOW of my beautiful, wise, empathetic son to MAKE SURE that this never again happens to another heart kid. Do you REALLY think the public and myself are going to let this go? My son felt de-humanized and bullied. Your childish and insulting "myth busting" blog post just makes this bullying and harassment WORSE. Why not have basic decency and REACH OUT TO ME and APOLOGIZE for your disgusting behavior and the subsequent support of this abusive treatment by every higher up at the TSA?

August 26, 2016 at 4:11 AM

........................

I would be curious to know what you think about TSA's Blog Teams characterization of this incident? When federal employees work so hard to twist the truth, or flat out lie, should they be allowed to continue drawing a paycheck that taxpayers are funding?

And the story I read states that the Federal Security Director for that airport was there when this incident was happening. Should that person be allowed to continue in any role of TSA with such a poor ability to manage just one persons screening?

Submitted by Wintermute on

Is the irony of these "myth buster" posts lost on everyone else, given how Adam Savage had, at one point, demonstrated the theatre that TSA is?

These posts are nothing more that propaganda. They are carefully crafted to be technically true even though they are complete twisting of what actually happened. The TSA is a master of doublespeak.

Submitted by RB on

Wintermute said...
Is the irony of these "myth buster" posts lost on everyone else, given how Adam Savage had, at one point, demonstrated the theatre that TSA is?

These posts are nothing more that propaganda. They are carefully crafted to be technically true even though they are complete twisting of what actually happened. The TSA is a master of doublespeak.

August 26, 2016 at 10:43 AM

..........

What's really shameful is that TSA doesn't put in the effort to be a masters of passenger security screenings.

Submitted by Anonymous on

There is no such thing as a false alarm, there are many substances in every day households that can be used to make a bomb, that's why
people are patted down. And yes many people have a hard time with TSA patting down kids, but if the kid had explosives on him the mother probably touched him at some point and would have had positive results also

Submitted by Anonymous on

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Guarantee the child wasn't prevented to fly because he had a pace maker...sorry everyone but thinks aren't as black and white as they appear...everyone has to go through screening regardless if they have dr note or not. If the child alarmed for explosive substances more screening required. And it's not false alarm if he does not in fact have explosives on him. Unless you know how to make bombs, please refrain from giving an opinion on how the equipment works.

Submitted by Irag34 on

I'll believe the group who releases the video for evidence. That lying, two timing, back stabbing, attention seeking co-worker you hate flies too... but yeah, let's grab pitch forks... rolls eyes.

Submitted by Irag34 on

I would imagine the reason it took so long is probably because they had to get approval to apply whatever alternative screening on a 9 year old instead of whatever nefarious reasons you are thinking.

Submitted by Irag34 on

What documentation does an airline gives you that says you missed the flight?

Submitted by Irag34 on

I think you are an attention seeker.

Submitted by Irag34 on

The fact that you made up you're mind about the truth being twisted already tells me what I need to know.

Submitted by Irag34 on

Allelujiah!these Internet explosive experts are really annoying.

Submitted by GSOLTSO on

Fix sez - "West, please post links to any and all public statements by the TSA about this case."

http://blog.tsa.gov/2016/08/tsa-myth-busters-was-nine-year-old.html

The only other posted comment by the organization I can find was this blurb from Nico some time right after the news stories first hit - "“The TSA is committed to ensuring all travelers are treated with respect and courtesy,” agency spokesman Nico Melendez said in a statement. “The TSA is reviewing Saturday’s incident and working to contact the family.”"

West
TSA Blog Team

Submitted by Wintermute on

No one claimed he was prevented from fying.

Submitted by Fix The TSA on

West, thank-you for providing those links.

Submitted by Chip And Andy on

Anonymous said "... And it's not false alarm if he does not in fact have explosives on him."

That is, in fact, the very definition of a False Alarm.

And it will be interesting to see your response since you can no longer post as anonymous around here.

Submitted by Unknown on

Sorry, Bob, but this type of nothing-to-see-folks-move-along "investigation" report does TSA more harm than good. It gives the impression that the mother and boy had a problem, the TSA personnel on the spot lied about it, and then you took their lies hook, line, and sinker. If the mother and son had some obscure reason to lie, a good investigation should have brought it to light. If the TSA personnel told the truth, there should be some corroboration from airline personnel or other passengers.

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