Pat-down fury: The 5 biggest TSA horror stories

As Americans prepare to travel for Thanksgiving, more tales of nightmarish airport security searches surface

A man opts for the full-body scanner in the St. Paul, Minn. airport. The TSA has said that only a "small percentage" of passengers will end up receiving a pat-down.
(Image credit: Corbis)

The Transportation Security Administration's enhanced screening program is continuing to leave passengers upset, humiliated, or worse. Over the weekend, reports emerged of children and disabled passengers subjected to invasive pat-downs for refusing to step through a body scanner — and with millions of Americans preparing to fly home for Thanksgiving, many suspect things will only get worse. (Watch SNL's TSA parody.) The TSA has addressed several of the alleged incidents on its blog, and continues to say that "only a small percentage" of passengers will end up receiving a pat-down. Here's a rundown of the most controversial incidents so far:

Pat-down leaves victim humiliated, urine-soaked

Bladder cancer survivor Thomas D. "Tom" Sawyer claims an aggressive pat-down broke the seal on his urostomy bag, leaving him covered in urine. The 61-year-old says he repeatedly informed TSA officials of his medical condition during the safety check, but was ignored. Sawyer adds he was left "humiliated, upset, and wet." The TSA said it would review his complaint and "take appropriate action if necessary." What does TSA stand for again, asks David Henderson at the Library of Economics and Liberty, "Totally Subjugating Americans"? Remember, "the government, however clumsy, is not the enemy" in these cases, say the editors of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. "Terrorists who would kill are."

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The tiny teddy bear-wielding terror threat

TSA officials in Chattanooga, Tenn., apparently thought Mandy Simon's reluctance to let her prized teddy bear go through the X-ray machine marked her as a potential risk. Her father captured his 3-year-old daughter screaming and kicking her legs as a female TSA employee attempted to pat her down. This is "heart-wrenching," says Julie Ryan Evans at The Stir. "Safety first doesn't have to mean humanity is shelved."

Cancer survivor forced to show prosthetic breast

Breast cancer survivor and flight attendant Cathy Bossi was allegedly forced to remove her prosthetic breast from her blouse to show a TSA agent. The security employee felt Bossi's prosthesis during a pat-down in North Carolina's Charlotte Douglas International Airport, and asked to be shown it in a private room. "It was just so horrific an experience; I couldn't believe someone had done that to me," said Bossi. This is the worst story we've heard yet, says Steven James Snyder at Time.

The 'strip-searched' toddler

A video was posted to YouTube over the weekend of TSA officers apparently patting down a topless child in full view of waiting passengers. The TSA felt moved to respond to the incident, claiming that "the boy's father removed his son's shirt in an effort to expedite the screening.... No complaints were filed and the father was standing by his son for the entire procedure." Yeah, "shut up, everyone, and get back in line," says Choire Sicha at The Awl. "Don't make us get the truncheons." The video played into rampant fears of "overzealous" screeners, says Brian Montopoli at CBS News, but remember — four in five Americans support full-body airport scans.

Passenger 'paraded about' in underpants

Sam Wolanyk stripped down to his Calvin Klein undershorts after refusing to go through a full-body scanner in San Diego. "I figured that this way everyone would be happy: I don't get scanned or groped," he said, and "they can verify that I'm not a danger to anyone." Police arrested Wolanyk, and reportedly "paraded" him, wearing just his underwear, through the airport. It's "TSA handlers gone wild," says Kimberly Dvorak at the San Diego County Political Buzz Examiner. The wild ones are the "imbeciles" whining about this, says William Saletan at Slate. The TSA is trying to stop people with bombs — if you're getting on a plane with me, "I want the guys from TSA to look at your junk. And if you refuse, I want them to touch it."

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