By Hugo Gye
Of all the many complaints about airport security and the TSA, one of the most common is that they make little distinction between plausible security threats and passengers unlikely to be doing anything wrong.
And a recent incident in Wichita, Kansas has reinforced that argument, as a four-year-old girl was apparently subjected to a humiliating ordeal after she hugged her grandmother while she was waiting in line.
The girl was accused of having a gun and declared a ‘high security threat’, while agents threatened to shut down the whole airport if she could not be calmed down.
When asked about the overbearing treatment the girl received, a TSA spokesman did not apologise and insisted that correct procedures had been followed.
Four-year-old Isabella’s horrific experience in Wichita earlier this month was recounted on Facebook by her furious mother Michelle Brademeyer.
The family was in Kansas for a wedding, and was travelling home to Montana with Ms Brademeyer’s mother.
Ms Brademeyer and her two children had passed through security when the grandmother was detained after triggering an alarm on the scanners.
Isabella then, according to her mother, ‘excitedly ran over to give her a hug, as children often do. They made very brief contact, no longer than a few seconds.’
The young girl was immediately detained by security agents, who apparently shouted at her that she would have to be frisked too, and refused to let her mother explain what has happening.
Ms Brademeyer wrote: ‘It was implied, several times, that my mother, in their brief two-second embrace, had passed a handgun to my daughter.’
In her terror, Isabella tried to run away rather than face a full body pat-down, which unsurprisingly enraged the TSA officers further.
One officer even told the girl’s mother that the airport would have to be shut down and every flight cancelled if the four-year-old did not co-operate.
They also apparently described the little girl as a ‘high security threat’.
As Isabella was taken into a side room for a pat-down, accompanied by her mother, she could not stop crying and refused to let the agents touch her.
An officer repeatedly said she had ‘seen a gun in a teddy bear’ in the past, in an apparent attempt to justify the situation.
Ms Brademeyer continued: ‘The TSO loomed over my daughter, with an angry grimace on her face, and ordered her to stop crying.
‘When my scared child could not do so, two TSOs called for backup saying, “The suspect is not cooperating.” The suspect, of course, being a frightened child. They treated my daughter no better than if she had been a terrorist.’
Isabella continued to cry, and officers said the family would have to leave the airport as the TSA was unable to frisk the four-year-old.
When a manager was called, he decided that the distraught Isabella could be checked alongside her mother, and let the family pass through security at last.
But their nightmare was not yet over, as on a connecting flight in Denver, an airport employee demanded to know which of the family was Isabella – and ‘looked really confused’ when the girl was pointed out to her.
Ms Brademeyer concluded her Facebook post by drawing attention to TSA rules against separating children from their parents, and added: ‘I feel compelled to share this story in the hope that no other child will have to share in this experience.’
When The Consumerist approached the TSA for comment on the bizarre incident, a spokesman said: ‘TSA has reviewed the incident and determined that our officers followed proper current screening procedures in conducting a modified pat-down on the child.’
Last month the agency came in for criticism when a video of a three-year-old boy in wheelchair having a full pat-down and being swabbed for explosives circulated on the internet.