Four months after the Transportation Security Administration launched a program to help airline passengers with disabilities, a New York family found out just how little “TSA Cares.”
Traveling from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport to Florida, the Frank family was yanked out of line as it boarded the plane in a dispute over how 7-year-old Dina had been screened. The little girl, who has cerebral palsy, walks with crutches and leg braces. “They make our lives completely difficult,” said her father, Dr. Joshua Frank, a Long Island pediatrician. “She’s not a threat to national security.”
Flying is always difficult for the family, but this week was particularly dreadful, Frank and his wife, Marcy, said.
With her crutches and orthotics, Dina cannot walk through metal detectors and instead is patted down by security agents. The girl, who is also developmentally disabled, is often frightened by the procedure, her father said.
Marcy Frank usually asks the agents to introduce themselves to her daughter, but those on duty on Monday were exceptionally aggressive, Joshua Frank said, and he began to videotape them with his iPhone.
“And the woman started screaming at me and cursing me and threatening me,” he said.
Eventually, a supervisor decided it was sufficient to inspect Dina’s crutches and allowed the family to leave for the gate.
They were there for an hour before the agents reappeared with a manager to tell them that proper protocol had not been followed, and that Dina had to be screened after all, the Franks said. After initially offering to pat her down at the gate, they insisted she return to the security area, Joshua Frank said.
“So then I got aggravated,” he said.
With Dina now in her wheelchair, Frank raced her across the JetBlue terminal, but by then, the family had missed its plane. The Franks caught a subsequent flight.
The TSA did not respond to a request for comment.
“They’re harassing people,” Joshua Frank said. “This is totally misguided policy. Yes, I understand that TSA is in charge of national security and there’s all these threats.”
But, he added, “For her to be singled out, it’s crazy.”
Marcy Frank said that the family was so proud of Dina being able to walk, something she recently accomplished with medical treatment.
“They still attack her like she’s Osama bin Laden,” she said. “It’s not fair.”
Joshua Frank isn’t hopeful about TSA Cares, a program launched in December that “strives to provide the highest level of security while ensuring that all passengers are treated with dignity and respect.”
“They need to be more sensitive,” he said. “They claim they try, but they’re not.”