This May Be the Worst TSA Story I’ve Ever Seen

On the heels of the worst rental car story I’ve ever heard comes a travel story that sinks even lower, this time from a security checkpoint at the Memphis airport.

19 year Hannah Cohen has traveled from Chattanooga to Memphis for the past 17 years to seek treatment at St. Jude’s hospital for her brain tumor. She was “celebrating the end of her treatment” and on her way back home.

This woman is “partially deaf, blind in one eye, paralyzed, and easily confused” and so when she alarmed at the TSA checkpoint at the Memphis airport. She didn’t understand what the agency wanted to do to her.

“She’s trying to get away from them but in the next instant, one of them had her down on the ground and hit her head on the floor. There was blood everywhere,” said Cohen.

Her mother tried to explain to the TSA what was going on, but they wouldn’t let her near. As a result the girl was arrested and sent to jail for the night while the family luggage went home to Chattanooga.

    WREG News Channel 3, Memphis

Usually when we hear about sexual assualts at screening checkpoints or agents who manipulate naked imaging devices so they can get a nude glimpse of passengers they find attractive, it’s blamed on the few bad apples who in no way undermine the hard work that thousands of men and women at the TSA do to keep us safe, day in and day out.

Here, instead of suggesting this was the actions of a rogue individual, the TSA released the following awful statement:

Passengers can call ahead of time to learn more about the screening process for their particular needs or medical situation.

According to the TSA, this woman — who has been making the trip for 17 years — was clearly ignorant and failed to do her due diligence to learn what would be required of her. So it was the fault of the partially deaf and blind brain tumor patient that she wound up bloodied and in jail when attempting to fly home.

While ‘only’ 247 miles as the crow flies, Memphis to Chattanooga is a 5 to 6 hour drive. Who knew that — even after the exhaustion of cancer treatment — that would probably have been the better choice?

Here’s how to finally fix the TSA mess.

And here’s more on the story from local Memphis television:

(HT: Tocqueville)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. This looks more like a hate crime. Clearly, according to the Channel 3 news video, all the TSA agents are black, Homeland Security, anti-white head Jeeeeeehhhh Johnson is a known racist black….and, this [claimed to be] paralyzed girl is clearly white. Typical way that the media portrays it.

    Her blood looks red though like everyone else…..definitely need more facts here…she’s not paralyzed, she makes the trip consistently; and too, were all the TSA agents black?

  2. So they have made this trip many times, why wasn’t the mother not letting the TSA know what is up with her daughter, when I travel with my father (he is 92) I inform the TSA agents he is hard of hearing. Now I’m not saying what the TSA did was justified but some blame needs to places on the mother for not letting the TSA know what is up with their daughter. I understand the TSA wouldn’t let the mother help but I think the mother needs to say something before this event took place.

  3. In fairness, she tried to run. The last thing to do when interacting with law enforcement is run, regardless of reason. I would expect no less if I were to do the same.

  4. Really sad. I guess she is lucky she didn’t get shot dead in the environment we live in today. They are only asking for $100,000 in their lawsuit? Sounds fair to me. BTW, I have a cousin with medical special needs and that hotline is worthless, and my cousin has unbelievable problems with TSA. Whether this went off the track when the mother did not say something before the screening, or when the officers who were restraining the mother during the incident did not/would not listen and convey info to the tackling officers, I can see reason why this teenage girl should have been arrested and spent the night in jail. What kind of society have we become?????

  5. In the above comment obviously I meant “I CAN”T see a reason why this teenage girl should have been arrested and spent the night in jail after everyone learned the truth. What kind of society have we become?????”

  6. I doubt she was running away in a flippant ‘I’m headed to the planes’ kind of way. Tackling in a brutal way would be warranted in only a few cases and this most certainly was not one of them. Shame on TSA for reacting in this way. And then to send her to jail??? What really happened that prompted them to do this to a girl who was probably celebratory that her treatments were over? Hopefully St Jude Hospital arranged a private jet ride home for her…

  7. The TSA is NOT law enforcement. Don’t let their uniforms fool you. They are not police. Not “officers. ” I read an article that they intentionally recruit convicted criminals for employment. Google it. Don’t fear them or give them unearned respect. In fact, please opt out of their invasive, possibly harmful radiological body scanning.

  8. Very unfortunate situation. It seems like the mother could have done a better job of explaining the situation to TSA and it seems like the TSA agent should have handled the situation much differently. There are thousands of good TSA agents and as in any profession there are those that don’t do a very good job. Let’s not paint everyone with the same brush. There are lessons here to be learned for everyone involved and hopefully this will be avoided in the future. I also hope Hannah has recovered and wish her well with her treatment for her brain tumor.

  9. Too bad she wasn’t disguised as a gun or explosive. The TSA wouldn’t have even noticed her at all.

  10. the requirements for being a tsa agent may be pretty low, lack of training, psyc problems and so on. they get what we pay for ( seems to me all the tsa fees collected on tickets are being used for other purposes .

  11. “Congress voted in 2014 to use 60 cents for deficit reduction from the $5.60 security fee on each flight segment. The diversion totals $1.25 billion this year, which would represent a significant amount for the TSA, which has a $7.5 billion budget.”

  12. Why on earth are you allowing Melissa’s comment to remain on your blog? Totally out of bounds.

  13. The $100,000 damages request is a reasonable starting point if she is seeking to be reimbursed for damages. But damages don’t just have to be about compensation; they can also be about deterrence. And if she wants to deter TSA from similar conduct, I would think a substantial multiple is in order. $50 million? (I know – everyone will respond that nothing will deter TSA these days, but a substantial damages request will raise the issue higher up in the TSA hierarchy).

  14. And they say that federal guidelines require all bags to be transported on the same plane as the passenger?

  15. Guess who pays the $50 million in damages you are proposing? There needs to be disciplinary action taken and the family should be reasonably compensated for the actions of the TSA. There also should be national TSA guidelines to avoid this from happening in the future. These days all airports and airport security are on edge so it’s disingenuous to blame all TSA agents for this particular incident. I have no doubt the people who are the most critical of TSA would be blaming TSA if something happened and they didn’t do more to prevent it.

  16. That is upsetting. Although…I feel uncomfortable with the bit about the map at the end suggesting they should not have flown. While I agree that it seems foolish to go through security and all the hassle of flying when you could just drive less than six hours AND have your own car at the other end of your travels, this is a family in extremis. Maybe the costs of 17 years of brain tumor treatment mean they don’t even own a reliable car. Disabled people, even confused people, should have the right to fly without being beaten and jailed.

    The TSA is just wrong. Not the mom. The article clearly states the mom DID try to explain. What was she supposed to do, tackle them and get beaten and arrested too? The TSA needs to pay damages to this family or pay a fine or BOTH.

  17. Seriously?!?!?! All of the people saying that she wasn’t paralyzed in some way because she made the trip many times, or that she ran, or became combative etc. should have to have a loved one with brain damage/injury and experience for themselves the lack of understanding, confusion, unclear thinking, and misfiring of electrons that a person like this experiences. Shame on them all !!!! I don’t know these people but I’d get me a good attorney and sue the pants off them for doing this to a person with disabilities! 100,000 won’t wven get their attention.
    Welcome to Memphis where IF you make it out alive you still get a beat down. This place is nowhere close to what it was as I grew up here. It’s shameful. Pure pathetic. Cold, callous and outright cruel.

  18. Trace, I think you need to reread what people wrote. First off, as a RN, I work with many different type of patients and for a while worked a Neuro ICU. There are holes in this story, now this patient and mother have taken this trip for 17 yrs, it’s a pretty routine event for them, however, why didn’t the mother inform the TSA about the issues her daughter has, BEFORE her daughter became agitated and tried to leave? Did they use a wheel chair to get her daughter through the airport?

    Now for the TSA and or police to beat this girl is inexcusable but this wasn’t the first rodeo for the family to travel this route.

  19. This family and others like them should look into Angel Flight. Pilots of private aircraft donate their time and flight costs to transport passengers in need, and have the benefit of avoiding the bizarre TSA process.

  20. ” It seems like the mother could have done a better job of explaining the situation to TSA and it seems like the TSA agent should have handled the situation much differently. ”

    Explaining gets you nowhere.

    ” why didn’t the mother inform the TSA about the issues her daughter has, BEFORE her daughter became agitated and tried to leave? Did they use a wheel chair to get her daughter through the airport?”

    So who should the Mother have informed? The first agent who checks your ID and boarding pass? The agent near the metal detector? Informing them of particular needs does nothing. They are too focused on process, which is pretty poor in addressing individual needs.

    I have a special needs daughter and the TSA experience is AWFUL. She is in a wheelchair and is separated from us as soon as we approach the xray machine/body scanner. Her wheelchair is given a thorough look over and 9 times out of 10 the process is delayed so that a female can perform the task.
    One of us declares her liquid seizure meds as they need to be scanned, so one of us is trying to stay within eye sight of her while the other handles the meds. After my kid is giving a thorough feel up and the meds are cleared we can then proceed to the gate or lounge. It might look easy from the outside, but is not as your child sits there unable to comprehend all the commotion. She is slightly mobile and would likely bolt if she became unaware or felt threatened. If they would have given her the same treatment that this poor girl received she would not be the only person to go to jail that night.

    The TSA really needs to invest some time in developing processes for special needs people and ensure that all of their employees receive thorough training.

  21. I am surprised the TSA allowed the photo to be taken.
    The local paper had moire details and this appears to be excessive use of force. After she was subdued, her head was slammed to the floor according to this version of he story. The Commercial Appeal said she was body slammed. Either way, she was subdued before she was injured.

    This leads to a question… What if this was an actual attack? Does the TSA rely on pure use of force to mitigate an attack, or do they trigger an alarm that shuts down perimeters? This case seems like an unprepared panic reaction by TSA in response to a metal detector alarm and loud talking or distractions from other people (the parent).

    One more question… does the detector sound a loud alarm? The controls today should not rely on a noise to alert security as if they are asleep and need to be awakened. But that is beside the point.

  22. I agree 100% with Brodie. (I have a special needs adult relative.) All the rest of you who criticized the mother DO NOT KNOW WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT. HONEST. It is so easy to criticize, but you have no idea how totally insensitive a lot of these agents are with no common sense.

  23. TSA appears to be impugning the mother for not utilizing the service they offer for medical disabilities. The problem with that is, why on earth would the mother have investigated that service if she had been making the trip for 17 years and no one ever mentioned it to her? The only reason *I* know it exists is because when we flew from Boston to Billings last summer, a TSA agent at Logan Airport told me about it — my son wears an insulin pump and he explained to me that using the service would help us avoid delays or uncomfortable situations (e.g., someone attempting to make me take his embedded CGM sensor off him!). You call a couple days ahead of your flight and they set you up with an agent to help you through security. I used it on the way back and it was terrific. But you wouldn’t know about it unless someone went out of their way to tell you because I’ve never, ever seen any literature about it at airports, nor do airlines mention it — and THEY SHOULD.

    So, TSA, before you start pointing fingers, how about you do YOUR due diligence in making sure word gets out to the public?

  24. TSA is not law enforcement. Please get that right (to some of the commenters here)

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