Travel
OK, TSA, This Breast Pump Thing is Just Too Much

TSA, I’ve had it with you. Really and truly. I know we never really got along in the first place because I wasn’t impressed with your security theater and your poor treatment of passengers and general ineffectiveness.

But I thought we could get along, develop a kind of working relationship. You’d learn from your mistakes, mature. I’d learn to be more patient, more forgiving. I was wrong.

The final straw was this story, about how your employees asked a lactating mother to prove her breast pump was real. She had to go into a public restroom and pump her breasts in front of strangers.

Seriously.

I doubt that GeekMoms really need me to enumerate the ways (oh, let me count them!) that this is wrong for nursing mothers everywhere. We get that, when possible, breastfeeding is ideal for mom and baby. We know society doesn’t offer enough support for the nursing mother, asking her to cover up and feed her baby in public restrooms. We recognize pumping is a private activity, and moms should have a private space in which to do it.

But could I spend just a moment to point out how fundamentally stupid this was from a security point of view? Do you not get that she could have just mixed up a little formula and put it in the bottles? Or purchased some cow’s milk and poured that in? Grabbed a little creamer from the condiment stand at the Starbucks kiosk? That unless your agent stood there, and watched the pump attach to the nipple and then watched the milk flow out and into the bottle, there was no way to know if that liquid in the bottles she produced actually was proof that the pump was what she said it was?

Yeah, I know. You’ve released a statement saying that you “‘accept responsibility” for the “apparent misunderstanding” and the “inconvenience or embarrassment” you “may” have caused her. News flash, TSA. That’s like saying I’m sorry if I hurt you. If you mean it, say it. “I’m sorry I hurt you” goes a lot further. I also know about your “new” procedure for the elderly, which is another piece of PR spin that I’m just not buying.

And while we’re chatting, you know, just the two of us, can I ask about the complaint that I recently filed with you? About how an agent did a little dance move to mock me? And the supervisor threatened me? And the pat-down agent touched my lower genitals? Because so far, I have received four emails saying that you can’t respond to my inquiry and one email saying that you have concluded that your personnel followed standard operating procedures in my screening. Yo. I disagree.

In the meantime, I hope we do get passenger advocates. I also hope, though, that Senator Charles Schumer (D-New York) realizes that having TSA employees do the job will never work. If they could stop themselves from abusing passengers, they would have already done it.

Go ahead, Blogger Bob, respond to me. I triple-GeekMom-dare you.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first in a three-part series about airline travel.  Part 2 was about Delta's poor customer service. Part 3 is our tips for avoiding and dealing with airline hassles. ]

27 Comments
  1. Sorry GeekMom Jessamyn, but the more I read, the more it seems that passenger harassment and genital touching are the SOP of the TSA. Good Bye, Common Sense. Hello, Security Theater.

  2. Arthemise

    I’m having to decide between a Disney cruise and going to Disney World. The cruise has won because it doesn’t involve flying. I won’t subject my family, especially my four-year-old, to that. Maybe when he’s older, these asinine procedures will be gone.

    • Derek

      Hello,

      Sadly you will find that in the coming years not only will the TSA be involved in airport security, but also trains and boats. There will in effect be no way to travel that doesn’t include some form of excessive screening.

      That is how it will be unless major change comes from all people not committed to the insanity that is going on now in government.

      my two cents…

      • You do have to go through a security screening for a cruise, but I don’t think they do the shoes and the silly body scanner.

    • Hannah

      Not sure what goes on upon entry or during a Disney cruise, but at the front gates of all the Disney parks security theatre is in full effect, with full fledged bag searches and asswipe hall monitor passive aggressive dbag mall cops doing the cut rate version of the mock interview – acting like they are all your pal and your buddy at the happiest place on earth while they rummage through all your stuff and violate your personal space and freedom for no discernible reason other than to look like they are doing something. The practice is nauseating. Disney parks along with NFL stadiums and commercial airlines are now among places I simply do not go.
      I am not a criminal or convict to be processed upon entry. I am your customer. And if treated as anything less, my wallet is closed.

    • Susan

      These procedures are not going away – not if people just sit back and hope they do.

      • Arthemise

        Everyone’s screaming about the TSA. I don’t know what more we CAN do.

        • Mark

          Well, not to be politically partisan and it probably irritates some people to hear, but the only answer I can think of that will stop the TSA is to vote for Ron Paul. Even if he isn’t right in the country in every way (which I believe he is) once he gets rid of the TSA it would take a gargantuan effort to build it back up again when he steps out of office. Besides that, there is really not much else we can do as they have proven time and time again that they are not willing to listen to the people. Perhaps they will have listen to the President.

  3. I had an uncomfortable time in the Fairbanks, AK airport 2 years ago with TSA personnel when travelling with my breast pump. It had gone through O’Hare with the x-ray screener asking me ‘Is this yours?’ (I answered yes and that was that). In AK, however, they had 5+ screeners looking at it through the x-ray machine, then the chemical tests with probably a dozen white circles and no end to the questions.
    Fortunately for me I wasn’t subjected to the humiliation of having to pump in front of every person in the bathroom.

    • Hannah

      No end to the questions because they are all so marginally educated and entirely unworldly they likely did not even know what is was. Why we don’t use true trained professionals for this job, and instead are “securing” our country with laid off burger flippers is proof enough that it is not about anything other than theater and harrassment, to keep citizens afraid and in their place.

  4. I am the mother of two and breast fed both of my children. Unfortunately, I had to pump the majority of the time with both of them (I say unfortunately because I would have preferred to just breast feed). So I always had to carry my pump with me on pretty much any trip no matter what the duration. Had this happened to me on my travels, I would have felt more than embarrassed. I feel horrible for this mother. The TSA’s “apology” (and I use that word loosely) is ridiculous.

  5. Susan

    Be careful what you wish for. Having a passenger advocate means that Congress will provide somebody for you to complain to while TSA continues to radiate you and grope you. That’s all.

    Same with pre-check programs. For the extortion amount of $100, that means you get in an express lane for radiation and groping.

    And by the way, moms must surely know the Dr. Seuss story “The Sneeches” that they read to their kids. That story was all about class warfare and the clever salesman of stars inciting it. Any ploy that tries dividing passengers into classes in which one is spared screening and one is not is class warfare, plain and simple. Think about who gets spared screening these days. Our most elitist politicians.

    I hope it is clear that young children should not be anywhere near radiating scanners. Young bodies growing rapidly are reproducing cells at a rapid rate, which means much more vulnerable DNA that can be damaged.

    And, moms, are you happy with childrens’ stories like “Olivia goes to Venice?” The main character acted “pleased” she got a good frisking by security. Ugh! And Disney World has a fake full body scanner installed (UK Mail, 25-May-2011). TSA introduced introduced childrens’ “Junior security officer” badges to pump up the ego of some local schoolyard bully so he can swagger around with his badge.

    Are you satisfied with this blatant indoctrination and introducing the idea to your kids that our bodies should be turned over to the state and manhandled by the state for inspection?

    How about when I say that even Congress, as pathetic and worthless as it is, decried TSA and its screening methods in its November 2011 decade review, complaining that instead of being a “lean” organization with “targeted” “effective” security, TSA had become a “bloated” “human resources” agency with a “one size fits all” approach to security. The report further said that TSA was “failing in its mission.”

    • I’m not quite sure what Disney world you went to because I was at Disney world’s Magic Kingdom 3 weeks ago and there was no fake full body scanner. Also they have the same security measures at the gate they have had for at least 10 years. They look in your bags. How invasive is this? Not very. They don’t even do the touching of your bags they ask you to open them.

  6. Jennifer D.

    I don’t have much to say that hasn’t already been said. If it had been me with my pump, I would have told him where he could stick it. There would have been no way I would have pumped. I probably would have gotten arrested, but at the same time, it is none of their business. Breast pumps look like, well, breast pumps. I have to say that we now avoid flying whenever possible. We are talking about a trip over the summer and I am betting we drive, even though it is half way across the country.

  7. Here’s something else to stoke the fire.
    http://www.tsa.gov/what_we_do/rbs_dod.shtm

    *quick summary*
    Active Duty military and their families can basically breeze through security with the same convenience as if they were pilots of the aircraft.
    (Granted, only at one airport currently)

    I’m ON Active Duty right now, and this upsets me. This makes me feel much less safe.

  8. Years ago I had to travel without my daughter who was still nursing, so I had a pump. I was SO worried that I would have to prove it wasn’t some sort of *whisper* bomb.

    My story: Boob Security

  9. I too did not nurse my first son but fed him expressed breast milk for ten months. I had a great experience at Logan Airport in Boston on my way to England. On the way back however, Heathrow in London proved to be horrific. They made me drink from each bottle of milk, open a sealed jar of baby food and eat a bite, then they confiscated the ice packs I was using to keep my “liquid gold” cool. I was a prize milk machine so I pumped A LOT and needed it stored well. They told me I could buy more ice packs in the terminal, I could not. I didn’t get ice until on the plane and the flight attendants gave me dry ice. Surprisingly, they trusted my breast pump on both ends of the flight.

  10. Angie

    With everyone getting all bothered about Disney and the bag searches, anyone THINK that it would be the perfect place for ANY crazy “terrorist” or just your run of the mill everyday looney to do something really bad. Bombs, guns, honestly Disney doesn’t HAVE to search each bag no more than does a movie theatre. What it says to me is that they care enough about me, as a guest (consumer) to want to do what they can for my safety. It is in no way comparable to the screening at airports.

    After our most recent trip to Disney I have to say we had no trouble at either. And let me tell you the list of gadgets and medications we had in tow. First is my grandmother’s electric wheelchair, my father’s medication (twenty different medications, some controlled substances) The medication for two adults and two children that are ADHD (yup more of that controlled substances). Two night breathing machines, two strollers, a walker, a cane, various handheld game systems and MP3 players, and my computer. Wanna know what happened? Nothing, zilch. The three boys didn’t even have to take their shoes off, even though we came prepared with them wearing crocs. So what if they rubbed a cotton thingy on the wheelchair? Everyone was helpful, and even talked to the boys (who had questions about the things in security, lots of science based discussions).

    The people who have issues must be meeting up with security who have control issues, are bored, or have truly had a bad scare.

    Though I wonder, is there something on the inside of a pump that looks similar to an explosive device? ::eyes old pump in closet:: I may need to dissect that to see inside.

  11. I think the TSA is doing more harm than good. False security is not security, and think both the scanners and the pat downs are ridiculous. We haven’t flown since they’ve been put in place, and unless I HAVE to fly, I won’t.

    I can remember my mom having a diaper bag checked at Disneyland in the mid-90s, so it’s nothing new, and I think it’s a good move on their part. As far as I know, it’s not controlled by the TSA.

    BUT what worries me is this comment — “With everyone getting all bothered about Disney and the bag searches, anyone THINK that it would be the perfect place for ANY crazy “terrorist” or just your run of the mill everyday looney to do something really bad.” — because that is the problem. It’s what has given the TSA power. What if a terrorist set off a bomb in the security lines? During a parade? During a job fair? During any sort of public ceremony? Should we be searched and screened every time we go out in public? True terrorists are going to attack in the way we don’t see coming. No matter how many freedoms we take away because “it happened once,” it’s not going to guarantee nothing bad ever happens.

  12. Susan

    So people here think that just because nothing bad happens to them, ergo, there is no problem?

    • Hannah

      That is not what we think.
      -There is not an independent security professional on this planet who does not laugh at the TSA. Nor do any endorse this silly agency’s illegal and harmful antics. To harass, irradiate, humiliate, intimidate and rummage through the belongings of every paying customer, 99.999 percent of whom pose no risk to anyone, is a massive waste of time, money and our country’s limited intel resources, particulary when the entire backside of most airports remain wide open to all manner of low wage workers who come and go at will, while cargo is still not entirely screened.
      -So it is us, those who are paying, who have to make a Hobson’s Choice every time – risk radiation or a nausteating grope session with some mouth-breathing imbecile on a power trip, while his partners manning the conveyor belt rifle through your most valuable possesions, helping themselves to whatever they like, or deem “risky” – and since your back may be turned and you are not permitted to touch your own stuff, you and your valuables are essentially held hostage while some moron with a fake badge decides if you will be making your flight and traveling with all that you packed. Gievn that choice, most people just cooperate. Just as in various countries overseas in the 1930s before WW2. This is not a good or intelligent road we as a nation are now going down.
      -The Keystone Kops at American airports are not even close to anything resembling “security.” It is a falty system, ripe for abuse. And now that cockpit doors are locked and passengers know never again to cooperate, the crimes of 911 can’t be reproduced. What few evildoers who may be out there are planning, who knows? But it isn’t the same crime- the one we now spend billions fighting and chasing, even though that crime is long gone. We are reactively applying the wrong methods to old events and in the process alienating millions of foreign visitors and domestic travelers who have simply had it.
      -The gov should not be doing this job. The airline is the only entity with the incentive to keep customers as safe as possible. Nothing in life is 100 percent risk-free.
      -Finally, unless you are willing to have yourself irradiated and fingered every time you go to work, school, shopping, a show, etc, it seems rather futile and wasteful to only install these theatrics in just one place of business -airports, doesn’t it?
      The whole thing is an embarassing joke for this country and certainly not the work of a productive nation. We will soon be mere slugs, waiting in endless lines, while the rest of the world leaps over us while conducting actual business.

  13. Thank you, everyone, for such thoughtful comments! I do think that the more we talk about — and expose — TSA abuses, the more power we have to generate change. But it’s likely very slow change that happens incrementally.

    • Jess, thanks for the column.

      If you want ANY CHANGE, please join and encourage others to join http://fttusa.org (Freedom To Travel USA).

      Although a small start, we have a simple link for one to take 30 seconds to easily send an email to Congress to vote for the STRIP ACT (anti-TSA).

      The #1 reason to do so is to remember that some aren’t so lucky, such as they dying, terminally ill, 95-year old cancer victim who was wheelchair bound – and had her adult diaper removed by her 70+ yr old daughter so the TSA could “clear” her “crotch” before she could board a plane.

      I might add our INFORMATION KIT on the website has the details of the security risk we are abandoning our 4th amendment and our liberties for. Hint: One has a greater chance of getting injured driving to the airport, and certainly from mechanical failure of a plane, than of any suicidal airline passenger with a working non-metallic bomb.

      Best, Jeff

  14. I wear a CPAP machine to sleep and carry it on when I fly. Because it’s medical equipment, it doesn’t count as a carry-on even. When going through security, I simply unzip the case and they look at it. No “proof” needed. Should be the same for breast pumps or it’s a clear abuse of power.

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