I will be flying to California this year to visit family, and at the top of the list of reasons why I no longer enjoy flying is the TSA screening. The new choices involve exposing myself to radiation or enduring a physically-invasive pat-down. I understand the need to make flying as safe as possible for us all, but the new procedures pose particular difficulties for some people with past or existing medical conditions. Among those passengers who often dread the screening procedures are breast cancer survivors.
A recent news story featured an interview with a breast cancer survivor who had a traumatic experience flying. She was a senior citizen who had survived breast cancer and had a mastectomy. During the interview she struggled to control her tears as she described her travel experience. During the screening process in Canada, she was asked to raise her arms up. Anyone who has been through breast cancer knows that surgery results in limited movement on the side of the mastectomy. She tried to explain she could not do it only to be told she had to. Then a search centered on her gel-filled prosthesis. That became problematic for the screening employee who then took her aside for more screening. A subsequent interview with a higher-up agent explained that they try to make the screening process a pleasant experience for everyone. PLEASANT? REALLY? Who is he kidding? Even for the average person who makes it through the screening without overwhelming feelings of being violated or subjected to unwanted radiation, the process of boarding an airplane will never again be pleasant. But far too often breast cancer survivors are subjected to extra humiliation just to be able to fly.
Last November a flight attendant from Charlotte, N.C., a three-year breast cancer survivor, was asked to show her prosthetic breast during a pat-down, a totally-humiliating experience other breast cancer survivors have also had. Even though these passengers and others have filed complaints or instituted law suits, so far the screening procedures have remained the same.
Sensitivity training has obviously been missing from whatever training screening agents must undergo, both in this country and in Canada. News stories of humiliation surface on a regular basis today. It’s about time someone did something about this. Susan G. Komen for the Cure has asked survivors to inform them of negative experiences flying. As a breast cancer survivor, I hope I won’t need to do that.