What passengers have to say about TSA at Houston airports

Channel 2 investigative team reviews complaints against agency

By Jace Larson - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - Each year, about 16 million travelers pass though security checkpoints at Houston's William P. Hobby and George Bush Intercontinental airports, according to the Transportation Safety Administration.

But every once in a while those passengers report a little turbulence when it comes to the TSA.

Channel 2 requested complaints against the agency from Jan. 1, 2013, to Jan. 1, 2014. The agency took nearly a year to return a Freedom of Information Act request for those complaints.

In one year, the agency logged 587 complaints related to Bush Intercontinental Airport and another 203 at Hobby. The most frequent complaint from travelers was missing or damaged items from checked bags.

Many of the complaints are lodged by people who find a notice of inspection in their luggage and then discover they are missing things like laptops, jewelry, cash and even narcotics.

A TSA representative looked into a handful of complaints about missing items and stated that none of the people involved filed an actual claim with the agency despite calling to complain.

The agency denied a request for an interview, and could not provide information on how many officers had been terminated, disciplined or arrested following a complaint from a passenger.

"TSA holds its security officers to the highest professional and ethical standards and has a zero-tolerance policy for theft in the workplace," the representative wrote in an official statement.

Other complaints from passengers detail security officers at checkpoints who would not accept certain identification cards as valid. One is from an individual from Puerto Rico who states that the officer told him his driver's license was not valid because Puerto Rico was not a state.

Another is from a governmental employee who complained that a TSO would not accept her government ID badge as valid.

Further complaints come from people with medical conditions and travelers heading to Houston's MD Anderson Cancer center.

One woman describes an encounter in which she presented officers with a card explaining that she had tissue separators that would show up on the machine. She complained that officers humiliated her after asking her to take off her shawl in order for officers to do a pat-down.

"They wanted to do the screening in front of everybody but I asked to have it done privately. I felt really exposed and humiliated. I am very concerned that these people didn't even understand what my card was stating. They touched me where my wounds were ... I was in tears by the time I made it across," she said in her complaint.

Two other individuals passing through Hobby airport on their way to MD Anderson for cancer treatment complained of similar experiences.

Diabetics with insulin pumps complained that TSOs would not let them skip the body scanner and opt for a pat-down screening.

One woman complained that officers at Hobby made her walk through the scanner twice and it caused her pump to malfunction, resulting in a diabetic coma that sent her to the intensive care unit.

Another woman said a TSO at Bush forced her diabetic daughter to walk through the scanner with an insulin pump, causing the girl to go into shock.

Another woman said the officers refused her request for a pat-down screening and were rude to her when she didn't want to take her pacemaker through the machine.

Medical professionals and the TSA say medical devices should not be affected by the body scanners. However, the TSA representative said if a person requests a pat-down screening as an alternative the officers are supposed to honor that request.

Channel 2 asked the TSA for additional information on the complaints from the passengers with insulin pumps. The representative said in an email that the agency attempted to contact those passengers for further information but only one called back. She said they reviewed footage of one of the incidents based on descriptions provided but could not substantiate it.

To review all complaints, the TSA said it uses closed circuit TV cameras and interviews with other passengers.

Passengers can provide feedback thru the TSA Contact Center by email at TSA-ContactCenter@tsa.dhs.gov or calling 866-289-9673.

Passengers with medical concerns can call the TSA Cares toll-free number before they fly.

Copyright 2015 by Click2Houston.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.