DESTIN -- A gravely ill 95-year-old woman had to remove her wet diaper at an airport so that she could be patted down by security screeners and nearly missed her flight, her daughter said Monday.
During the pat-down, Transportation Security Administration inspectors found a mass on Lena Reppert’s upper thigh, her daughter Jean Weber said. The mass was a hard spot on the diaper that had become heavy and concentrated in that place because it was wet. Reppert, who is in a wheelchair, had to be patted down because she couldn’t go through a scanning machine, and the TSA agents thought it would be too personal to search the diaper.
Reppert couldn’t board a June 18 flight from Northwest Florida Regional Airport in Fort Walton Beach to Detroit until she was cleared by security, Weber said. Reppert, who has leukemia and had been living in the Florida Panhandle, was returning to her native Hastings, Mich., where she wants to be buried.
Weber, a waitress, said she was told the diaper would have to be removed so the agents could finish their pat-down.
TSA officials said the agency’s inspectors did nothing wrong and followed proper procedure. Spokesman Nick Kimball also said the officers did not force Reppert to remove the diaper.
“While every person and item must be screened before entering the secure boarding area, TSA works with passengers to resolve security alarms in a respectful and sensitive manner,” Kimball said.
Officials offered to pull their luggage off the plane so Reppert could change into a clean diaper, but Weber said she feared her mother, a retired nurse, would miss her flight.
However, Weber said the agents would not allow her to remove the diaper in the screening room -- so she had to take her mother to a restroom outside the security area, and then wait in line to be screened again. The second time, Weber said she triggered an alarm herself because she was upset and crying.
They tested her purse for chemicals while her mother finished her pat-down in private, she said.
By then, she had lost her pass allowing her to escort her mother to her gate and asked airport workers to take the woman.
“It was a traumatic moment for me because I know my mother is very ill and hopefully I can get up to see her before anything happens,” Weber said.