Sen. McCain questions TSA on treatment of disabled passengers

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainVoto Latino CEO: Sinema will have a 'very difficult pathway' in 2024 reelection Meghan McCain rips 'selfish' Sarah Palin for dining out despite COVID-19 diagnosis Poll: Sinema approval higher among Arizona Republicans than Democrats MORE (R-Ariz.) is questioning the Transportation Security Administration on its treatment of disabled passengers at the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

Seizing on recent reports in The Arizona Republic about disabled passengers in Phoenix allegedly being singled out for increased security screening, McCain demanded answers from TSA Administrator John Pistole.

"The Arizona Republic recently reported on an 'intolerable situation' where many passengers with disabilities at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, Arizona have complained of 'invasive' searches by the Transportation Security Administration," McCain wrote. 

"At Sky Harbor, passengers with disabilities are filing formal complaints about TSA procedures at a rate of more than two and a half times the national average," the long-time Arizona senator continued. "I write to ask you to explain the alleged wrongful actions of TSA personnel at Sky Harbor and review TSA’s screening policies for passengers with disabilities to ensure that security protocols meet contemporary threats and respect the dignity of travelers."

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McCain cited examples of the TSA's alleged mistreatment of disabled passengers at the Phoenix airport.

"In June, an 82-year-old wheelchair-bound woman reportedly went through the security line at Sky Harbor to board a flight to London and set off a metal detector," he wrote. "She apparently explained to the TSA agent on duty that she had survived a battle with breast cancer and, as a result, had a prosthesis. 

"Ignoring her explanation, however, TSA agents reportedly brought the elderly woman to a back room where they ordered her to remove her blouse, bra, and prosthesis for examination," McCain continued. "Only after this search — which her granddaughter described as 'degrading' and 'invasive' — was she allowed to finally board her flight."

McCain said the TSA needs to provide an explanation for the allegations that have been lodged against its workers in Phoenix.

"It is unfortunate that TSA subjects seniors, wounded veterans and passengers with special medical needs to excessive searches," he wrote. "I am sure you would agree that no 82 year-old woman should ever have go through such a process in order to board an airplane.  Of course, TSA has to strike a balance between privacy and security, but in the case of passengers with disabilities, that common-sense balance seems to be eluding TSA’s screeners at Sky Harbor."

TSA officials defended the searches.

“The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) strives to treat every passenger with dignity and respect. During the screening process, if an anomaly is detected, secondary screening is required to ensure the passenger does not have threat items, such as explosives concealed under clothing. A passenger should not be asked to remove or lift any article of clothing to reveal a sensitive body area or to remove a prosthetic," the agency said in a statement to The Hill.

“TSA works with numerous groups including breast cancer organizations to continuously refine and enhance our procedures to improve the passenger experience while also ensuring the safety of the traveling public.”

— This post was updated at 5:15 p.m.