By now you may have heard the galling story of Lori Dorn, the breast cancer survivor who was subjected to a humiliating pat-down at JFK airport last month. Dorn wrote about the experience on her blog, igniting a media firestorm that has resulted in something as elusive as a cure for cancer: A TSA apology (albeit a qualified one). It all started when Dorn—who recently underwent a bilateral mastectomy and had tissue expanders implanted for future breast reconstruction—was going through screening to get to her Virgin Airways flight to San Francisco. But the tissue expanders set off the imaging scanner, and so the TSA demanded a pat-down. On her blog, she wrote:
I told her that I was not comfortable with having my breasts touched and that I had a card in my wallet that explains the type of expanders, serial numbers and my doctor’s information (pictured) and asked to retrieve it. This request was denied. Instead, she called over a female supervisor who told me the exam had to take place. I was again told that I could not retrieve the card and needed to submit to a physical exam in order to be cleared. She then said, “And if we don’t clear you, you don’t fly” loud enough for other passengers to hear. And they did. And they stared at the bald woman being yelled at by a TSA Supervisor.
To my further dismay, my belongings, including my computer, were completely out of sight. I had no choice but to allow an agent to touch my breasts in front of other passengers...I just didn’t understand why these agents were so insensitive to the situation. I would have been happy to show her which bag was mine and have her retrieve the card, but she did not allow even that. I have been through emotional and physical hell this past year due to breast cancer. The way I was treated by these TSA agents added a shitload of insult to injury and caused me a great deal of humiliation.
Three days after her story went viral, the TSA admitted the incident should have been handled differently. On a blog post, the TSA says, "We do our best to treat passengers with the dignity and respect they deserve, but in Lori Dorn’s case, it looks like we missed our mark. We sincerely regret and apologize for the experience Mrs. Dorn had at JFK. The Federal Security Director for JFK has personally reached out to learn more about what happened so he can help ensure that she and others will have better travel experiences in the future."
But the TSA also notes that medical cards, "whether from a physician or TSA, do not exempt you from screening. They're a great way for passengers to discreetly let us know about a medical situation or disability they have." But if the image scanner "detects an anomaly that cannot be cleared," screening is mandatory. What the TSA regrets, it seems, is the security officer's lack of empathy, and her failure to properly communicate to Dorn that she could be screened in private.
Last night Dorn, who is still being treated for cancer, updated her blog, writing, "I’ve heard from many that the apology rang hollow. Perhaps, but it was a public acknowledgment all the same. And I know that the above referenced Federal Security Director was absolutely sincere in his apology as he disclosed to me had lost someone close to him to cancer. I accept his and the TSA’s apology. The proof, however, will be in the pudding the next time I travel through JFK."