Woman told she's on TSA list

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By Lee Einer

The elderly mother of a Las Vegas woman said that she was moved from her wheelchair, spread-eagled and physically searched by the Transportation Security Administration in Albuquerque. She says it’s not the first time and that officers searched her dog, too.

Patricia Anderson, 85, of Everett, Wash., visits her daughter, Cordia Sammeth, every year in Las Vegas. Sammeth drives her mother down to Las Vegas from Washington; Anderson returns home by plane.

Last Friday, Anderson was headed home; she was in a wheelchair when she came to the security checkpoint at the Albuquerque airport. Anderson said TSA personnel made her get up out of her wheelchair, stand spread-eagled and submit to a body search.

“I have difficulty with my mobility,” Anderson said. “But I had to stand up and spread my arms and legs out. It was very difficult. I’m 85 years old, and my balance isn’t that great anyway.”  

This year, they had Anderson hold her traveling companion, a toy poodle named Sammy, while they searched the dog’s carrier. Anderson said that last year, in Seattle, the TSA didn’t just search the carrier, they took her little dog into a back room and body-searched it as well.

Patricia Anderson doesn’t know why the officers would think she’s a terrorist. A retired nurse, she describes herself as conservative and said she is quiet about her political opinions.

“I have not been one who participated in demonstrations or anything like that,” Anderson said. “ I have never been an activist or taken a strong public stand on anything.”

Anderson said that when she asked why she had been singled out to be searched, the TSA personnel said first it was because her name was in its database. Then, she said, they gave her another reason. “They said, ‘The terrorists didn’t buy one-way tickets.’”

Anderson believes the TSA should be more aware of people’s physical limitations. “They should know that if someone’s in a wheelchair they have physical difficulties,” Anderson said. “I’m not unpatriotic. It’s just that I think they carry some things a little to the extreme. “

TSA spokeswoman Andrea McCauley said she could not comment on this incident because she could not confirm it. She was able to say that Anderson may have a similar name to someone on a watch list, but added that the TSA does not release information about names in the database.  

McCauley said TSA policy is to wheel chair-bound passengers around the scanner and wand them in their chairs if they cannot walk through the scanner.

“We do not put people in an uncomfortable position,” McCauley said. McCauley also said dogs passing through the checkpoint get patted down and wanded.