June 28, 2011— -- First of all, a little perspective: 2 million people in the United States get on planes every day. So a handful of outrageous security incidents is no big deal, right? Unless of course, it's your little girl getting the pat-down or your 95-year-old grandma-type whose adult diaper was removed during her screening experience.
The incident with the little girl occurred back in April; the 95-year-old woman got the treatment a little more than a week ago after a Transportation Security Administration officer found something "suspicious." The elderly woman, who has cancer, was taken to a private area, and while the TSA now says it did not order the removal of the her diaper, the woman's daughter who accompanied her mother says it was made clear that the diaper had to be inspected or they would not fly.
So the younger woman reportedly decided to remove it in a restroom and the pat-down proceeded. Through it all, the older woman reacted with quiet dignity to this embarrassing situation.
There have been other incidents, perhaps more sad than outrageous, but nevertheless horrific: In November, a bladder cancer survivor's urine bag reportedly leaked all over his clothes during an aggressive pat-down. In April, a former Miss USA endured a pat-down she likened to a molestation and told the world about it via her own video. "Am I a threat to U.S. security?" asked Susie Castillo. "I was Miss USA for Pete's sake!"
And it's not just the TSA either: In May, news reports noted that two American Muslims who passed through security without incident were ejected from their plane by the Atlantic Southeast Airlines pilot, supposedly because they might make others "uncomfortable" (the kicker is, they were on their way to a conference on prejudice against Muslims).
Meanwhile, some passengers get through security with guns they forgot they packed.
Believe me, I know securing a nation of fliers is a difficult and maybe even impossible task. And I do believe most of the TSA screeners out there are dedicated individuals who are only following the rules set down for them, and why not? If they fail to follow regulations and let one benign-looking individual off easy when it comes to screening, and that individual then somehow takes down a plane, well, try to imagine that. I'm sure the screeners can, and I'm sure that's a fear they live with every day.
But surely, there's a place for commonsense in all this.
It's all about the risks, and the TSA is starting to recognize this. It'll start testing its "trusted traveler" program -- in which passengers who voluntarily submit to in-depth questioning and background investigations will enjoy a quicker security experience -- later this year. Part of this is already set for testing at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport later this summer, with the focus on airline pilots.
I don't have a problem with pilots. Pilots already have us at their mercy; they can take down a plane anytime they want to (and here's where I'll note that pilots undergo rigorous security and background checks as part of getting hired).
As far as passengers who take part in the trusted traveler program, I expect frequent fliers will leap at the chance to participate. I know I will, especially if it keeps me from pat-downs. A recent survey conducted by the U.S. Travel Association shows that the majority of American fliers would pay -- up to $150 annually -- for a quicker and easier security experience. Most of these are frequent fliers: business travelers or leisure travelers who fly multiple times a year. Where does that leave all the others? Up a creek, I suppose, or more to the point, still waiting in that long, tedious security line, and maybe subjecting themselves to occasional outrages like that perpetuated on the 95-year-old woman.
Again, commonsense is needed. How about any time there is an "iffy" security situation, a supervisor is promptly called in to take over? Or perhaps an escort program could be put in place for some individuals, perhaps modeled on airline' programs for young children. Call in advance and reserve a spot for your loved one. Or maybe it's a matter of providing individuals who have any kind of physical challenge with the equipment they need to undergo a screening that's thorough without being outrageous. If that means providing carbon fiber wheelchairs or other gear to get them through security easily, so be it.
Easy for me to say, since I'm not the one who has to come up with the money. Wait a minute: As a taxpayer, I would have to come up with some of the money, but in these days of troubling economic news, politicians are notoriously gun-shy when it comes to bigger budgets.
It's hard waiting on change, especially when so much is at stake for so many. I suppose we can all be thankful that security outrages are few in the grand scheme of things. Until it hits home, that is. Until it happens to your 95-year-old grandmother.
This work is the opinion of the columnist and does not reflect the opinion of ABC News.
Rick Seaney is one of the country's leading experts on airfare, giving interviews and analysis to news organizations that include ABC News, The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, the Associated Press and Bloomberg. His website, FareCompare.com, offers consumers free, new-generation software, combined with expert insider tips to find the best airline ticket deals.