Father fuming over daughter's 'excessive' airport security check

Kevin Payne says his daughter Vendela's screening was 'an inappropriate intrusion'.
Kevin Payne says his daughter Vendela's screening was 'an inappropriate intrusion'. Photo: Screenshot/YouTube

A father in the US is outraged that his 10-year-old daughter was subject to an aggressive airport security pat-down and extra screening after mistakenly leaving a juice box in her carry-on bag.

Kevin Payne and his daughter, Vendela, were passing through an airport in North Carolina on their way home to San Diego when US Transportation Security Administration agents discovered the liquid.

Authorities followed up with a swab of the bag and a false-positive test for explosives, then a nearly 2-minute-long full-body pat-down in which a female TSA agent touched the girl's buttocks and groin repeatedly.

Liquids exceeding 3 ounces are not allowed in carry-on bags, for fear they might contain explosives, but the girl's father said the resulting search was an over-reaction and an inappropriate intrusion.

Payne said he has not made a formal complaint to TSA, but is considering doing so. He said he wanted to see how people responded to the video on social media first, to make sure he wasn't overreacting.

Payne said TSA agents told him he wasn't allowed to film, but he asserted his rights and was able to capture the incident on video, which he has since posted on YouTube and Nextdoor.

In the video, the girl stands with a blank expression on her face as the female agent runs her hands down the inside and outside of the girl's legs, over her buttocks and chest, and around the waistband of her skirt.

The TSA investigation delayed the family's travel for about hour, Payne said.

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"I'm a very big proponent of security, and if they were patting me down, no problem, but this was a 10-year-old girl," Payne said. "The whole system seems to not work the way it should be working."

In a statement, Nico Melendez, a spokesman for TSA, said pat-downs are used to resolve alarms and anomalies found in the screening process.

"Since pat-down screening is conducted to determine whether prohibited items are concealed under clothing, sufficient pressure must be applied in order to ensure detection," the statement said.

The agency adjusted its policies in 2011 to reduce the likelihood that children under 13 would be patted down during airport screening.

According to the TSA website: "TSA officers will work with parents to resolve any alarms at the checkpoint. TSA has modified screening procedures for children 12 and under that reduce the likelihood of pat-down screening."

The agency has not described the "modified screening procedures" in detail because of security concerns.

Vendela's pat-down didn't look "modified" to Payne.

"They gave her a very standard pat-down for an adult female," Payne said. "I don't think it was modified one bit."

The only difference between a standard adult pat-down and the search of his child was that the search of Vendela took almost twice as long as it probably should have, Payne said.

"If you look at videos, most pat-downs on adults (take) about a minute," Payne said. "Start to finish, in real time, (Vendela's pat-down) was 1 minute and 47 seconds. It just didn't seem like it was an efficient pat-down."

Payne said TSA agents made it clear to him that he would be arrested if he tried to interfere with their search of his daughter. So he kept calm, waved to his daughter, and made funny faces at her to keep things light.

"I just kept it as calm cool compliant as possible, and she followed suit," Payne said. "Deep down I was absolutely fuming, but I knew letting emotions out was only going to worsen the situation for everybody."

Payne said TSA agents did not exhaust other screening options before frisking his daughter. For example, they could have re-swabbed her bag using a different machine before they decided to pat her down, he said. They could have sent her back through the metal detectors.

OUT OF LINE?

Reaction to the video on social media has so far been mixed.

"OK, I was skeptical at first just assuming an overprotective father, which is by no means wrong at all," wrote a commenter identified as David Jackson of San Diego on social networking website Nextdoor. "But after watching the video, my mind is changed and, yes, that TSA agent went well past the line in this search."

Jackson goes on to say that he did pat-downs on people much larger than Vendela while deployed with the army in Afghanistan, and it took less than a minute. He said frisking children at airport security may be justified, given the likelihood that terrorists would use children to carry out attacks, but "if the agent was going for thorough, she went five steps too far past that".

Commenter Janelle Sherako wrote that she's familiar with secondary screening at airport checkpoints, having gone through it some 40 times last year while travelling for work in a knee brace.

"There is nothing out of line here," Sherako wrote. "Being a parent myself and a frequent flyer I don't see anything other than the TSA agent doing her job.

"I'm sorry your child got searched," Sherako wrote, "but I'd rather have my child searched every flight along with any other potential threat than to be on a plane and get hijacked, blown up, or (another) negative outcome."

 - MCT

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