Case dismissed? TSA ruined my diabetic insulin

The TSA’s mission is to protect America’s transportation systems and to ensure freedom of movement for people and commerce. So you’d think it would be concerned if, in the process of doing its job, it endangered the lives of one of its own citizens.

Then again, maybe not.

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Virjean Svoboda says her medical insulin was damaged when she checked in for a flight in Phoenix on March 9. I’ll let her explain.

Here’s the letter she sent directly to TSA administrator John Pistole.

Dear Mr. Pistole:

As a diabetic traveler totally dependent on five daily injections of two types of insulin (two injections of a long-term dose and three injections of a fast-acting short-term dose), I wish to register a complaint over the recent TSA mishandling of my diabetic carry-on items.

According to your website, I was entitled to a visual inspection of my insulin. Thus, I packed a week’s supply of my diabetic-related items along with RX labels into a clear zippered 2-gallon plastic bag and tucked this bulging bag into a larger hand tote. My six insulin pens were stored in three Medicool insulin pouches.

Prior to my security check-in for United flight #534 to Denver, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport terminal 2, approximately 7:45 a.m., Wednesday, March 9, I requested a visual inspection with the first TSA agent in line, a man.

He stated, “I cannot do that” (translation: I WILL NOT do that”). He went on to state his diabetic brother travels all the time without any problems so he placed my tote on the conveyor belt to pass through x-ray screening.

Unfortunately, a single pass was not sufficient for the TSA agents’ inspection for they ran my tote through the conveyor a second time and paused it in the X-ray beam for an estimated two minutes while they scrutinized the contents.

Having heard tales of persons who verbally challenge or dispute TSA procedures being prohibited from boarding their planes, I silently watched in horror.

Two to three days after reaching my final destination, upon taking my normal dosages, I noticed my blood glucose had gradually elevated to dangerously high levels (482±).

If no action were taken, I was a candidate for a diabetic coma. I contemplated checking into a hospital emergency room but it was a weekend and medical facilities were not readily available.

In desperation, I decided to try a very risky move—taking a double dose of my fast-acting insulin—which under ordinary circumstances probably would have sent me into insulin shock.

Voila, this miraculously worked to lower my blood glucose to an acceptable level! For the duration of my travel I continued to take a nearly double-dose of the fast-acting insulin three times daily, unaware of the consequences insulin megadoses might trigger.

Since returning home and replacing my insulin with a fresh supply, I have experienced no blood glucose problems. Therefore, I am thoroughly convinced the second passage with pause during security X-ray screening rendered my insulin unstable and ineffective. I was fortunate to live through this terrifying episode but the next diabetic traveler may not be so lucky.

Please emphasize to your agents the importance of making a visual inspection of insulin available to all diabetic passengers upon request.

Disturbing letter. I’m no doctor, but something tells me Svoboda should have consulted one before self-medicating.

You’d also think Pistole, or someone in his office, would respond to this letter.

I did a little research on this issue, and while insulin should be able to safely pass through the X-ray machines, there are some reports that it could be damaged or contaminated. However, the only ones I could find that had any credibility say insulin pumps — not insulin — would be harmed by X-rays.

One forum posting had the following to say about insulin and screening:

Pharmaceutical companies like Novo Nordisk have done a number of studies on x-ray exposure to insulin and the concern is that with repeated or prolonged exposure to X-rays, there is a possibility that the insulin could be denatured from repeated exposure to X-rays and lose effectiveness.

It was enough for me to ask TSA for a comment on March 19. An agency representative responded and promised to get back to me. We went back and forth several times, but as of today, neither Svoboda nor I have received a formal response from the agency.

I can almost see this TSA’s way. If there’s no way medical insulin can be contaminated by an X-ray, then Svoboda’s complaint is frivolous. But even if there’s no link, the agency should have given her the courtesy of a response — even a form letter.

On the other hand, if there’s a chance she’s right, and TSA agents in Phoenix are forcing insulin to be screened by X-ray and damaging it, then this is something the agency needs to address immediately. The agency’s silence on this issue is unhelpful.

What do you think?

(Photo: Jill Br own/Flickr Creative Commons)

81 thoughts on “Case dismissed? TSA ruined my diabetic insulin

  1. It doesn’t matter whether insulin can or cannot be damaged by x-ray. The TSA website says she was entitled to a visual inspection but the idiots in Phoenix refused to follow the proper procedure, forcing the OP to spend her whole trip wondering if her medication had been weakened. In the event, it seems that it was and she risked going into diabetic coma. As ours is one of the only Western countries (or is it the only one?) without a national health system, she would have had to find a doctor in a strange place, pay upfront and then try to get at least partial reimbursement from her insurance company. Is it any wonder that she resorted to self-medication? And does anyone think that if she had died as a result of TSA mishandling, her heirs would have been able to sue the TSA with any success? We live under a corrupt government and our elected officials are doing nothing to help.

  2. She needs to talk to her doctor. This is not a TSA problem. She needs to be instructed in the proper use of all her medicines. The sugar level of 482 suggests she wasn’t thinking straight when she elected not to go to the emergency room and self diagnose and medicate herself. The likely cause of such a high level was poor diet or failure to use her insulin properly. Perhaps her unsatisfying encounters with the TSA agent were caused by already elevated blood sugar. I recommend she not travel until she gains better control over her diabetes.

    1. My significant other is a type 1 diabetic, I am a health professional, and I am offended by your lack of understanding and compassion for this individual. Please keep your ignorance to yourself.

    2. What a bad repsonse. You blame the victim. There are too many peole like you. She didn’t use her insulin properly. How about if she is correct and it was damaged?

    3. As an RN, it is clear to me you have no medical knowledge of diabetes, insulin, and the signs & symptoms of high or low blood sugars. Confusion and altered mental status are themselves symptoms of her hyperglycemia. As she states she is “TOTALLY” dependent on insulin, that suggests she has Type 1 diabetes which is characterized by a complete lack of ability to produce her own insulin, and is not caused by poor diet. Her case against TSA is further supported by the fact that when she got home & had a fresh supply of insulin, her blood glucose levels returned to normal. Please take the time to become educated about the topic before condemning someone.

    4. This is a rediculus claim that her high level was because of a poor diet, for an insulin dependent, diet plays little part, the pancreas is damaged, in most cases from a virus, possiably a medication (approved by the FDA) reaction, and some are born that way, one does not have to have a poor diet, or be fat, or not get enough exercise to be an insulin dependant!

      Her insulin should have worked the same as when she was at home. and believe me, any insulin dependent is not going to mess with diet, especially when they believe that their insulin is damaged or if they don’t have enough, insulin dependent people can eat nothing, or just lettuce, and thier sugar will go high, their bodies do not produce ANY insulin, yet the liver still produces sugar.


      And, the lack of understading and laws to protect them IS UNMORAL, These people can die with in hours of not having proper medications, so for those that open their mouths in such stupidity, go get educated before you judge a type 1 diabetic concerned about damage to insulin which is as important as air to breath.

  3. As someone who is insulin dependent this person displays a surprising lack of knowledge about her condition. I am happy that she did not manage to seriously harm herself.

    If the TSA allows for a visual inspection of medication then she should have been offered that choice. By her tone it appears that her request might have been perceived more as a command by the TSA agent. This would probably lead them to be less than accomodating.

  4. “So you’d think it would be concerned if, in the process of doing its job, it endangered the lives of one of its own citizens.”

    It’s too early in the morning for me to be laughing this hard.

    “He stated, “I cannot do that” (translation: I WILL NOT do that”).”

    Well, contrary to Tom’s preference for apparently allowing TSA to do whatever the hell they want, this is very much TSA’s problem.

    “Was TSA correct to ignore Virjean Svoboda’s complaint?”

    No. On principle, they shouldn’t be ignoring any complaint; yet, as we find, they ignore most complaints. (Probably because they’re overwhelmed with negative ones because people do not like being groped and porno-scanned.) But they certainly shouldn’t be ignoring this one, because, once again, TSA’s agents have ignored their own rules simply because they know they can get away with it.

  5. Chris,

    The undisputed fact is this, the Transportation Security Administration clearly states, in multiple official channels of communications, that those traveling with insulin have the right to request a visual inspection of properly labeled medications.

    Not only is this on, but the agency even addressed it on its blog here

    This morning I enquired about this with an STSO I converse with regularly and they informed me “every passenger has the ability to ask for a visual inspection of meds that require it and we are required to provide this inspection. If someone is refused they need to demand to speak with a supervisor so there are no problems.”

    Happy Flying!

    -Steven Frischling

    1. Sure, passengers CAN ask for a supervisor, but the fear that he or she would be subject to punitive, invasive screening is not unreasonable. For someone who is not a seasoned traveler, the checkpoint can be an intimidating place especially given the Cartman-like behavior of more than a few TSA agents. “Respect my authoritay!”

      Heck, I fly a lot and I never know what to expect at the checkpoint. Once, the TSA seized an EpiPen (with the Rx info accompanying) from a friend who was traveling with me. Requests for a supervisor were met with blank stares and hostility.

      1. I fly regularly, too. It is amazing what getting there a little earlier, and having the time to DEMAND that they follow their own rules, can accomplish. If they think that you have to rush to a plane, you will get nothing but stonewalling. Informing them that you have all the time in the world, to stand up for yourself, makes them cringe. Being the type of person, who enjoys a good argument/debate, I show up extra early, just so I can entertain myself.

    2. I agree with Larry. Expecially now that the TSA will be considering “complaining loudly about the TSA” as suspicious activity.

  6. So, correlation is causation now?

    As she was traveling, she was probably consuming food different from her normal diet. Easily could explain a blood sugar spike.

    The TSA’s only problem here is one of training. What they need to do is get massive display boards with every legal item listed and any special inspection rules and post it, so when their flunky employees don’t follow the rules, they can be shown the error of their ways.

    1. Fred,
      Do some studing on type 1, insulin dependent diabetics, It is a different disease than your regular fat, lazy, and bad diet diabetics.

  7. Regardless whether Svoboda should have spoken with her doctor, not administered to herself or done anything else to prevent this, she was acting on information she thought correct. In a post some time ago, Chris wrote about a man with a urostomy who was roughly and inappropriately patted down with alarming results. If TSA does nothing else to put their house in order, they need to know, train and provide information to their agents and traveling public regarding special needs.

    1. A type 1 diabetic should have called her doctor, but a type 1 diabetic has to take care of their self and make quick judgements on their own to stay alive, their is no time to wait on getting a response from a doctor or to wait in a hospital, she did good, she managed her insulin dependent diabetes, which is her resoponsibilitiy, if type 1’s don’t take inititive, than they don’t live.

  8. After over 8 years in pharmacy, I can guarantee you that passing through an airport security x-ray machine will not harm insulin in the slightest.

    Sure, if x-rays were beamed at the insulin at a high enough dose where it actually increased the temperature of the insulin to outside of its “excursion” level (medications have storage temperatures, but they are allowed brief periods of time at higher and lower temperatures for shipping, for example), then there may be a problem.

    But, if the x-rays were actually that strong, we would probably have 3-eyed TSA agents running around from the leaking radiation.

    I agree with @Fred – correlation is not causation. And one of the contributors to blood sugar spikes? Stress. And this person seems to get overly stressed out by travel.

    1. Passing things (such as certain medicines) through an X-ray machine might have other effects besides heating from the beam (not enough duration) or ionizing radiation (apparently doesn’t affect anything in this case?).

      Here are the two questions I would ask before dismissing this:

      1. It’s not just the insulin, it’s the syringe. Maybe the steel needle gets too hot, or the plastic starts cooking enough to interact with the contents, or something like that?

      2. Just what is the temperature inside the machine? There must be a big power supply.
      How hot is it, and how long does it take to start cooking the package and medicine?

      And I would note that the medicine already had an environmental history before getting to the airport. Maybe whatever happened in the machine pushed it past it’s total limits.

      1. not for nothing, but the temperature inside the machine isn’t high. that’s how babies have passed through unharmed (yes, i have seen this happen at my home airport by ignorant parents who think “place everything on the conveyor belt” includes their children). have you ever noticed your bag or its contents feeling overheated after passing through the xray scanner? me neither.

    2. So you’ve conducted tests, in your pharmacy, that included exposing insulin to repeated doses of xrays? Gotta love it, when “experts” show up, to explain to us how stupid we uneducated people are. After reading the article, it seems that evidence is inconclusive, as to the effects of xrays on insulin.
      Regardless of those effects, the point of the article is that, despite their web site stating that visual inspection is an option, the agents in PHX denied this woman that option. This may have been what triggered her “stress”. I’m sure that she’s sorry, that she’s not as cool, calm, and collected as you seem to be.

  9. i think that regardless of issue of x-ray examination of the device, the TSA should at least respond with their position or policy..

    I do think that it’s fair to note that (and as Chris notes) there is no agreed, consensus medically qualified opinion as to the safety of such examination.

    So to that end, while I can empathize with the OP, until or if some medically qualified determination can be made that correlates his experiences to the x-ray examination, his “case” is speculation at best… BUT.. I DO think that TSA should at least tell him that..

    As noted by BillC, that IF the TSA’s policy is in fact that the passenger has the right* to have a hand inspection of these items, then that’s what needs to be provided.

    *note that I use the term “right” versus the term “request” which would be optional on the TSA’s part.

    So, overall, I’d agree that the TSA should not “ignore” the case, but I’m not entirely convinced that there is in fact a ‘case’ against the TSA… Since it deals with medical matters, it’s my opinion that the only qualified people to speak to this would be those properly licensed as medical professionals.

  10. I would love to know what kind of people constitute the 3% who said the TSA handled this correctly. Of course, 3% may represent the total of those who think all people lie all of the time.

    1. Many people believe that at least 50% of the people in this country are morons and idiots. Given that assumption, 94% of morons and idiots also think the TSA is incorrect. If that doesn’t tell you something about how people feel about the TSA I don’t know what will. LOL

      @Cassivella, the people sitting at the machines are not INSIDE the machines. They are protected by the cabinet and other protections put in place for shielding. Also, I have no doubt that routine scanning would probably not harm the meds. However, in this case, the agents apparently put the insulin back through the scanner several times and even let it sit there for a minute or two to “search” Since normal screening takes mere seconds, the exposure of two minutes time would be 50+ x the normal amount, possibly more depending on how cumulative the effects are.

  11. Regardless of whether the X-ray damaged the insulin or not, if TSA policy says a passenger has a “right” to visual inspection of such medicine then that’s what the OP should have gotten. If the OP travels again, she should have a print out of that policy to show the agents at the airport if she runs up against the same problem. She shouldn’t have to, but it might be a smart idea. (And taking pot shots at the OP’s possible medical condition when she was going through screening, or afterward, is not cool.)

    1. Just what I was going to say. Before the last time I flew overseas, I checked the TSA’s website to find out if my knitting needles would be allowed onboard (I’d just taken up the hobby a month before). I printed out the page saying that knitting needles ARE allowed and had it with me, just in case Security gave me a hard time about my knitting supplies.

      On the flight back, I was sitting in my seat quietly knitting when a woman leaned over from the aisle: “How did you get knitting needles onboard the plane?! They took my serving spoon! [apparently a souvenir she’d bought]” Really, Heathrow Security? A spoon? I know the Sheriff of Nottingham said, “Because it’s dull, you twit! It’ll hurt more!”, but come on.

      1. Oh, forgot to mention: this was before the new scanners and pat downs. In the current climate, I’d say it’s even more important to have printouts from the TSA’s own website to make sure the “officers” follow their own organization’s rules.

  12. Of course no complaint should ever be ignored. So I voted no.

    Do I think the OP is over reacting? Yes.
    Should she have been more assertive with the agent? Yes, put pollitely.

    I am guessing that the problem may have started with attitude or perceived attitude and emotions took over. Shouldn’t happen but we all know it does. And not just with the TSA.

    Politeness solves or prevents a lot of problems.

    And the TSA agent should have been professional enough not to have reacted as poorly as seems to have been the case here. But again. We all have our bad days.

    Get over it.

  13. @Mike

    You have completely misunderstood my point. Since I said the word “leaking”, you could have known that I understand that the TSA agents are outside of the x-ray area.

    However, no radiation producing device is completely contained. This is always a very small amount of radiation that gets out.

    My point was that the strength of the x-rays would have had to have been so fantastically high that the minute amount of x-ray escaping would be causing problems.

    In order to damage the insulin, the radiation would need to be like Japanese-earthquake-damaged-nuclear-reactor level. When the customer received the insulin, she would have noticed the problem because the insulin would have been quite hot to the touch.

    The insulin could sit in the x-ray machine all day long with the doses that are used for baggage screening.

    While I’ll leave it up in the air whether or not 50% of Americans are idiots, I can definitely say that a large percentage of Americans are not good at communicating their needs orally, even when they are native English speakers. This is especially true when speaking to people considered authority figures.

    I am betting the exchange probably went like this:
    OP: I have insulin, can you hand search it?
    TSA: Oh, my brother is diabetic and travels all the time. We can put it in the scanner. It will be faster.

    The OP states that she did not say anything back to the TSA agent because she was scared.

    I think that after she had her blood glucose issue, which as been mentioned really causes people to not think straight, she started imagining the situation was more than it was.

    Her wording in the letter (her “translation”, the use of the word “entitled”, use of the word “horror”, and her addendum that the TSA agent was a man – like that had anything to do with it, and her hyperbole when discussing her medical situation) and the fact she addressed and sent (?) her letter to the director of the TSA to begin with without trying to resolve this situation through regular channels first, I think shows that this person is trying to make a big deal out of nothing.

    Yes, the agent probably should have hand-checked the bag. But, the OP states she didn’t disagree with sending it through the x-ray machine. So, this is simply a misunderstanding.

    I certainly don’t believe the TSA’s actions put the OP’s life in danger (she states she was “fortunate to live” through this encounter!).

    If the OP had simply said back to the agent “no, I would prefer you to hand-check this item”, then I am sure that is what would have happened.

    1. She shouldn’t have had to repeat her “request”, to the agent. The first time that she said it was enough. It is the TSA agents’ responsibility to know their regulations and exceptions. Her second “request” should have been made to a supervisor.
      The x-rays heating the insulin wasn’t the problem. The radiation leaking from the reactors in Japan is causing a heating problem. It is a matter of radiation destroying biological compounds (DNA, insulin, etc). I’ve read where you work in a pharmacy. Do you moonlight as a theoretical nuclear physicist, as well?
      There is an implied admission, of the possibility of x-rays damaging insulin, or else TSA wouldn’t have bothered listing it, on their web site, as one of the items that can be manually inspected.

  14. I travel at least once a week, and I carry Embrel with syringes, that has to be kept to a certain temperature. My hand held cooler has freezer packs, needles, liquid medication and alcohol swabs. I have never ever had a problem. In fact, in Miami they told me that my medical bag was exempt from the two items per person rule. I have had many other problems with TSA, but medical supplies has never been one of them. I think she got an agent having a bad day.

  15. So far as the poll question is concerned, I can’t answer it because we don’t have the authoritative research on this. I doubt the 3 minutes or so that the insulin spent being bombarded with X-rays as good for it, but whether it rendered it partially ineffective is questionable at best. Are we sure that nothing like high altitude (both in the plane and in Denver itself) was a facto? Any diabetics who can speak to this?

    1. High altitudes are more likely to affect the blood glucose meter than the diabetic. If she wasn’t careful with using control solution and such, the lack of oxygen at altitude can cause the meter to not be able to do the enzymatic reaction needed to test the blood appropriately.

      But, it is well known that travel itself can cause problems with blood glucose control.

      Most people are eating different foods, at different times of day. If you are crossing time zones, even if you eat “at the same time”, that is not the same time your body is expecting. And psychological stress can cause blood glucose to skyrocket.

      1. High altitudes would only have an effect, if she were standing on the wing, outside the pressurized plane. Generally, planes are over-pressurized, at altitude.

  16. I am Type 2 diabetic, but not on insulin. However, if the OP is a Type 1 diabetic, especially, I’m not about to make any judgments on her sugar control. Controlling T1 is a whole different beast than T2, and if she’s on five injections a day, my guess is she’s a T1. This means that she relies *entirely* on insulin for glucose control. Diet really isn’t such a large part of control for a T1, because most T1s do not deal with insulin resistance. It also means she probably tailors her short-acting insulin dosage to what she’s eating.
    Now then, having said all that, it obviously, clearly states in the TSA’s own regulations that she has a right to have her insulin visually inspected. What was the matter with the agent? Is he scared of the sight of needles or something? There is no way on God’s green earth I’d allow my diabetes meds to sit in an X-ray machine. I don’t care what the radiation level is. Did the machines harm the insulin? I don’t know. It is possible she got a bad batch. That does happen, occasionally.
    I suspect she zeroed in on the fact the agent was a man, because she felt a woman might have been more understanding and sympathetic to her situation.
    Stress levels do indeed affect glucose levels, and it may just have been that because of the stress, her body wasn’t responding to the insulin the way it normally does. Diabetes is a funny disease and sometimes, the things that work one day don’t work the next, and vice versa. And yeah, she should have at least called her own doctor for advice. But she didn’t.
    Bottom line: The man with the little tin badge in Phoenix screwed up and the TSA hasn’t responded to her letter. This is not acceptable. I advise the OP to contact her Congressional representatives and make a little noise, and also to write a letter to the editor of the Phoenix newspaper and to the CEO of Sky Harbor Airport. Even if the Phoenix X-ray machine had nothing to do with her glucose levels, she deserves the courtesy of a reply from the TSA. And the TSA agent needs to go for “re-training” (anyone see the latest Discover Card commercial?).

  17. Wait a minute. She put them in a plastic bag and stuffed it in her tote? She didn’t put the bag of meds through by itself? You’re kidding. No wonder they ran it back and forth. They were trying to figure out all the other stuff in the tote. By the way, I have never seen them stop an item for 2 whole minutes. That is a long time. If they are having that much trouble, they pull the item from the conveyor belt and have you open it. I travel a lot with lots of liquid meds (tho not insulin) and have never had a problem. They do have me open the one large bottle and hold it up to a “sniffer” but it is no big deal. (and I look for the security line marked “liquid medications and family”. Every airport I have been in has one.) I wonder if somewhere along the line her insulin was exposed to heat which I know can render it ineffective.

  18. A bit of a loaded question, Chris; ignoring any complaint is wrong. Better question would be whether TSA handled her issue properly. And they didn’t.

  19. Phoenix TSA is just about the worse group out there. I have stopped to fill out complaint forms a half dozen times, and the supervisor refuses to even review them with me while standing there. My most recent visit I was carrying my 1 year old daughter while my bags were falling off the converyor belt, I asked for help and saw the palm of an agent’s hand – he was busy telling another agent how much weight he lost.

    1. That doesn’t sound any worse, than at any other airport. I fly all over the US, and their attitudes don’t generally change much, due to location. The only factor, that I’ve noticed, is that agents in smaller airports tend to have way too much free time, to make up for their feelings of inferiority, at being stuck in a dinky little airport.

  20. I will give the benefit of the doubt to her. It is possible these drugs were just defective to begin with. If there is even a slight risk of damage of this or any other medical equipment visual inspection alone is the only option.

    Also the radiation from this scanner alone may not have done it but with that scanner along with all the others and that new gizmo they want to use (the sex scanner) could produce radiation to have an affect on the insulin.

    What sort of radiation levels are to people in the TSA area? Has it ever been measured? I am not just talking about the machines itself but the radiation the TSA agents get every day from doing their job.

  21. Look, it doesn’t MATTER if the OP knows diddly-squat about the medical aspects of her own diabetic condition, if she should have gone to the hospital, if she risked her life double-dosing. It doesn’t matter if running the bag through the machine really didn’t harm her insulin at all. It also doesn’t matter if she was rude to the TSA agent (although there doesn’t seem to be any reason to think she was).

    Whether she’s stupid, or a wacko, or whatever, is beside the point.

    The one thing that matters here is that (a) she had the RIGHT to a visual inspection of her meds, and HER RIGHT WAS DENIED; and (b) she rightly complained to the head of TSA and HER COMPLAINT WAS IGNORED.

    EVERYONE–including ignorant diabetics, nutjobs, and rude people–still has rights under the TSA guidelines. You, the TSA, don’t brush those rights aside because your brother is a diabetic too, or because (maybe) the traveller spoke to you in a less-than-obsequious tone, thereby offending Your Majesty The TSA Inspector. PERIOD!

    And similarly, Fuhrer Pistole doesn’t ignore the written complaint of a traveller, regardless of whether he thinks she’s a moron, or delirious, or whatever. PERIOD!

    Here’s a question for everyone: would this have happened if the OP had been wearing a Muslim headscarf? We’ll never know, of course. Just a thought…

  22. It seems the assimilation of the general public with regard to the shenanigans of TSA is nearly complete. The number of comments here slashing the character of the OP, while forgiving the obviously incorrect actions of the TSA agents, is alarming, to say the least.

    The question posed to us, the readers of this column is, “Was TSA correct to ignore Virjean Svoboda’s complaint?”

    Not, “Was the OP a dumbass?” Not, “Did the OP ask for a screening in the incorrect manner” Not, “Is the OP as aware of her health condition as she should be?”

    I voted no to the poll. A customer complaint should NEVER be ignored, even if you are a crony of The Great Leader.

  23. Brooklyn is correct. By policy, she was entitled to a visual inspection. When she didn’t get it, she was owed a response. Letting it sit under the xray for whatever the reason is unacceptable.

  24. I agree with the posters who say that whether or not the insulin was damaged, a TSA agent once again flagrantly disregarded its own written policy. That is completely unacceptable.

  25. Let’s just focus on this statement for a moment: “Having heard tales of persons who verbally challenge or dispute TSA procedures being prohibited from boarding their planes, I silently watched in horror.”

    This woman would have insisted that her medical liquids be visually inspected as TSA has stated clearly and repeatedly that travelers have that right. But she didn’t, because she was terrified of what the TSA might do to her if she asserted her rights. May I even say, she was *terrorized*. The TSA wants us to be too meek to stand up for ourselves; we make better victims that way. When have you ever seen another consumer complaint letter that described the writer’s fear of retribution as powerful enough to keep him/her from saying even one word?

    The TSA are the real terrorists. I am so frightened of their unchecked power trip and their penchant for physical and sexual abuse that I won’t go anywhere near an airport. We have good reason to be afraid – these people explicitly label anyone who objects to their worthless nonsense as a terrorist. When will someone make these depraved monsters stop harassing innocent people?!

  26. Who does the TSA work for? Are they paid by public funds? If so, then they need to answer to public inquiries! Simple as that…if they don’t want to answer to the public, then they need to procure private funding!

  27. Wow, Annapolis2 — there are thousands of people who work for TSA. Seems a little extreme to label them all as “terrorists” with “penchant[s] for physical and sexual abuse.”

    I flew four days out of five last week and went through security at five different airports, including ORD and SFO. Every TSA agent I encountered was friendly, efficient, and professional. I was not terrorized, let alone abused, by any of them. I was not humiliated, screamed at, condescended to, treated poorly, harassed, delayed, or anything else. Does that mean they are all perfect? Of course not — no more so than any bad incident means they are all terrorists.

    Even Chris, who has no particular love for TSA, admits that he can see TSA’s side of it here. TSA policies outline very clearly what is required when a visual inspection is requested (note: “requested” — nowhere on TSA’s website say that a request is an entitlement)

    You must request a visual inspection before the screening process begins; otherwise your medications and supplies will undergo X-ray inspection.

    If you would like to take advantage of this option, please have your medication and associated supplies separated from your other property in a separate pouch/bag when you approach the Security Officer at the walk-through metal detector.

    Request the visual inspection and hand your medication pouch/bag to the Security Officer.

    In order to prevent contamination or damage to medication and associated supplies and/or fragile medical materials, you will be asked at the security checkpoint to display, handle, and repack your own medication and associated supplies during the visual inspection process.

    Any medication and/or associated supplies that cannot be cleared visually must be submitted for X-ray screening. If you refuse, you will not be permitted to carry your medications and related supplies into the sterile area.

    The OP’s letter does not confirm she did the first, and suggests that she did NOT do the second and possibly the third (she “tucked this bulging bag into a larger hand tote”).

    The TSA should not ignore a complaint letter, but here we have OP who may or may not have complied with TSA guidelines dramatizing a situation that may or may not have resulted from a mistake that a TSA agent may or may not have made. At best they owe her a form letter about working hard to maintain standards for agent training.

    1. Eighmeagh, my bad, I didn’t mean to say that individual TSA agents are terrorists with a penchant for physical and sexual abuse. I meant to say that the TSA is a rogue agency with an organization-wide policy of systematically terrorizing travelers and publicly mistreating innocent people with ritualized physical and sexual abuse. Ve are just following zee orders, they say to put our hands up your skirt to rub back and forth over your sexual organs after taking ze naked pictures of your children. No, it’s not the screeners that are the problem. It’s that sick pervert John Pistole and his child molesting boss Janet Napolitano.

      You haven’t addressed the OP’s main point – not speaking up was a self-defense mechanism against retaliation. That retaliation has been documented on video to include non-consensual sexual contact and unjustified detention past one’s flight time. You blame the OP for not speaking up; I say OP’s silence was the obvious consequence of the TSA’s plan to make travelers into passive victims who never speak up for their rights.

      1. Ann,

        I think it is time to break out the tinfoil hat.

        I have yet to see an instance where a passenger was physically or sexually abused by the TSA.

        If a passenger had been, then there would have been police action against the agent responsible.

        It is irresponsible of you to make such inflammatory statements. Frankly, I find it utterly repulsive.

        I would also say that your statements against especially Ms. Napolitano constitutes libel. I would be pleased if she pursued legal action against you for such an unsupported claim.

        I fly at least 4 times a week. I have never encountered any TSA agents who have been less than professional. I have never felt uncomfortable or violated during a pat-down.

        Then again, I am not the passenger walking up to innocent Americans trying to do their jobs and yelling at them that they are child molesters.

        There is no great conspiracy of the government and the TSA to impinge upon travelers’ rights.

        If you’ve ever traveled in any country other than U.S., then you can complain about being afraid of the travel security. There are attack dogs and the agents carry machine guns. They are dressed in SWAT-style outfits with bullet-proof vests. Once, I didn’t hear an agent give me an instruction in Spanish, and my face got introduced to the business end of a machine gun.Sometimes, you have to pass a background check in order to fly. And these are the democratized countries.

        In a democracy, sometimes individual people have to give up some of their personal rights in order for the government to protect the population.

        In my experience, the vast majority of the people who write things such as your posts rarely fly anyway. You admit to not going near airports. It sounds like your only experience with TSA is from sensationalized news articles.

        Most Americans, while inconvenienced by airport security, see it as necessary. While what we have is not perfect, no one has come up with any better ideas yet (at least any ones that would be legal in the U.S.).

        1. Cassivella,

          If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention. Janet Napolitano just defended a screener invading a six-year-old girl’s clothing, putting her hands on the girl’s not yet developing breasts, buttocks, and vagina, as according to procedure. Napolitano is a child molester for ordering such an offensive assault. Those are bathing suit zones, and the child was touched against her will and against her parent’s will. Napolitano and her crew are child molesters. I’d love to be sued for libel, because I know that any jury watching that video would have to agree it shows non-consensual sexual contact between an adult and a minor.

          I, on the other hand, have been watching TSA closely as I have been a very frequent flyer over the past decade. I flew 4 times per month last year. I’m boycotting air travel because the TSA crossed the line of sexual abuse in November 2010 with their vile insistence on either examining passenger genitals visually or manually. The TSA sexually abused me once. I’m never going to let strange men examine pictures of my naked body again, nor to give strangers access to my sexual organs.

          Nothing in the Constitution says I have to give up my rights for any reason, let alone for “the government to protect the population”. Screw that. What ever happened to the home of the free and the brave? Americans aren’t meant to be safe, we’re meant to be free. Even if you throw away your freedom and beg the government for protection, just remember you won’t be safe either. The TSA will not protect you; they’re too busy sticking their hands down the pants of little girls to catch the guns and box cutters that have been found on planes recently.

          1. Ann,

            You are a highly disturbed individual. I find you irrationally fixated on making everyday processes sexual. If you are finding a video of a young child getting a modified pat-down sexually stimulating, I suggest that you contact a licensed therapist before the police trace your IP address. I am glad I do not have to deal with you in airports anymore.

            You do realize that it is impossible to touch a vagina externally? Did I miss something on the video? Was there insertion that I missed? If you don’t know the basic anatomy of a human, how can you say a child was touched in an inappropriate area?

            The child was given a modified pat-down in accordance with law and procedure. The parents were present and certainly could have decided that their child not have a pat down (of course, they would not fly).

            The child tripped the metal detector several times. At that point, the parents have two options – the child gets a modified pat-down, or the child does not fly.

            There are situations where a child’s body will be touched. The obvious is at the doctor’s office. A child may be touched during swim lessons or the like. One of these times is during TSA screenings. The parents should have explained the situation to the child prior to reporting to the screening area.

            The child’s parents are not saying the child was touched in a sexual manner. I don’t believe you have a right to say so.

            Only perverts would find that video to be sexual. In watching news channel coverage, the vast majority of respondents said they felt that TSA did not touch the child inappropriately.

          2. No, I don’t. I work for a software company. And no, that company has nothing to do with airline travel or security.

            I am simply a rational human being who is sick of alarmists seeing conspiracy everywhere.

        2. In a democracy, sometimes individual people have to give up some of their personal rights in order for the government to protect the population.

          God, the slave mentality just goes on and on and on. How pathetic.

          1. You do realize you don’t have the right to do whatever you want in our country?

            That is my point.

            When ancient humans started gathering together and forming governments, there were social contracts where individuals left some of their rights at the door (like the right to arbitrarily go around killing people) in order to gain the security (physical security, economic security) the government could provide.

            This is the entire basis of what government is – individuals give up certain rights (like avenging murder) so that the government can do so on behalf of the citizen.

            I didn’t say we had to give up constitutional rights. If I meant that, I would have said so. The term “rights” is much broader than our constitution.

  28. Two issues: 1) the manual inspection: of course she should have gotten it.

    2) the insulin.
    I’m rather skeptical of the claims that insulin is damaged by the Xray machines. I could not find anything in the package inserts for commonly used insulin products about avoiding X-rays. Nor did I find anything searching (a free search off all the English language medical literature that goes back at least 40 years). These are published by the drug manufacturers, who have a high liability if their product failed with a simple Xray. With the number of medical xrays and airport xrays, don’t you think the drug companies, or at least the FDA (who pride themselves in their draconian processes for drug approval), would mandate a warning to keep your insulin out of these machines?

    I suspect that either the batch she was using was either old or had gotten too warm. Either of these are much more likely to have caused a decrease in efficacy of her insulin.

    For the sake of argument, let’s assume it was the radiation. She still had many many options–call her doctor (nationwide calling plans, anybody?), go the ER, get a 1 or 2 day temporary supply from a pharmacy at her destination, go to a less expensive walk in clinic, call a case manager at her insurance company if she had one…

    Customer service issues aside, I don’t think her argument holds water.

    1. Just what is the temperature inside the machine? There must be a big power supply.
      How hot is it, and how long does it take to start cooking the package or medicine?

      And I would note that the medicine already had an environmental history before getting to the airport. Maybe whatever happened in the machine pushed it past it’s total limits.

  29. TSA Announces Key Enhancements To Contact Center Procedures

    I just love it when the TSA announces new baloney. It’s so much fun. Like a game: “let’s see, can we guess what new bs they’re going to come up with?!”

    And love the word “enhancements.” “Key enhancements”! Yeah, we’ve seen their enhancements so far. And now, it’ll be easier than ever to put you on a watch list and further harass you when you travel — what fun!

  30. Here “science” is highly questionable here and should not be the basis for her complaint. The fact that rogue TSA agents were acting contrary to the protocol she was entitled to by their own rules is what warrants a response in the form of an apology and corrective action.

  31. X-Ray Beams can cause the molecular level to become unstable. This same frequency process is used in Alcohol detection in Breathalyzers where they spin the molecule using frequencies. Insulin is held together by a Zinc Bond, and X-Rays may disconnect the Bond and render the insulin unstable or cause some electrical properties to change that make it repel veses attract making absorbsion into a cell impossible or very hard if it gets polarized.
    Surprizingly the FDA doesnt require medicines to be tested for X-Ray infuences but, it should, and if it doesnt then the TSA has no business subjecting medicines to X-Ray if the FDA has not ruled it out as a problem.
    Basically the TSA is inept and foolish testing insulin as if it were explosive material requires them to put frequency not just XRAY through the medicines and YES it DOES ALTER THE PROPERTIES!

  32. The comments on this blog by TSA apologists, such as Cassivella and Eighmeagh, are always so telling: I never saw these things, and they never happened to me; therefore, they aren’t happening! Q.E.D.

    The thousands of accounts of TSA abuse — and those are only the ones that get publicized — most people’s stories don’t get into newspapers — can all be dismissed, belittled, or otherwise swept under the rug. “I’m not getting molested, so what do I care if somebody else is?” That’s the sentiment.

    1. I am not an apologist.

      And I believe you make my point for me.

      You believe that anecdotes are proof of some sort of government conspiracy.

      Anecdotes are by definition simply one person’s version of an event. They are not evidence that has been accepted into court. They are not verified by anyone other than the speaker.

      While you believe that is a couple of people are screaming that the government is molesting them, I am waiting for proof. I am waiting for one of these people to file criminal charges (and I have never heard of anyone doing this – if you have, please let me know). I am waiting for someone to file a civil lawsuit saying they were abused.

      When there is ANY proof that TSA agents are abusing Americans, then I will take these claims seriously. But, as no one has any proof that will stand up in court, all we have is anecdotes. And those are otherwise known as fish stories. And we know how those pervert the truth.

      1. We’re talking past each other, Cassivella. You are asking for proof that TSA is abusing Americans, and I point to video and audio evidence. You would like proof that a civil lawsuit has been filed? There are, in fact, dozens of lawsuits against the TSA’s disgusting reign of terror, and I’m hoping that every single one will be successful. Lawsuits take time, so none of these except the first has been decided. Here are just a few:

        Amarillo woman sues TSA for exposing her breasts and laughing at her: [The TSA settled this lawsuit out of court by paying off the woman.]

        Robin Kassner thrown across the room and beaten by airport security guards – caught on video:

        Pilots sue for invasive searches:

        TSA out of our pants lawsuit:

        Gary Fielder lawsuit:

        Robert Dean’s lawsuit:

        12-year-old sent through naked imager without parental consent:

        Jonathan Blitz lawsuit:

        Jesse Ventura lawsuit:

        Claire Hirschkind, rape victim, dragged facedown through the airport lawsuit:

        Adrienne Durso sues for aggressive breast groping:

      2. Nein, liebchen. I haven’t used the word “conspiracy”; you have. I’ve never claimed a “government conspiracy.” I’ve claimed that the TSA is bullying, intimidating, harassing, and abusing us. It’s not a conspiracy; it’s just business as usual.

        You’re wrong about the value of anecdotal evidence and you’re wrong about lawsuits; there have been several, some of which the TSA has settled because their behavior was so egregious and they didn’t want any more bad publicity, some of which are still making their way through the courts. Links below. Many people can’t afford to go to court — legal expenses for Phil Mocek, for example (he won his case), were through the roof. And that’s cold comfort anyway: “Sorry, honey, we assaulted you, but you’ll have to sue us to get justice. And even if you win, we can always assault you again!”

        Woman whose breasts exposed in pat-down settles with TSA
        . . . Murley claimed that a TSA agent pulled her blouse completely down, exposing her breasts to everyone in the area. Despite her embarrassment, the lawsuit claims that TSA employees in the area continued to joke and laugh about the incident for an extended period of time . . . the male TSA staffer said he was disappointed that he missed her blouse being yanked down, then said “he would just have to watch the video.”

        From the Washington Post, re the EPIC lawsuit that began March 10th in the DC Court of Appeals:
        Tatel and Judge Karen Henderson questioned whether the TSA would be within its authority to determine one day that the security threat required that all passengers be strip searched. Brinkmann said TSA could make such a determination without public input, as it did with the body scanners.

        Under suspicion: Millions paid to former suspects
        By The Associated Press
        In recent years the federal government or its contractors have paid millions of dollars to settle lawsuits filed by people who say they were unfairly detained or harassed because of terrorism fears. The payments include:

        Student Handcuffed for English-Arabic Flashcards Sues TSA, FBI

        By Matthew Rothschild, February 10, 2010

        Video: Woman Beaten; 71-year-old man & 16-year-old girl groped, stripped

        I’m probably way over my Disqus comment limit. I can’t reproduce here every single news article from the thousands compiled by me, the ACLU, EPIC, Amy Alkon, Sommer Gentry, Daniel Rubin, Jennifer Abel, Patricia Stokes, and other journalists who give a s**t. These assaults are going on, all over the country, every day. But keep sticking your head in the sand. And keep using that handy moniker “conspiracy” whenever you want to discredit an argument.

  33. Does no-one else wonder what the TSA agent expected to see after 2 minutes under the x-ray that he didn’t see after the first time through? Or after 10 or 15 or 30 seconds of the second time through? Did he figure the vials would have “Liquid Explosives – For Use By Terrorists” in lead paint on the inside or something?

    Yes, I think this woman probably (severely?) overreacted to the situation. It’s possible she didn’t follow the correct “procedure” for receiving the inspection she requested. If so, the agent DEFINITELY should have told her, “If you want that done, you need to do X, Y, and Z before you get here.” rather than “I can’t do that.”

    But it also seems that the agent was having a bad attitude. TSA agents know how most people are worried about being treated and should at least try to be sympathetic to that rather than going on a power trip. If you can’t handle treating the general public as though they’re human beings, you shouldn’t be in a job where you interact with the public. Simple. Degrading everyone ≠ making terrorists easier to find.

    Also, people who are willing to give up their rights for “government protection” don’t deserve the rights they have and are morons. The government, as an entity, doesn’t give a crap about your well-being and best interests.

  34. The American Diabetes Association serves as an advocate for diabetics before the TSA. They have a complaint procedure for this type of thing. She should ask them to intervene here as well for the sake of all diabetics. (Full disclosure: my husband is a diabetic.)

  35. I want to say, that I am Diabetic Type I (NPH & R), since childhood. I Need to shot twice, daily. I experienced the exactly SAME situation as Ms. SVoboda. I had an emergency travel from NY to CA and used JetBlue line, which indeed is a real nightmare. I took my insulin bottles and Diabetic stuff with me in my pocket, and once I arrived, I had to shot myself after the inconveniences caused by a rude flight attendants of them. After having the one, I almost noticed the insulin was useless and not effective. It was easy to know, something was wrong with it. Usually, when the medicine is good, the effects and results are immediately seen and felt, but when they don’t work, elevated sugar blood levels is to be expected; the body will react on the contrary and the sugar levels will keep up raising. Just as Ms SVoboda said, we seem to know our bodies functionality quite well, it’s quite easy to recognize whether the doses work or not. So I had to add extra doses to my regular shots, and shot more than expected until I could find a new prescription in the other state. All that was the result of the “nice” service of this airline and their x rays and improper scanning. A total discrimination against the Diabetic people who depend from such medicine in order to live and survive from an out of hand situation. As if we, had the option of something else. It is easy for healthy people to solve the issue and tell Ms. SVoboda: “Go to ER”, because they are not the ones who should probable live the hell confined to a hospital bed, tied up with IV’s, needles all over, as if our bodies were of iron instead of flesh and nerves. Novo Nordisk seem to know about this matter since they did left the “JIC” warning of: ” (…) prolonged exposure to X-rays, there is a possibility that the insulin could be denatured from repeated exposure to X-rays and lose effectiveness.” Indeed, they do know about the matter, but who’s legislating about it?

  36. Do X-ray machines at the checkpoint really leave the X-rays on continuously while objects sit still on the conveyor belt and the agent examines the video screen?

    No wonder people have been saying that their film got ruined while all the “experts” say that one or two passes through the machines won’t damage the film.

  37. Years ago (25ish) I was the manager of Screening at a Canadian Airport. At that time a passenger could ask for ANYTHING to be handscreened and we would comply. My understanding is that with TSA and CATSA, passengers still have the right to have any item handscreened. When I was still using film in my camera and asked for handscreening of camera and film it was done willingly, however on one trip I had to fight to get handscreening and was just about to ask for the supervisor because the agent wouldn’t handscreen, when the supervisor came over and asked what the problem was. I said I would like my film and camera handscreened please. He immediately said he would do it and did. So when I collected them afterwards I said thank you to him. I hope he said something to the agent but I don’t know. I know these comments started because of insulin but the issue is that passengers should have the right to have anything handscreend for whatever reason, if they don’t anymore. My argument was the same, one pass through the Xray machine may not harm the film/ but repeated passes during the trip may and I have had film ruined. That seems to be the poblem with the insulin, one pass maybe OK but more exposure caused problems.

  38. As for the original issue – whether or not the TSA should have responded to her complaint I think they should have at least sent a form letter so she would have known whether or not they received it. As for the x-ray damaging the insulin – I find that hard to believe. The insulin she has has most likely already been through multiple x-ray machines when it was shipped from the manufacturer to the distributor then possibly even to the pharmacy she had it filled at. Shipping companies often times x-ray the packages they are shipping to verify contents (my husband works for one and they x-ray every package that goes through their company). It just sounds to me as though she is trying to come up with a reason to threaten a lawsuit. In my opinion she was extremely irresponsible and has no one to blame for what happened to her except for herself. If her BG levels were elevated she should have either called her doctor, gone to the ER/urgent care facility or had her prescription transferred from her pharmacy to a local pharmacy so that she could get a refill (it’s possible she had old insulin).

  39. “You are a highly disturbed individual.”

    Well, if standing up for my rights means I’m highly disturbed, then I’ll embrace such terms with open arms.

  40. Agree with Brooklyn below. Having said that however, I have been an insulin-dependent diabetic for more than 30 years now (6 injections daily) and, coincidentally have had a career in the travel industry for 25 of those year, during which I have submitted my 2 bottles (fast acting and sustained release) countless times for x-ray. No damage whatsoever. Perhaps her elevated levels may have been due to just the inherent stress and aggravation of travel in this post-9/11 age. TSA certainly doesn’t make travel easy although I have never had any bad experiences in this country; France, on the other hand, but I digress….

  41. Type 1 diabetic here.. I did do an airplane trip and they did send my insulin as well as other xray damage questionables all inside of a tub into the conveyor belt xray machine.. I did not really notice any damaging effects on my insulin.. Having said that.. I did indulge in a couple of cookies and other sweets that I could have done without and did indeed have higher than normal blood sugars both leaving and coming home via airplane. Again I think it was more related to what I was eating and experiencing than insulin damage. Should be noted insulin resistance..(naturally occuring.. the way the body will sorta of not use insulin completely or will require more insulin to decrease the amount of free sugar floating around in the blood stream.. process) can be caused by a number of factors including STRESS, caffiene, heavy trans fats products (stuff that uses alot of oil like restaurant cooked fries, pasta, veggies.. they love using oil and not the healthy omega/extra virgin olive oil either) doubling up on insulin is always advised by doctors rather to use as much as required. you have to play around with it and if you are a type 1 diabetic you get used to knowing how much insulin will decrease how many units of sugar.. She stated 487 which means shes on a different scale of blood sugar monitoring known as or something similar to mg/dl. I know it as mmol. so 1 mmol = 18mg/dl I know it requires 1unit of insulin for me to cancel out 2mmol over the course of 4 hours.. at 2 hours I will see the most reduction in my blood sugar.. the laast 2 hours is small/slight/no visual change in blood sugar levels. so my calculation is based on 2 hours the 1 unit of insulin will reduce my sugars by 2mmol or 36 mg/dl. Anything over 10 is considered high and doctors like to keep it under 7 mmol. her 487 is a whopping 27mmol which translated is about 1 medium pizza no insulin over 4 hours after eating.. thats when I will notice a blood sugar reading that high.
    so yea thats high.. about 4 times higher than a healthy/normal/nondiabetic person’s blood sugar would ever get.
    I would venture a guess she was stressed out.. altitude on the plane.. ate some comfort food..forgot to take insulin or did not take as much as required. I could be wrong but I doubt it. She needed more insulin. she returned home no more party time and as a result she required less insulin. Again this is a judgment based upon personal experience. Maybe the xrays did kill her insulin? usually will happen naturally about 30 days after an insulin cartridge/vial is first used(ie pierced with a needle.)

  42. | T Then again, maybe not. Virjean Svoboda says her medical insulin was damaged when she checked in for a flight in Phoenix on March 9. I?ll let her explain. Here?s the letter she sent directly to TSA administrator John Pistole. Dear Mr. Pistol… .8 million people in the UK have been diagnosed with diabetes in the UK and a further 850,000 people are undiagnosed. Diabetes is characterized by high blood glucose levels, resulting from a prob…

  43. I have never had any problems with my insulin pump before and going
    through body scanners, but apparently that is not the case for everyone.
    Becoming aware of the risks associated with your pump is very important
    to look into before traveling and going through body scanners. Discuss the news like this in this IDM’s Diabetes help forum.

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