TSA Watch: Vote for your favorite TSA hero — or villain

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By Christopher Elliott

The strange case of Yukari Miyamae, the airline passenger who allegedly grabbed the breast of a TSA employee after refusing to be screened last week, got me thinking. Every few months, someone seems to capture the traveling public’s attention with an action that exposes the absurdity and indignity of being frisked at the airport.

Many of us would call them heroes for their actions. Others would say they’re villains, because they demoralize the TSA and give comfort to the “enemy.”

So let’s put it to a vote.

Which TSA hero — or anti-hero — has contributed the most to the current dialogue about airport security?

Which one shone the brightest light on the dark practices of an agency that, for some, has virtually no accountability and is violating our basic human rights? And lastly, which one brought the most shame to the TSA?

I’ve narrowed it down to five and have listed them in sequential order.

Phil Mocek

Before scans and pat-downs, this Seattle software developer had the audacity to fly without an ID. And to record the subsequent confrontation with a TSA agent on his phone. Mocek was arrested and charged with trespassing, disorderly conduct, refusing to obey an officer, and concealing his identity. But after being acquitted of all charges, he became a symbol of resistance.

John Tyner

Remember the “don’t touch my junk” video? It was just after the scan/pat-down rules went into effect last year, and John Tyner showed up at the San Diego airport determined to not become another statistic. He needn’t have worried. The Southern California software developer threatened to have a TSA agent arrested if he touched his genitals. He was escorted from the terminal and threatened with a lawsuit and $11,000 fine, neither of which materialized. Ah, but the video lives on, and “don’t touch my junk” has become a rallying cry for the unhappily screened masses.

Ryan Miklus

Miklus and his family were flying through Phoenix (is there a pattern here?) when a screener inappropriately touched his mother, Carol, according to him. When she asked for a police officer, she was escorted from the screening area and missed her flight. She was screened the next day in Phoenix and traveled without incident, but the video of the screening made the rounds. It shows TSA agents and airline employees who are ignorant of public photography laws at best, and at worst, abusive. The incident prompted the TSA to review and clarify its rules for photography at checkpoints.

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Andrea Fornella Abbott

This Nashville-area woman became a hero to many air travelers after refusing to allow her daughter to be patted down at a security checkpoint recently. Police s say she was belligerent and verbally abusive to security officers. But Fornella sees it differently. She says she was just trying to prevent her daughter to be “touched inappropriately or have her crotch grabbed.” And what parent wouldn’t want to protect their own offspring from being molested?

Yukari Miyamae

One of the most remarkable things about her case, which I’ve already mentioned, is that it happened to, well, her. We’re talking about a 61-year-old Japanese woman, someone who observers have said, knows her place in society and ought to respect authority. Except, she didn’t respect the TSA’s authority to fondle her, they note. Miyamae reportedly became “argumentative” after refusing to be patted down. Then, according to court documents, she grabbed, squeezed, and twisted a female agent’s breast. Should could have faced felony charges, but it now appears she could walk free.

Alright, time to cast your vote — hero or villain?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Panamá City.

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