At what point does an airport search step over the line?
How about when they start going through your checks, and the police call your husband, suspicious you were clearing out the bank account?
That’s the complaint leveled by Kathy Parker, a 43-year-old Elkton, Md., woman, who was flying out of Philadelphia International Airport on Aug. 8.
Read the entire article here. (Full disclosure: This goes to a blog that has reprinted the original article from the Philadelphia Inquirer. The Inky regularly pulls down old articles, so it may not be intact if you are viewing this post in a few months.)
In a nutshell, Parker takes regular flights from PHL down to Charlotte, NC for work. When she went through airport security at PHL, she was subjected to an incredibly thorough search of her luggage. Some highlights of the search are quoted below:
“Everything in my purse was out, including my wallet and my checkbook. I had two prescriptions in there. One was diet pills. This was embarrassing. A TSA officer said, ‘Hey, I’ve always been curious about these. Do they work?’
That same screener started emptying her wallet. “He was taking out the receipts and looking at them,” she said.
In a side pocket she had tucked a deposit slip and seven checks made out to her and her husband, worth about $8,000.
You’re probably horrified thus far. Like many TSA stories that have been hitting the news, it gets even worse:
Two Philadelphia police officers joined at least four TSA officers who had gathered around her. After conferring with the TSA screeners, one of the Philadelphia officers told her he was there because her checks were numbered sequentially, which she says they were not.
“It’s an indication you’ve embezzled these checks,” she says the police officer told her. He also told her she appeared nervous. She hadn’t before that moment, she says.
Okay, so to recap thus far, let’s start ticking off the…erm….problematic portions of this story:
- TSA officer rooting around in a passenger’s bag and getting prescription medication advice based on the contents of it. I’m a pretty open person about things like medications, but I’d be pretty uncomfortable with an acquaintance or family member snooping through my medicine cabinet and grilling me on whether or not my meds work.
- That same officer also feels that it’s his business to scrutinize what clothing or personal items she may have purchased in the past week under the guise that she may have purchased razor blades at some point, despite there being no evidence that she had them on her; even if she had, is it really that odd for a female banker to bring razor blades with her on a business flight? She’s not exactly working at the local Hot Topic, folks!
- TSA & PPD officers acting like Jr. Fraud Specialists, despite the fact that they are completelyunqualified to make that assessment. If a few online exams make you qualified to detect white collar crime, then I should certainly add which Golden Girl I am to my resume. (Blanche, for the record.)
After explaining why she had the checks on her (she and her husband had recently gone on vacation and didn’t have the chance to deposit them before she returned to work), they eventually allowed her to board the plane. (How kind!) As what happens in most of these cases, she got on the plane humiliated, shaken, and probably pounded back several in-flight cocktails. Okay, so maybe I’m the only one who would feel like she earned a drink after getting through that experience without coldcocking a law enforcement official.
It sucks, but she was only out some time and a little dignity, right?
When she got home, her husband of 20 years, John Parker, a self-employed plastics broker, said the police had called and told him that they’d suspected “a divorce situation” and that Kathy Parker was trying to empty their bank account. He set them straight.
Let’s ignore the fact that I’m a bit confused on how Parker could be emptying her bank account by depositing checks into it. Let’s also ignore the subtle misogyny in the PPD & TSA’s actions here; John Parker is not Kathy Parker’s keeper, nor does Kathy Parker belong to John Parker. Let’s think, instead, about this scary concept: without knowing the situation or anything about the couple, PPD & TSA could have inadvertently handed a battered wife back to her abuser.
I’ve known a lot of divorced couples over the years. I know one man who got married and divorced very young and was willing to leave the marriage with only his boxers if it meant he was no longer married to his ex-wife. An old friend has parents who were at one another’s throats the entire time they were married, only to become best friends after their divorce. A third situation was a gigantic mess involving the death of an estranged wife and a bitter next of kin fight with her mother over her funeral arrangements. None of these couples have felt compelled to flee the state in order to avoid their ex. NONE.
The only marriages or dating relationships I’ve known that have ended in getting far out of the area were ones where abuse was a factor; that’s not to say that abuse is the only reason that an ex-spouse might leave the area or that abuse didn’t occur unless the battered spouse gets out of dodge. I’m just saying that it seems pretty logical to me. When you consider that battered women are most likely to be murdered when they are trying to “just leave” their husbands, had the Parkers’ marriage been abusive, Kathy Parker could have very well been facing a death sentence. Thank you, cops and federal government!
Luckily, this wasn’t the case here, and everything panned out as well as could be expected; I am not meaning to imply that the Parkers are in an abusive or otherwise unstable relationship. But what if the situation was a little bit different? Talk about unintended consequences! The invasive search conducted by the TSA and Philadelphia Police and the stupidity employed by those individual officers is infuriating enough, but adding the fugitive slave law-esque handling here makes me even more uncomfortable and more resolved to not fly until these policies are radically changed.