SEATTLE — A Michigan woman dying of leukemia hopes her embarrassing experience at a Seattle airport changes the way the Transportation Security Administration treats travelers with medical conditions.
Michelle Dunaj, 34, was making what she expects will be the last trip of her life on Oct. 2 as she departed for Hawaii.
The Roseville, Mich., woman thought she had prepared by calling the airline ahead of time, asking for a wheelchair, carrying documentation for her feeding tubes and making sure she had prescriptions for all her medications, including five bags of saline solution. But Dunaj said she received a full pat-down in the security line at Sea-Tac Airport and had to lift her shirt and pull back bandages so agents could get a good look. She said everyone else in line got a look, too.
“My issue is: It was in front of everyone, and everyone was looking at me like I was a criminal or like I was doing something wrong,” Dunaj told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “It shouldn’t have been in front of everyone.”
Dunaj said a female agent performed the pat-down and asked her to lift up her shirt after feeling the tubes going into Dunaj’s chest and abdomen. Dunaj said her suggestion for a more private pat-down was dismissed.
“I asked them if they thought that was an appropriate location, and they told me that everything was fine,” she said.
She said another agent punctured one of the saline bags she was carrying, ruining it.
“I didn’t want to start getting upset and swearing and causing more of a scene or issue,” Dunaj said. “But it definitely wasn’t handled properly.”
Dunaj said that after her pat-down, she was asked to move along, as if she were responsible for holding up the line.
“I thought that was a little rude,” she said.
After Dunaj told her story on KOMO-TV, the TSA started looking into the situation, Northwest Region spokeswoman Lorie Dankers said.
“Any time a passenger requests a private screening, they should be granted one,” Dankers said.
“We work to make our screening procedures as minimally invasive as possible while still proving the level of security that the American people want and deserve,” Dankers added in an email statement.
Travelers with disabilities can call a TSA hotline with questions about screening procedures.
Dunaj had no problems flying out of Detroit or returning to Seattle from Hawaii. She stayed with a friend at suburban Bonney Lake in western Washington, and returns to Michigan on Wednesday. She wasn’t looking forward to departing from Sea-Tac, although the TSA contacted her through KOMO and offered to have a manager help her through security.
She’ll enter hospice on Oct. 17 back home.
Dunaj decided to make the trip after she was told she had three to four months to live. She doesn’t regret it, despite the hassles.
“Hawaii was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen,” she said. “Number 1 on my bucket list.”
She hopes her experience might change the TSA’s practices or at least embolden others like her to keep trying.
“I figure if nothing else, it might help someone in the future and encourage people facing the same challenges I have faced to do what they want to do and see things before it’s too late.”