DESTIN — A gravely ill 95-year-old woman had to remove her wet diaper at an airport so that she could be patted down by security screeners and nearly missed her flight, her daughter said Monday.
During the patdown, Transportation Security Administration inspectors found a mass on Lena Reppert's upper thigh, her daughter Jean Weber said. The mass was a hard spot on the diaper that had become heavy and concentrated in that place because it was wet. Reppert, who uses a wheelchair, had to be patted down because she couldn't go through a scanning machine, and the TSA agents said they could not search the diaper while she was still wearing it, Weber said.
Reppert couldn't board a June 18 flight from Northwest Florida Regional Airport in Fort Walton Beach to Detroit until she was cleared by security, Weber said. Reppert, who has leukemia and had been living in the Florida Panhandle, was returning to her native Hastings, Mich., where she wants to be buried.
Weber, a waiter, said she was told the diaper would have to be removed so that the agents could finish their patdown. Weber and her mother had not packed any extra diapers in a carry-on bag because her mother had never needed backups before.
"She had to remove them," Weber said. "She would not be cleared with those Depends on."
TSA officials said the agency's inspectors did nothing wrong and followed proper procedures. Spokesman Nick Kimball also said the officers did not force Reppert to remove the diaper.
"While every person and item must be screened before entering the secure boarding area, TSA works with passengers to resolve security alarms in a respectful and sensitive manner," Kimball said.
Officials offered to pull Reppert's luggage off the plane so that Reppert could change into a clean diaper, but Weber said she feared that her mother, a retired nurse, would miss her flight.
"She is frail. I had arranged for these times because it's the time she was the strongest every day," Weber said. "I just did not want to put her through some kind of wait."
However, Weber said the agents would not allow her to remove the diaper in the screening room — so she had to take her mother to a restroom outside the security area, and then wait in line to be screened again. The second time, Weber said she triggered an alarm herself because she was upset and crying.
Officials tested her purse for chemicals while her mother finished her patdown in private, she said. By then, Weber had lost her pass allowing her to escort her mother to her gate and asked airport workers to take the woman.
"It was a traumatic moment for me because I know my mother is very ill, and hopefully I can get up to see her before anything happens," Weber said.
TSA tightened security after a Nigerian man was charged with trying to ignite explosives he had hidden in his underwear on a flight to Detroit from Europe on Christmas Day 2009.
However, the full-body scans and patdowns have been criticized by travelers and been the brunt of jokes.
Earlier this year, for example, the agency was criticized for patting down a 6-year-old girl at the New Orleans airport.
Last week, TSA officials said security workers will now be told to make repeated attempts to screen young children without resorting to the patdowns.