TSA head apologizes over airport security mishap

DETROIT Tue Nov 23, 2010 5:54pm EST

DETROIT (Reuters) - The Transportation Security Administration apologized to a bladder cancer survivor whose urostomy bag opened during an airport security patdown, covering him with urine, a spokeswoman said on Tuesday.

The head of the TSA, John Pistole, called Thomas Sawyer, a retired school teacher from Holt, Michigan, to discuss the November 7 incident and apologize on Monday, TSA spokeswoman Sarah Horowitz said.

Sawyer was headed to Orlando, Florida, when a security screening machine at Detroit Metro Airport noticed the bag that collects his urine. Sawyer's bladder was removed as part of his cancer treatment.

A TSA agent began patting him down and ignored Sawyer's warnings that his urostomy bag could open if handled roughly, Sawyer has said. The seal of the bag came undone, and urine spilled over his shirt and trousers, he said.

The TSA apology comes amid growing complaints about enhanced airport security, with passengers complaining about the physical patdowns and the new full-body screening machines in airports. An Internet campaign is urging travelers to refuse to use the scanners on Wednesday, the start of the busy Thanksgiving holiday.

In a statement about the Detroit incident, the TSA said it is "sensitive to the needs and challenges of all passengers."

"We have done extensive outreach to the disability community, and our officers take seriously their responsibility to be respectful and professional throughout the screening process," the TSA said.

(Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst; Editing by Jerry Norton)