Mom says TSA threatened full body search over juice boxes for diabetic son

Posted at 8:00 PM, Jun 30, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-01 01:39:08-04

DENVER -- A mother and her diabetic son say a TSA agent at Denver International Airport treated them like criminals as they tried to bring juice boxes through a security checkpoint.

Cathi Evans spoke with the Denver7 Investigates team and explained that the juice boxes are a medical necessity -- a pre-measured, go-to line of defense whenever her son, 10-year-old Robby, experiences a blood sugar crash. He has Type 1 diabetes.

She said she's taken the juice boxes through airports -- including DIA -- before and has never experienced any problems.

Evans said she felt criminalized.

"I feel like they made my son a security risk because he's diabetic," she said.

"I was scared for my life," Robby said.

Mother and son were returning to their home in Las Vegas when the TSA agent decided Robby's juice boxes were a possible threat.

"He got extremely close to where I was like bent over because he was leaning into me," Evans said. "And he said, 'The only way I'm going to test these juices and let these juices pass is if you submit to a full body search and we get your luggage, we'll take your carry-on bags, and we're going to search every single thing you have with you. Is that what you want?'"

Evans said she's so frustrated by the ordeal, which occurred in April, because the juice boxes were packed inside her son's medical bag alongside other medical supplies to treat his diabetes. She carries the bag everywhere her son goes.

"A blood sugar low is a medical emergency," she said. "And he's had a medical emergency like that before.  He's gone into seizures and quit breathing and turned purple. So, those juices -- [those are] our safety blanket."

Evans filed a complaint with the TSA and argued that different agents at different airports appear to operate under different protocols.

"There's a complete inconsistency," she said.

So far, the agency appears to be listening. TSA managers met with Evans upon a return trip to Denver. Then, a manager in the TSA's Disability Branch explained over the phone and via email that TSA leadership was going "to meet with the office responsible for defining the screening procedures to see what could be done to standardize the procedure nationally for screening medically necessary liquids, in a less invasive manner."

On Friday, the TSA sent Denver7 a statement further elaborating on its efforts to assist the family saying the agency "was concerned when we learned that the security screening process caused this family discomfort. We have communicated with the mother through several channels...and have offered assistance for future travel."

Evans said she understands the need for good security at the nation's airports, but believes something has to change moving forward.

"I don't want to die on a flight," she said. "I don't want to be worried about my safety or my security. But when it comes to disabilities and the things that people need, you have to have an understanding of that."

Airline passengers who have disabilities and medical conditions, and believe they may endure similar troubles, can contact the TSA Cares hotline in advance of a flight. The TSA recommends people make the call at least 72 hours before traveling.

According to the TSA, a TSA Cares agent will notify TSA officials at airports to allow them to prepare for the passenger's screening.

As for liquids such as juice boxes, the TSA explains that "officers may test liquids, gels or aerosols for explosives or concealed prohibited items. If officers are unable to use X-ray to clear these items, they may ask to open the container and transfer the content to a separate empty container or dispose of a small quantity of the content, if feasible."