Michelle Dunaj thought she was doing everything right. Dunaj has terminal leukemia, and had decided to take a trip to Hawaii -- an "end of life" trip, as she called it. She tried to make sure her journey, starting with her flight out of Seattle, Washington, would be as easy as possible. She called the airline and requested that a wheelchair be ready, and she even asked how she should pack her vast supply of medication.
However, all of her planning fell apart when she reached the security checkpoint at Sea-Tac airport. For some reason, the machines couldn't identify her saline bags, so an agent was forced to open one, contaminating the contents.
When Dunaj was pulled aside for a pat-down, she asked for privacy, but was told her current location, out in the open in front of crowds of people, was "fine." As Dunaj was searched, agents asked her to lift up her clothes and peel back bandages covering vital fluid tubes and wounds from recent surgeries.
The worst thing about it, Dunaj says, is that she knew her condition may have caused confusion. She tried to make it easier and still feels as if the situation was mishandled.
"It shouldn't happen that way," she told KOMO News. "They should be more respectful of people."
A spokeswoman for the TSA told the station no person should be denied a request for a private pat-down with a witness present, and that TSA agents are "trained to perform pat-downs in a dignified manner." The TSA also said its website urges people with special needs and conditions to contact the agency directly, and that it is investigating the incident.
Dunaj finally did get to enjoy the trip with family and friends that, for her, was quite literally a trip of a lifetime. Her only regret is that her journey got off to such an unfortunate start.
"When somebody wants to take a trip, especially what I call an 'end-of-life trip' because you want to see your family and friends, then it becomes more important than just taking a trip," she told KOMO.
The relationship between air travel and security is constantly evolving, and a lot of times it is hard to keep up even if you don't have bags and bottles of medications to look after. What do you think of Dunaj's situation? How can professionals in the travel industry ensure both safety and dignity for passengers with special needs?