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TSA refuses to let stroke victim board flight because she can’t speak

Published time: April 11, 2014 21:12
Reuters/Kevork Djansezian

Reuters/Kevork Djansezian

You can get on an airplane with an expired driver’s license or even no ID at all, but not if you can’t say your own name. That’s the takeaway Sherry Wright discovered when helping her sister Heidi, who is unable to speak due to a stroke.

According to the Transportation Security Agency’s blog, “You’ll be able to fly as long as you provide us with some information that will help us determine you are who you say you are.” The TSA warns that not having a current ID (such as driver’s license or passport), you may face delays, but you should still be able to fly.

If you’re willing to provide some additional information, we have other means of substantiating your identity, such as using publicly available databases. If we can confirm your identity, you’ll be cleared to go through security, and you may or may not have to go through some additional screening.”

Heidi had an expired driver’s license. But Sherry said she was prepared.

“I showed her ID, her [Social Security card] and her DMV papers," she said to KABC. But the TSA agent she was dealing with at LAX wouldn’t take them. Sherry accused him of being rude and insensitive.

"He just wanted me to make my sister talk, and I couldn't believe it. I was like, 'Wow, we're going to make a miracle right now’,” she said. “I was just standing there, tears were coming out and I was like, 'Are you serious? We can't get her to talk'."

TSA officials deny that Heidi needed to speak to board her flight. They claim that her expired license was only a poor photocopy of said ID card.

“The photo on the California ID photocopy was so dark the face was indistinguishable,” an official with knowledge of the incident told the Daily Mail Online. The source said that the Social Security card was also a photocopy.

Heidi suffered from a stroke a decade ago. She planned to fly to Phoenix last Wednesday, where an older sister would begin caring for her. The older sister said she called the TSA beforehand to find out what steps Sherry and Heidi would need to take to get through security, and to alert them that a disabled passenger would be traveling.

A spokesman for LAX denies they were given advanced warning that a disabled passenger would need assistance, the Daily Mail reports.

TSA spokesman Nico Melendez told KABC that the agency regrets the incident, but didn’t go as far to apologize, and hinted that the family was partially to blame for the conflict.

“I think it could have been handled differently by the TSA and it probably could have been handled differently by the family, and hopefully moving forward the family won’t have this problem again, because they know about the programs that we have in place,” Melendez said.

Because she was denied from flying to Phoenix, Heidi had to take an eight-hour bus ride to the southwestern city. Sherry said she filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security.