Thursday’s chilly temperatures didn’t prevent a warm reception for an Alaska legislator who took a four-day ferry trip instead of a 2 1/2-hour airplane ride after she refused to submit to a full-body patdown from TSA agents.
“I tell you, I’ve never had such a hard time getting here,” Rep. Sharon Cissna, D-Anchorage, said shortly after walking up the ramp from the ferry Matanuska to the parking lot at the Auke Bay Ferry Terminal.
Cissna, a breast-cancer survivor who has had a mastectomy and was in Seattle for medical treatment, was selected by TSA agents for the enhanced search as she tried to board a Juneau-bound flight from Seattle on Sunday evening. She said she’d undergone a similar search in a previous trip through the Pacific Northwest travel hub, and shortly thereafter decided she would not submit to the procedure again.
While discussing her refusal with Transportation Security Agency employees, she said she became secure in knowing she had done the right thing by refusing to undergo the search.
“I made a decision, and I didn’t know whether or not I was going to be able to do it, but I did,” she said. “And, these people were trying to tell me how important it was that I be molested, to save everyone, and that I should be proud (to be) felt up.”
During her conversation with TSA, Cissna said she realized her fight was going to move beyond a personal one and into something bigger, she said. Many people she talked to on her return ferry trip expressed their own concerns about security measures in use today at airports, she said.
“We have people who are accidentally being abused ... and that’s what’s were working on,” Cissna said.
That work will include an attempt to pass a resolution in the Legislature next week “that essentially lays out what we need to do” to address those concerns, she said.
Teresa Gilbert cheered Cissna with a sign that read “Welcome Home Sharon” and was adorned with both American and Alaskan flags. Gilbert said TSA detained her father, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease and needs a wheelchair to get around, for 45 minutes.
It was “exhausting for him, and I don’t think people should be put through that,” she said.
Tim Sturgess also welcomed Cissna to Juneau, and said he hoped her ordeal would encourage more people to use the Alaska Marine Highway System for travel. Sturgess is Alaska’s regional director for the Inlandboatmen’s Union, the group that represents AMHS’ unlicensed crew.
“I know a lot of people who have the same feelings she does, but they have to fly, they have to get some place in a hurry,” he said. “It’s your only option, so you have to go through it. I’m just glad that somebody actually stood up and said no.”
Sturgess, however, expressed concern enhanced security measures would eventually spread to other modes of transportation, such as ferries.
Alaska’s Republican Party crossed the aisle this week to lend support to Cissna’s protest.
“This kind of treatment of a breast cancer survivor is appalling,” said Alaska Republican Party Chairman Randy Ruedrich. “Safety and security are undeniably important, especially during air travel. There are lines of basic civility and dignity, however, that Americans should not be willing to allow the government cross. The actions of the TSA here have clearly crossed the line. I call on all Alaska Republicans to show full support for Rep. Cissna in this matter.”
Cissna said she will return to Seattle next month for another health screening, although she is “absolutely cancer-free.” She will fly from Alaska to Seattle because Alaska’s commercial airports only have metal detectors, she said, However, the TSA’s website says even an alarm from a metal detector can trigger a pat-down procedure.
Cissna’s return trip will be a mix of ferry travel and non-commercial flights, she said, a process she will work to streamline for Alaskans who have no choice but to travel by air or water.
“This is an adventure, in terms of trying to get to Alaska without the major airlines and without invasive screening,” she said.
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