TSA says New York Post columnist Phil Mushnick was mistaken when he reported witnessing a TSA scam during a trip at the Newark airport.
Mushnick says while waiting in a long check-in line, a woman wearing a TSA uniform came down the line pushing a wheelchair and asking in a “thick non-English accent” if anyone needed assistance in exchange for money.
"No one responded. But she nonetheless made it clear that one didn't need to be disabled for her to assist one of us, that she was available. Stopping, she even insisted that any one of us hop in."
Mushnick says he dared a friend he was traveling with to take the offer to see what happened. When the friend sat down in the wheel chair, they were escorted all the way to the front of the line, circumventing about an hour of waiting. Once at the front of the line the woman told the travelers, “I take care of you, now you take care of me.”
"As suspected. She was working a hustle,” he wrote.
Mushnick goes on to say the TSA screeners at the front of the line had no problem with it and even seemed familiar with the woman. “I was paying off a uniformed TSA worker officer for privileged access…This uniformed airport security officer wasn't on the lookout for suspicious characters or even infirm passengers, she was on the lookout for extra cash,” he wrote.
“Blogger Bob,” one of the writers for TSA’s online blog wrote a post today after reviewing video of the incident to hopefully clear up what Mushnick thought was a TSA ploy to scam travelers out of money.
Bob says the person the writer was dealing with was a skycap. “Skycaps are porters who assist passengers, some often in wheelchairs,” he said – which is why transportation officers would have been familiar with the lady. “They work for tips and their uniforms do not resemble those of a TSO. In fact, many skycaps wear hats as TSOs do not."
“It’s standard procedure for people using wheelchairs to be brought to the front of the line where the Americans with Disabilities Act gates are located,” he continued.
Bob said while he’s often seen officers go out of their way to help passengers with disabilities, TSA’s main focus is security. If a passenger needs assistance while in line, he says they should ask their airline about the availability of their skycap service.
Which leads one to ask, why did Mushnick get mad that he was expected to tip, but didn’t feel bad using services obviously designated for people with disabilities?
A call to Mushnick by Security Management was not immediately returned.
See a follow up to this story here.
photo of a skycap at the Tampa airport by kendrickmeekdotcom/flickr