According to the TSA website, “water guns, toy guns, toy swords and other items that resemble real firearms or other weapons” are allowed in checked baggage, but may not be allowed on board a plane.
An incident at Memphis (Tennessee) International Airport on Saturday left a Crestview woman embarrassed and angry and her 9-year-old daughter in tears.
Sherry Neiman said she and her daughter, Maureen, had flown from Pensacola to Memphis for her daughter’s taekwondo tournament. Maureen competes in tournaments across the country.
For the tournament in Memphis, Neiman said her daughter needed a plastic sword for the competition. She said she was allowed to board the plane from Pensacola to Memphis with the plastic sword, but ran into problems when the pair attempted to take the sword back home.
“At the Pensacola airport, the supervisor came over, looked at the sword and said, ‘It’s okay, you can fly with it,’” Neiman said. “So we fly to Memphis, we do the tournament, we’re coming home from Memphis, and the TSA … stops us and my daughter’s sword was confiscated.”
Neiman said the supervisor told her and her daughter that the TSA prohibits plastic swords from airplanes.
According to the TSA website, “water guns, toy guns, toy swords and other items that resemble real firearms or other weapons” are allowed in checked baggage, but may not be allowed on board a plane. The website adds that the final call “rests with TSA on whether to allow any items on the plane.”
But Neiman contended that her daughter’s sword was not a toy, it was a learning instrument. She also said she was angry that the sword was allowed on the flight from Pensacola to Memphis, but not on the flight home.
TSA spokeswoman Sari Koshetz said the organization stands by the decision not to allow the sword on the plane.
“Typically, martial arts tools are not allowed in the cabin of an aircraft, and weapons, including replica weapons, are not allowed,” she said. “There may have been an allowance by the officer on one side of the trip, as there’s a certain amount of officer discretion, but typically anything that can be used as a weapon or a replica weapon is not permitted in the cabin of an aircraft, and passengers should be checking those items.”
Maureen, a fourth-grader in the gifted program at Walker Elementary School in Crestview, said she was sad to have had her sword taken from her.
“It made me feel robbed of my property,” Maureen said. “It doesn’t make me feel good because that was my first (sword), and it was just the right size.”
Additionally, Neiman said that the TSA agent would not mail the sword to her home in Crestview, and that she was singled out for a pat-down after the incident.
“It’s completely unfair. We’re innocent. We’re obviously no threat at all to anybody, a middle-aged woman and her 9-year-old daughter,” Neiman said. “It was embarrassing. I felt sorry for my daughter. They actually stole her property. That was hers, and they stole it. And the woman (TSA agent), she touched every part of my body. And that’s humiliating.”
Koshetz, the TSA spokeswoman, said that as a matter of policy, the TSA does not mail back items to passengers because “it would be a waste of taxpayer money” to do so for every barred item a passenger did not check. She added that the pat down Neiman received would not have been related to the sword incident.
“Our pat downs, when necessary, are always done in a respectable, sensitive way, and if anybody wants to request a pat down in a private way, they can do so,” Koshetz said. “And (Neiman’s pat down) would not have been related to the item, it would have been related to another reason.”
Neiman said she wrote letters to U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, U.S. Sen. Senator Marco Rubio and President Donald Trump about her ordeal. In addition, she said she would like an apology from the TSA agent and reimbursement for the $50 sword, and would like to see the TSA dismantled and replaced with a private security firm.
Gaetz, a Republican from Fort Walton Beach, said he would share Neiman’s story with fellow members of Congress.
“First of all, the laws and rules that govern our conduct need to be reliable and equally enforced. Here, that didn’t happen, and it was a mistake,” Gaetz said. “Many Americans have expressed concerns about the TSA, and Congress continues to hold hearings on accountability and oversight. I’ll share this constituents’ story with my colleagues.
“Hopefully we can find a way to protect the country without unnecessarily impairing people’s lives,” he added.