The slogan for the tiny Sweetwater County Airport in Rock Springs, Wyo., is “Imagine all the places you could go.”
But on Jan. 29, Jennifer Winning of Littleton, Colo., couldn’t fly anywhere.
“They wouldn’t let me get on the plane because I’m female,” Winning told FOX31 in Denver.
Winning told the TV station that she arrived at the security checkpoint at least 30 minutes before the scheduled departure of her United Express flight (operated by SkyWest) to Denver, but was informed by a Transportation Security Administration employee that she couldn’t be screened because the security checkpoint had been closed and that all the female agents were off duty. If Winning needed a pat-down, there was no one available to perform it.
Winning said she offered to sign a waiver saying she’d allow a male agent to perform a pat-down, if needed, but that this option was not offered.
Instead of flying home — a trip that usually takes 1 hour and 20 minutes — Winning said she ended up renting a car and driving home, a more than 350-mile trip that takes close to six hours.
United spokesperson Michael Trevino said the airline’s policy at the Rock Springs airport is that domestic customers must have completed their check-in process at least 30 minutes before a flight and be at the gate at least 15 minutes prior to departure. (At larger airports, the cut-off time can be 45 minutes or longer.) “This customer did not attempt to begin the screening process until 27 minutes before the flight,” Trevino told msnbc.com.
In a statement, TSA said that while it works closely with airlines and airports to keep security checkpoints opened when needed, “Once TSA is informed by the airline that our screening services are no longer needed, the security checkpoint is closed. In this instance, SkyWest made final boarding announcements and notified TSA that no additional passengers would be accepted.”
TSA also said that, in this case, a TSA officer also made two public announcements asking any remaining passengers to report to the security checkpoint for screening.
TSA spokesperson Carrie Harmon told msnbc.com that in this case Winning simply got to the checkpoint too late to make her flight. “She wanted TSA to re-open a checkpoint to screen her. The airline had already informed us that the flight was closed, so even if we had brought back staff to screen her, she wouldn’t have been able to board.”
But Winning insists there was time.
"It wasn't that it was closed," Winning told msnbc.com. "I was told it was because there were no females on duty. It's just a faulty system and I fell through the crack."
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