A passenger who was passing through a security checkpoint at Greater Rochester International Airport in Monroe County, New York got a rude surprise when a security worker passed him a note, laughing as she did so and instructing him to open it.
The note read, “You’re ugly.”
Neal Strassner, who later said that when he passed through the security checkpoint he only had 10 minutes to get to his gate, said that the worker shouted at him after he passed by her, “You going to open the note?” He told WROC, “I got handed a note, I didn’t really think too much of it. I just kept going. I had 10 minutes to get to my gate. That’s kind of what I was focused on at the moment so I just I kept going. And the woman kind of called back to me, ‘Are you going to open that? Are you going to open it? Are you going to look?” or something like that.”
Strassner reported what had happened to a security supervisor. He said the incident had not upset him but he was concerned how others might react in a similar situation, explaining, “I’m assuming it was meant to be a joke. I don’t think she was maliciously trying to insult people, but you really don’t know if somebody was in that mindset, and they received that piece of paper. It would throw them back to a dark mental place … You really don’t know where somebody is in their head. They really could be in the worst spot ever and it’s like a smile would be great for that person, honestly you don’t have to throw an insult like that.”
Strassner said he filed a Freedom of Information request while he was at the airport but he only got access to the video of the incident more than a month later.
The airport worker, who was not an official employee of TSA or the Rochester airport, was employed by VMD Corp, a security company. TSA later said she had been fired, informing WROC, “TSA holds contractors to the highest ethical standards and has zero tolerance for this type of behavior. This instance, which involved a contract employee, was investigated immediately upon receiving the complaint by the traveler. The employee has since been terminated by the contractor.”
WROC noted that in the video of the incident, the woman who handed Strassner the note was shown beginning to write another note. Strassner emailed WROC, “I’m really curious what the other notes said. I travel a lot and the airport normally is spectacular. This was a totally weird event that they [VMD Corp.] seemed to handle properly. I travel a lot and just want to make sure they get some credit to their organization and don’t let one lady trash their whole reputation.”
Marketplace.org noted in 2016, “Here’s the deal with privatized security: the TSA is still in charge. It picks and manages the contractor that then has to follow TSA protocols — so, for instance, passengers still have to dump (or ‘divest’ as some in the airport industry like to say), their belongings into those little gray tubs.”