Lifestyle & Belief

Lawmakers: Use ‘passenger advocates’ to end humiliating TSA screenings


A screen shows Automated Target Recognition software installed in the advanced imaging technology unit at Miami International Airport in Miami, Fla.


Joe Raedle

Two New York lawmakers are requesting that the Transportation Security Administration assign passenger advocates to every airport to protect passengers from security screenings that are inappropriate.

“The ‘passenger advocate’ would immediately review whether there are more amicable, yet equally effective, methods for resolving disputes between passengers and agents than what is being proposed by the specific agent handling the security screening at the moment,” Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and state Sen. Michael Gianaris of Queens have explained in a letter to TSA administrator John Pistole and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The lawmakers’ request follows a string of complaints from passengers with medical conditions who claim they’ve been humiliated by aggressive searches. In late November, Lenore Zimmerman, 85, of Long Island, New York, said she was strip-searched at JFK Airport after she declined to walk through a scanning machine because of her heart defibrillator, Reuters reported. (The TSA denies a strip search occurred, Reuters reported.) In another recent incident, Ruth Sherman, 88, of Sunrise, Florida, was told to pull down her pants so security agents could confirm she was wearing a colostomy bag.

“While the safety and security of our flights is a paramount concern for us, the TSA, and for the American people, an appropriate circumstantial balance is necessary so that flying does not become a fear-inducing, degrading, and potentially humiliating experience for many of our most vulnerable Americans,” the lawmakers said, according to the LA Times.

In a post on the TSA blog, the agency implied that passenger advocates are not necessary, MSNBC reported. TSA said it would soon have an 800 number for travelers with disabilities and medical conditions. "Passengers will be able to call this number prior to flying to get guidance and information about screening, based on their needs,” TSA blogger Bob Burns wrote, according to MSNBC.

"Additionally, TSA regularly trains its workforce on how to screen travelers with disabilities or medical conditions and has customer service managers on hand at airports to answer questions and assist passengers."

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