Patdown protests growing among U.S. fliers
WASHINGTON A breast cancer survivor who was asked to remove her prosthesis for inspection. A woman who was “lifted off my heels” by an airport security screener during a groin search. Another woman who says she endured a “criminal sexual assault” by an officer who placed a hand inside her underwear.
The complaints about the U.S. Transportation Security Administration’s new security screening procedures have jumped dramatically over the past week as more American travelers feel frustrated — and violated — by full body scanners and more invasive physical patdowns at the nation’s airports.
But even as the U.S. heads into its busiest air travel period of the year — the annual Thanksgiving rush — the Obama administration on Friday said it has no plans to modify the security policy to mollify angry fliers.
“What we’re trying to do is address the latest intelligence about the threats we have, coupled with the privacy issues that people are rightfully concerned about,” John Pistole, the TSA administrator, said in a televised interview.
“Obviously, the bottom line is trying to ensure that everybody that gets on every flight can be assured with high confidence that everybody else on that flight has been properly screened.”
The TSA is bracing for the annual surge of Thanksgiving holiday air travel that, beginning this weekend, will see 1.3 million to 2.5 million people go through security screening every day through Nov. 28.
But the delays and long airport security lines that typify Thanksgiving travel threaten to be even worse now that TSA critics have designated Nov. 24 as National Opt-Out Day. Travelers who have privacy or safety concerns about “naked” x-ray body scanners, used at about 70 U.S. airports, are being urged to opt out of the screening next Wednesday.
The one thing that might derail the planned U.S. protest against full body scanners? Many travelers are even more offended by the “enhanced” patdown procedure they must undergo if they refuse to be scanned.
Under the new policy, which was introduced three weeks ago, TSA officers use a “handsliding motion” along a traveler’s thighs, groin, shoulder and chest areas. The officers alternate between using the palm of their hand on some body parts and the back of their hand on more sensitive areas.
Since the enhanced patdown procedure was introduced in the U.S., more than 2,000 travelers have filed complaints with the American Civil Liberties Union about searches they considered inappropriate.
In Grand Rapids, Mich., traveler Ella Swift was reduced to tears by a TSA agent after a patdown — which was conducted, the officer said, because she was wearing a skirt.
“The female officer ran her hand up the inside of my leg to my groin and she did it so hard and so rough she lifted me off my heels,” Swift told local media. “I think I yelped. I was in pain for about an hour afterwards.”
In St. Louis, businesswoman Penny Moroney said she was patted down aggressively when metal in her two artificial knees set off the airport’s metal detector. Moroney told KMOV TV the female TSA officer touched her breast, patted her genitals and “inserted her hands between my underwear and my skin.”