2012-03-02 / Top Stories

TSA Passenger Advocates Needed


U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer announced that he was introducing legislation that will require the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to post Passenger Advocates at every airport in the country. Schumer’s call comes on the heels of the latest reports of yet more allegedly inappropriate behavior by TSA officers, particularly with respect to female passengers. The complaints include inappropriate and harassment during body scans and a lack of female officers for pat downs.

In December, in response to three separate incidents in which elderly women claimed to have been inappropriately searched at a security checkpoint at JFK Airport, Schumer called on the TSA to employ passenger advocates at airports. Thus far, the TSA has refused to do so.

Many passengers have lodged complaints with the TSA claiming that officers subjected them to inappropriate, suggestive and sexual behavior by forcing them to walk through body scanners multiple times. According to a CBS 2 New York report, a female passenger at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, claimed that TSA officers forced her to walk through an airport body scanner three times for the purpose of seeing her image through the full body scanner. According to the passenger, she was asked if she played tennis because of her ‘cute’ figure. In the same report, a number of women have made similar complaints about TSA officers subjecting them to repeated body scans, for inappropriate and suggestive purposes. The TSA issued a flat denial that any inappropriate behavior had taken place.

In December, three elderly women came forward claiming they were stripsearched by TSA officers at JFK airport. Following the passengers’ complaints, TSA officials immediately denied that strip-searches took place. In January, however, the TSA admitted that they were wrong, and that screeners had violated standard practice by forcing one of the women to show security agents her colostomy bag and by forcing another woman to have her back brace scanned.

In response to the original allegations, Schumer called on the TSA to voluntarily designate an on-duty passenger advocate at airports who can be summoned by passengers and would be responsible for resolving disputes between passengers and agents over screening procedures. Under the Schumer plan, the TSA would train existing officers in how to resolve disputes between passengers and agents and require the agency to have one TSA officer designated as the on-duty passenger advocate. Despite the TSA’s admission of inappropriate behavior, the TSA has so far refused to implement Schumer’s plan for a passenger advocate.

In response to these additional reports and the TSA’s failure to voluntarily put in place passenger advocates, Schumer has announced he was introducing the Restoring Integrity and Good-Heartedness in Traveler Screening (RIGHTS) Act. The law would:

 Require the TSA establish an “ffice for Passenger Support within the agency that would solicit and record complaints regarding screening practices;

 Require every airport where TSA operates to have at least one TSA Passenger Advocate on-duty at all times;

 Mandate every airport where TSA operates have clearly visible signage at each gate explaining that a TSA passenger advocate can be summoned if a passenger believes that a TSA employee has mistreated them on the basis of a medical condition, disability, age, race, color, religion, sex and national origin.

 Establish practices to resolve frequent public complaints and conduct training of TSA officers;

 Resolve passenger complaints in realtime at airports.

 Establish advance notification procedures for individuals with medical conditions or disabilities to prearrange for a screening process at the airport. This will avoid undue hardship for the disabled passenger while ensuring the safety of the flight.

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