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You know how annoying it is when you have to take off your shoes and your belt at the airport and then security touches you, and you just feel kind of uncomfortable? Well, Sen. Chuck Schumer feels your pain, and he hopes to make it a lot easier for passengers to complain.
With a new legislation proposal, Schumer is responding to some incidents that were actually a bit more serious than an uncomfortable touch. In December, three elderly women came forward with claims that they were strip-searched by Transportation Security Administration officers at JFK airport — and recent reports allege that TSA officials have inappropriately harassed women passing through security.
Let’s take Lenore Zimmerman, for example. She’s a tiny, 85-year-old Long Island grandmother who says she was brought into a private room and forced to take off her clothes on her way to a flight to Fort Lauderdale.
Or Ruth Sherman, 88, who said that TSA agents made her strip so they could inspect her colostomy bag.
Under Schumer’s proposal, TSA would be required to have a “passenger advocate” at every airport in the country who could be summoned by travelers if they feel that security officers have treated them inappropriately.
The senator first proposed the idea in December, but the TSA thus far has refused to implement any kind of passenger advocate, he said in a press release sent out yesterday. In his original push last year for reforms at the TSA, Schumer urged the TSA to train existing officers in dispute resolution.
But since the TSA has not made any such change yet, Schumer is now coming after them with his most powerful weapon — legislation with a catchy acronym!
The Restoring Integrity and Good-Heartedness in Traveler Screening Act, or RIGHTS Act, would mandate that TSA create these advocate positions. It would also require TSA to create an “Office for Passenger Support” within the agency that would solicit and record complaints from the public. Under the act, TSA would have to put up signs at each gate explaining passengers’ rights.
“This legislation will finally force the TSA to give passengers what they deserve: someone they can turn to, on-site, when they believe they are being mistreated during the screening process,” he said in the release. “While we must do everything we can to ensure the safety and security of our passengers, that is no excuse for TSA agents to act in ways that embarrass, harass, or make passengers uncomfortable.”
On top of the complaints that emerged from elderly women last year, Schumer cited new concerns over how TSA officials have been treating female passengers at security stops. Officers have harassed women undergoing body scans, and have faced obstacles boarding planes because of a lack of female officers for pat downs, he said.
One woman claimed that she was forced to walk through body scanners multiple times, because the TSA officials on site thought she was attractive. At one point, she was asked if she played tennis because of her “cute” figure. (And we thought taking out a laptop was annoying!)
We reached out to officials this morning who told us that the TSA does not comment on pending legislation. But spokesman Kawika Riley sent us an email outlining the current policies the TSA has in place.
TSA has always provided information and assistance to travelers through its TSA Contact Center and Customer Service Managers in its airports. A recently-initiated “TSA Cares” hotline now serves as an additional resource for passengers with disabilities, medical conditions or other circumstances who want to prepare for the screening process prior to flying, Riley said.
If you have a complaint, the TSA has a system in place, Riley noted. All travelers can contact TSA using “Talk To TSA,” a web-based tool that allows passengers to reach out to an airport Customer Service Manager directly, and the TSA Contact Center, 1-866-289-9673 and TSA-ContactCenter@dhs.gov. Travelers can ask questions, provide
suggestions, and file complaints.