I’m dreading my upcoming holiday travels. I can handle the transcontinental flights, the bad plane food, and the jet lag. What bothers me most, however, are the airport security lines. Several times a day, for four days out of my holiday break, I’ll be asked to remove my sweatshirt, my shoes, my hat, my jewelry. I’ll be asked to put my hands out to the side, while I’m wanded. I’ll be patted down while dozens of people behind me in line watch.
No one says it better then Maureen Dowd in Hiding Breast Bombs. Also, check out this article: Many Women Say Airport Pat-Downs Are a Humiliation. (If you don’t subscribe to the NY Times, the text to the articles is below.)
What are your thoughts on the changing face of air travel?
New York Times, November 25, 2004
Hiding Breast Bombs
By MAUREEN DOWD
It always makes me feel slimy and humiliated, as though I'm in one of those cheesy women-in-prison movies, with titles like "Caged," "Slammer Girls" or "Reform School Girls."
First you have to strip, unzipping your boots, unbuckling your belt and unbuttoning your suit jacket while any guys standing around watch. Then you have to walk around in some flimsy top and stocking or bare feet. Then you have to assume the spread-eagled position. Then a beefy female security agent runs her hands all the way around your breasts, in between, underneath - again with guys standing around staring.
Flying on business, I've gone through this embarrassing tableau two dozen times in airports all over the country in the last couple of months. I've been searched more than Martha Stewart. I watched a Transportation Security Administration screener brusquely insist that my friend take off her blazer even though she had on only lingerie underneath - a see-through camisole - and the man behind her was leering.
Airport screening procedures are more reactive than imaginative. There's an attempted shoe bombing, so all passengers must shed their shoes. Two female Chechens may or may not have sneaked explosives onto Russian planes, so now some T.S.A. genius decides all women are subject to strips and body searches.
I get flagged for extra security every time I buy a one-way ticket, which seems particularly lame. Doesn't the T.S.A. realize that a careful terrorist plotter like Mohammed Atta could figure this out and use his Saudi charity money to pop for round trips even if the return portion gets wasted?
In two articles in The Times, Joe Sharkey has chronicled the plaints of women angry about new procedures in airport security that have increased both the number and intensity of the airport pat-down, or "breast exam," as one woman put it.
He described the experience of Patti LuPone, the singer and actress, at the Fort Lauderdale airport, who resisted taking off her shirt and got barred from her flight, and of 71-year-old Jenepher Field, who walks with the aid of a cane, being subjected to a breast pat-down at the airport outside Kansas City, Mo. (Do we have intelligence telling us that grandmothers are part of Al Qaeda now?)
Even a stripper complained in an e-mail message to Mr. Sharkey that she found her experiences degrading: "On one occasion a screener flat out asked if they were fake."
Somebody tell me what quantity of explosive material they have found through these strip searches, because I've got a hunch it's zero. How many billions are they wasting on this?
Maybe we're not at the Philip K. Dick level of technology yet. But how about some positive profiling? If airport security can have a watch list for the bad guys, why can't it develop a watch list for the good guys? Can't there be a database of trustworthy American frequent travelers who are not going to secrete things in their bras? After all, no one is going to sneak anything in there without our knowledge. Can they at least get a screen?
I know it's not just women who are uncomfortable; a guy I know said a male screener at the
Barry Steinhardt of the A.C.L.U. told Court TV that the new procedures are not only "an open invitation for harassment" - there are not enough female screeners, so sometimes men are doing the pat-downs of women - but they're also "not particularly effective."
I've never wanted to complain because I assume there are inconveniences that go along with greater security. But I would feel less creepy if I thought this were part of an effective overall strategy of protecting the country. I don't.
Iraqis draining money we should be spending protecting ourselves. Only 3 to 5 percent of containers coming into ports are checked, and only a tiny percentage of air, rail and truck cargo is inspected. Congress is turning homeland security money into another avenue of pork.
New York Times November 23, 2004
AirportPat-Downs Are a Humiliation
By JOE SHARKEY
Heather L. Maurer, a business executive from Washington, had a similar experience at Logan Airport in Boston recently. And a few weeks ago, Jenepher Field, 71, who walks with the aid of a cane, was subjected to a breast pat-down at the airport outside Kansas City, Mo.
These women and a good many others, both frequent and occasional travelers, say they are furious about recent changes in airport security that have increased both the number and the intensity of pat-downs at the nation's 450 commercial airports. And they are not keeping quiet.
In dozens of interviews, women across the country say they were humiliated by the searches, often done in view of other passengers, and many said they had sharply reduced their air travel as a result.
The new security policies on body searches were put into practice in mid-September, after a terrorist attack in Russia a few weeks before that destroyed two planes, killing 90 people. Two Chechen women were thought to have carried nonmetallic explosives onto the planes, officials said. It is not known whether the explosives were hidden in the women's clothing, or whether the women merely boarded unimpeded, carrying the explosives.
But the Transportation Security Administration in the United States
The agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security, declined to break down the percentage of searches conducted by gender, but a spokeswoman said it did not treat women differently from men under the policy. While some men have complained about the groping nature of the searches, women object the most. Several women interviewed said that male colleagues had scoffed at their complaints, saying that a physical pat-down was a small price to pay for security.
"I laugh when men tell me that," said Betty Spence, president of the National Association for Female Executives, who says she has been selected for pat-downs several times in the last month on trips from
She said she had switched to driving whenever she could.
Amy Von Walter, a spokeswoman for the Transportation Security Administration, said: "The pat-downs were put in place to address T.S.A.'s abilities to detect explosives at the checkpoint. That was a key recommendation by the 9/11 Commission."
With such a new procedure, she said, the agency expected complaints. So far, it has received about 250, with the numbers trending downward in recent weeks, she said.
None of the complaints have been resolved so far nor have any penalties been imposed.
But dozens of women are now publicly sharing their experiences of being examined in uncomfortable ways, suggesting that the complaints were more widespread than the official count.
As many as 15 percent of the estimated two million daily passengers are chosen for secondary screenings, including pat-downs, Ms. Von Walter said, and these do not count people who set off metal detectors when passing through security, who are automatically wanded.
Under the previous rules, travelers were randomly selected for secondary screenings or taken aside if they set off metal detectors. Security would ask travelers to remove their shoes and coats, and then use a magnetometer to scan their bodies. Carry-ons were inspected by hand.
With the new rules, security personnel are given more latitude to select whomever they want for secondary screenings, whenever they want, and to conduct more intrusive pat-downs and more thorough examinations of carry-on bags. In both cases, travelers have the right to seek a private area, and women can request female inspectors.
A provision in the new rules - which says that a screener's "visual observation" of a passenger is enough to order a secondary screening - seems to single out women, something that many women searched attribute to a belief that bras are good places to conceal nonmetallic explosives.
The provision states, "T.S.A. policy is that screeners are to use the back of the hand when screening sensitive body areas, which include the breasts (females only), genitals and buttocks."
At the Fort Lauderdale airport on Nov. 5, Ms. LuPone says she removed her shirt after vehemently protesting, revealing the thin, see-through camisole that she was wearing. Next, she was given a pat-down by a screener who, she said, "was all over me with her hands," including touching her groin area and breasts.
Ms. LuPone said she demanded an explanation. "We don't want another Russiato happen," she said one of the screeners told her.
Nancy Davis Kho, a financial data developer from
Lu Chekowsky, an advertising executive from Portland, Ore., said her cosmetics case set off the alarm at the airport there a couple of months ago. Since then, she says, she has been patted down so many times that she has taken to wearing baggy trousers, flip-flops and a big sweatshirt to make the procedure less onerous.
"Routinely, my breasts are being cupped, my behind is being felt," Ms. Chekowsky said. "And I feel I can't fight it. If I were to say anything, I picture myself being shipped off to Guantánamo."
Male screeners can do the pat-downs when female screeners are not available, but female passengers have the option of waiting until a woman can be found.
Ms. Maurer, the executive from Washington, reluctantly agreed to a search by a male security officer when a woman was not available. After he gave her a full body pat-down, she said, "he lifted my shirt and looked down the back of my pants.''
"I said, 'I am really uncomfortable having you feel me up,' but I basically had no choice. It was either that or miss my flight."
Ms. Von Walter said that complaints made to the security agency about pat-downs declined to 11 in the second week of November from 45 the week that the policy went into effect, for a total of 248. She said it was "fair to assume there would be an increase in complaints, given the new procedures."
But Jen McSkimming, a manager with a domestic airline, said the numbers were "severely underreporting" the extent of the problem. She said she was recently at an industry meeting attended by a senior representative of the security agency who said, when the issue of pat-downs was raised, "Well, I only get about 15 complaints a week on this."
Ms. McSkimming said about half of the 30 people at the meeting were women and she asked the group how many women had had a bad experience with the new procedures. "Every single woman raised their hand,'' she said. "So I told him, 'Well, you'd better add 15 to this week's total.' "
Most of the women interviewed said they did not make formal complaints, most saying that they assumed it would be futile to do so. Ms. Maurer said she and some other women she had spoken to are wary of complaining in writing, both because of the presumed futility and from fear of being singled out when they travel in the future.
"There is this thing about putting your name out there," she said. "Am I going to end up on some kind of list?" The complaint procedure described on the federal agency's Web site, www.tsa.gov, says that passengers with "positive feedback or concerns" should speak with an airport screener supervisor or call a customer service hot line.
So far, the protests have been mostly rumblings, but Norman Siegel, a prominent New Yorkcivil rights lawyer, has been retained by Rhonda L. Gaynier, who said she recently decided to go public with her objections to routinely receiving "a breast exam in public" at airports. He has assembled a legal team to research grounds for a class-action lawsuit.
Some women say they have changed their travel clothing and made other adjustments to prepare for the checkpoint experience. Nancy Jackson, president of a global company in New York that sells interior finishes, recently bought a supply of white dress blouses because she is routinely requested to remove her suit jacket at the airport. She has also learned not to express her objections.
If you do, she said, "They really feel you up, and then check every section of your wallet and every item in your carry-on, including your makeup and toiletries; it's disgusting."
Oakland, Calif., said, "They're totally overlooking the need to preserve a person's dignity." Ms. Kho said she was mortified at La Guardia Airport in New York on Sept. 28, when a female screener patted her down, "running her hands under bra straps and just about everywhere else," while other passengers gawked.
to Chicago, Washington and Miami on various airlines. "Men don't know how offensive it is to be touched by anyone when you don't want to be touched."
, already worried that metal detectors could not pick up nonmetallic explosives, issued new regulations requiring airport screeners to conduct more frequent and more intense secondary searches and pat-downs.
airport, Patti LuPone, the singer and actress, recalled, she was instructed to remove articles of clothing. "I took off my belt; I took off my clogs; I took off my leather jacket," she said. "But when the screener said, 'Now take off your shirt,' I hesitated. I said, 'But I'll be exposed.' " When she persisted in her complaints, she said, she was barred from her flight.
is still making fuzzy ads telling people to have a plan of action and referring them to his Web site, which hasn't gotten much beyond duct tape.
airport recently stuck a hand down the front of his pants, making him feel "totally manhandled." And I heard the sad tale of a red-faced Washingtonbusinessman who took off his shoes, only to show the room the red painted toenails he had forgotten to wipe off.