Schumer calls for passenger advocate program to aid in complaints against TSA
By Michael Gormley,
ALBANY, N.Y. — Two New York lawmakers have called for a passenger advocate at airports to immediately act on complaints by passengers over security screenings.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer and state Sen. Michael Gianaris of Queens, both Democrats, want the Transportation Security Administration to create the position at all airports.
The proposal was prompted by an elderly woman’s recent claims that she was strip-searched by security officials at John F. Kennedy International Airport. The TSA denied the allegation, saying it does not conduct strip searches. Others have since made similar claims.
The TSA said Saturday that it is planning its own advocacy service.
“The Transportation Security Administration strives to provide the highest level of security while ensuring that all passengers are treated with dignity and respect,” the agency said Saturday. “TSA has programs in place for the screening of people with all types of disabilities and medical conditions and their associated equipment.”
TSA spokeswoman Kristin Lee said that senior agency executives had talked with several national groups that advocate for people with medical conditions after a woman reported that she had been stopped because of a bulge created by a colostomy bag.
Lee said that the TSA is planning to establish a toll-free telephone hotline in January for passengers who may need assistance during screening.
“This hotline will give passengers direct access to guidance and information specific to persons with disabilities or medical conditions, which they will be able to call prior to flying,” the TSA said. “Additionally, TSA regularly trains its workforce on how to screen travelers with disabilities and medical conditions and has customer service managers at most airports to answer questions and assist passengers.”
Under the Schumer-Gianaris proposal, an advocate could be summoned in person by passengers who feel they were inappropriately searched.
“While the safety and security of our flights must be a top priority, we need to make sure that flying does not become a fear-inducing, degrading and potentially humiliating experience,” Schumer said.
A week ago, an 85-year-old woman said she was injured and humiliated when she was strip-searched at the airport after she asked to be patted down instead of going through a body scanner, which she feared might interfere with her defibrillator.
Lenore Zimmerman said she was taken to a private room, where she said female agents made her take off her clothes. She said that she missed her flight and had to take one 2 1 / 2 hours later.
TSA officials said in a statement Saturday that no strip search had been conducted on Zimmerman.
“While we regret that the passenger feels she had an unpleasant screening experience, TSA does not include strip searches as part of our security protocols and one was not conducted in this case,” the TSA said.
“Private screening was requested by the passenger; it was granted and lasted approximately 11 minutes,” the TSA statement said. “TSA screening procedures are conducted in a manner designed to treat all passengers with dignity, respect and courtesy and that occurred in this instance.”
On Sunday, the TSA said that a misunderstanding had led to the removal of Zimmerman’s back brace. The TSA said the equipment had been mistaken for a money belt. Refresher courses are planned for JFK employees, the TSA said.
A review of closed-circuit television at the airport showed that proper procedures before and after the screening were followed, TSA spokesman Jonathan Allen said in a statement. The screening itself was not recorded.