FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 25, 2012
AT SENATE JUDICIARY HEARING, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY JANET NAPOLITANO SAYS SHE ‘ABSOLUTELY’ SUPPORTS SCHUMER’S CALL FOR PASSENGER ADVOCATES AT NATION’S AIRPORTS AND ANNOUNCES TSA MOVING TOWARD IMPLEMENTATION OF PROGRAM
U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer announced that Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, today at a judiciary oversight hearing, “absolutely” endorsed his call for passenger advocates to be put in place at our nation’s airports. Secretary Napolitano also announced that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is moving toward putting in place passenger advocates at major airports across the nation, administratively. Napolitano’s endorsement of the idea comes after Schumer and Senator Collins introduced legislation last month known as the RIGHTs Act, that would mandate Passenger Advocates at the nation’s busiest airports who could be summoned by travelers to hear their concerns if they feel they have been inappropriately treated by TSA agents.
“I believe that while it is critical to ensure fliers’ safety, we must also secure their privacy and dignity with dedicated passenger advocates at our major airports. I am thrilled that Secretary Napolitano so enthusiastically agrees and is having the TSA move toward that goal,” said Schumer. “Passenger Advocates will offer a solution to the many troubling reports we’ve been receiving from airline travelers, providing a safety net for those who feel they have been treated in an inappropriate or humiliating manner during the security screening process. I thank Secretary Napolitano for her support and am hopeful we can see these advocates put in place as soon as possible.”
Complaints over TSA screening procedures range from inappropriate and harassing behavior toward female passengers undergoing body scans, to obstacles for female passengers boarding planes because of a lack of female officers for pat downs, to a more recent report that says a female passenger wasn’t allowed to bring empty baby bottles and was forced to use a breast pump in a public bathroom in order to carry the baby bottles on the plane. 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 voluntarily implement passenger advocates at airports. Thus far, the TSA has failed to do. In light of these recent incidents and TSA’s continued unwillingness to give passengers a voice at our nation’s airports, Schumer announced in February he would be introducing legislation to compel it. Senator Collins has agreed to be the lead co-sponsor that legislation.
Today, in the judiciary oversight hearing, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano endorsed Schumer’s call, saying she “absolutely” agreed with the idea and that cross training TSA agents to be passenger advocates is something she supports and the TSA is currently moving toward.
The Schumer-Collins bill, the Restoring Integrity and Good-Heartedness in Traveler Screening Act (RIGHTS Act), would specifically:
Require the TSA Ombudsman’s office to play a more proactive role in soliciting and recording complaints from the general public regarding screening practices at TSA by establishing a Passenger Advocate program.
· Require every Category X airport 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 best practices to resolve frequent public complaints and conduct training of TSA officers to resolve frequently occurring passenger complaints.
· Resolve passenger complaints in real-time at airports.
· And field advance notification calls from individuals with medical conditions or disabilities to pre-arrange for a screening process at the airport that ensures the safety of the flight without causing undue hardship for the disabled passenger.