FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 13, 2012
SCHUMER TO INTRODUCE LEGISLATION MANDATING PASSENGER ADVOCATES AT TSA CHECK POINTS
Recent Troubling Reports Raise Concern Over Inappropriate and Suggestive Screening of Women by TSA Agents; New Complaints Come on Heels of Concerns Raised By Seniors About Overly Invasive, Embarrassing Screening Procedures
Schumer Legislation Would Mandate Passenger Advocates, On- Site, At Every Airport to Ensure that Passengers Have Access to Point of Contact Mediator, to Raise and Efficiently Resolve Concerns
Schumer: Since the TSA Won’t Voluntarily Put in Place Passenger Advocates, We’ll Mandate They Do
U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today announced that he was introducing legislation this week that will mandate that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) post Passenger Advocates at every airport in the country who can be summoned by passengers to hear their concerns if they feel they’ve been inappropriately treated by transportation security officers. 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 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. 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 refused to do so. In light of these recent incidents and TSA’s continued unwillingness to give passengers a voice at our nation’s airports, Schumer announced today he will be introducing legislation this week that will require the TSA to post passenger advocates at our nation’s airports.
“These latest incidents offer further proof that passengers need an onsite point of contact who they can bring grievances to and who can advocate on their behalf when they feel they are being treated unfairly or inappropriately,” said Schumer. “Going through security at our nation’s airports should not be a humiliating or degrading experience. Because the TSA has refused to put passenger advocates at our nation’s airports, today I’m introducing legislation that would force them to do so.”
According to a recent report, multiple 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, claims that TSA officers forced her to walk through an airport body scanner three times for the purposes of merely seeing her image through the full body scanner. According to the passenger, a female officer assisted two TSA screeners located in another room, in subjecting the passenger to multiple scans allegedly because the passenger was deemed attractive. According to the passenger, at one point, she was asked if she played tennis because of her ‘cute’ figure. According to the same Channel 2 report, a number of women have made similar complaints about TSA officers subjecting them to repeated body scans, for inappropriate and suggestive purposes. In response to these complaints, the TSA issued a flat denial that any inappropriate behavior had taken place.
The TSA disputed similar complaints over inappropriate searches after three older women using a JFK airport complained of mistreatment, only to later apologize. In December, three elderly women came forward claiming they were strip-searched by TSA officers at JFK airport. The passengers who came forward with complaints of TSA agents’ conduct towards them were only able to report their concerns after the fact because, currently, there is no designated TSA agent to handle passengers’ complaints of how they are treated while going through security. Following the passengers’ complaints, TSA officials, at the word of their employees, immediately denied that strip-searches took place without conducting an extensive review of the facts. In January, however, the TSA admitted that they were wrong, and that the screeners had violated standard practice by forcing one of the women to show security agents her colostomy bag and violated rules by forcing another woman to have her back brace scanned.
In response to the original allegations, in December, 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 dispute resolution and require the agency to have one TSA officer designated as the on-duty passenger advocate to assist fliers with concerns and complaints at all airports. 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 announced that he was introducing legislation this week to mandate that the TSA place passenger advocates at all of the nation’s airports. Schumer’s legislation, the Restoring Integrity and Good-Heartedness in Traveler Screening Act, the RIGHTS Act, would specifically:
· Require the TSA establish an “Office for Passenger Support” within the agency that would solicit and record complaints from the general public regarding screening practices at TSA.
· 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 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.
“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,” continued Schumer. “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.”