|Fliers Complain About X-Rated Security Screenings
TSA Agents Forced Woman To Remove Nipple Rings, Pulled Pants Off Disabled Man
CBS 2 | Jul 22, 2008, 2008
When travelers go to the airport, they know what kind of security to expect: luggage searches, metal detectors and shoe inspections.
It's all part of our post 9-11 reality enforced by the Transportation Security Adminstration. But as CBS 2 Investigator Pam Zekman reports, thousands of travelers have complained that some of these screenings can become abusive and even x-rated.
For arguing with a TSA agent, Robin Kassner wound up being slammed to the floor. She's filed a lawsuit.
"I kept begging them over and over again get off of me ... and they wouldn't stop," Kassner said.
And it wasn't enough for another woman to show TSA agents nipple rings that set off a metal detector. The agents forced her to take them out.
Mandi Hamlin said, "I had to get pliers and pull it apart."
In Chicago, people like Robert Perry are subjected to exhaustive security checks. He was patted down, his wheel chair was examined and his hands were swabbed, all in public view in a see-through room at the security checkpoint. Perry, 71, is not alone
"It's humiliation," Perry said.
Perry was also taken to a see-through room by a TSA agent when his artificial knee set off the metal detector.
"He yelled at me to get the belt off. 'I told you to get the belt off.' So I took the belt off. He ran his hands down over and pulled the pants down, they went down around my ankle," Perry said.
At that point, Perry was standing in his underwear in public view. He asked to see a supervisor. That made things worse.
"She was yelling 'I have power, I have power, I have power," Perry said. The power to stop him from flying to Florida with his wife that day to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.
"It makes you feel like you have no rights," Perry said.
Perry said he always alerts TSA agents about his metal knee and wonders why they can't just check his leg.
"If somebody told me that I would save the people on the airplane by taking my pants off out in public out there, I wouldn't mind doing it, but this was not necessary," Perry said.
TSA officials said that when the metal detectors go off, their agents must resolve what caused the alarm. But experts have said it's important to use common sense when balancing security and customer service.
Carlos Villarreal, former director of security for the Sears Tower, said proper training is crucial. "When you're wanding somebody and you can identify which part of the body set of the alarm, that should be sufficient to clear a person," Villarreal said.
But all too often, it's not enough for 16-year old Michael Angone. She frequently flies as a member of the Chicago Children's Choir.
"I've had to completely take my pants off and show them like my entire leg," Angone said.
As a baby, Angone was diagnosed with cancer. Her parents, both Chicago police officers, had to have her leg amputated. She said she always warns TSA security agents that her prosthetic leg will set off the metal detector, but many insist on doing an embarrassing full body pat-down.
"I feel like I'm being felt up in public," Angone said.
Her father Bob Angone wanted to know, "What's the reason for all the feeling up, you know the groping at the back of the neck, the chest, underneath the bra, all the groping on her body, her buttocks?"
CBS 2 News asked the TSA those questions, but got no answers.
"The key word here is reasonable, and they have gone off the track. They are not reasonable," Bob Angone said.
The TSA declined to comment on the Angone and Perry cases, but the agency has announced that soon, passengers who set off an alarm that cannot be resolved will have a choice: Agree to a physical pat-down or what some believe is an even worse invasion of privacy.
This fall, O'Hare International Airport will get its first advanced digital x-ray machine. It allows TSA agents to see through clothes and discover any hidden weapons. Critics have likened it to a virtual strip search.
A spokesman said that out of 2 billion passengers screened nationwide since 9-11, there have been only 110,000 abuse complaints.
As for the nipple ring case, TSA did change its procedures regarding body piercings.