U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) pushed the Transportation Security Administration to designate a “passenger advocate” who would help customers who feel they have been mishandled by agents at John F. Kennedy Airport Sunday.
The senators were joined by relatives of three elderly women who had reported being asked by TSA agents around Thanksgiving to disrobe before being able to board a plane.
“Right now, passengers who feel that their rights are about to be violated have nowhere to turn,” Schumer said in a statement, “but by training passenger advocates at each of our airports, the TSA can finally give passengers a voice.”
TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said in a statement that they would respond directly to the senators regarding their proposal.
“TSA currently has customer service representatives at most major airports, and has already announced plans to set up an 800 number as a resource for passengers with disabilities,” Farbstein said.
Gianaris and Schumer began their call for a “passenger advocate” after three women from New York state and Florida came forward with stories of being mishandled at JFK. They wrote a letter to U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and TSA Administrator John Pistole Sunday requesting this advocate be on call to settle disputes as they happen, rather than having passengers who feel they have been mishandled write a complaint later.
The legislators also want an investigation into the three women’s cases.
“The rules that exist today don’t allow for strip searches and that seems to be what has happened there,” Gianaris said.
A TSA official said they conducted an investigation of the three women’s cases and denied the women were strip-searched.
Ruth Sherman, 88, who lives in Sunrise, Fla., said she came to New York for Thanksgiving. Sherman wears a colostomy bag on her left side, and could not go through the scanner, so she was asked to go into another room and lower her sweatpants.
“I travelled a lot and nothing like that happened before,” Sherman said. “And I was violated, absolutely violated.”
On the same day, Lenore Zimmerman, 85, of Long Beach, N.Y., declined to go through the scanner because she has a heart defibrillator. She was taken into another room and allegedly asked to remove her blouse and undergarments.
Family members of Sherman and Zimmerman joined Gianaris and Schumer at the announcement Sunday.
After Zimmerman and Sherman came forward, Linda Kallish of Boynton, Fla., said TSA agents took her out of line and into another room after she said she is diabetic and has an insulin pump in her leg. She was allegedly asked to remove her pants in the other room.
The daughter of a 95-year-old woman, Lena Reppert, also reported that TSA allegedly agents kept her mother from getting a flight from Fort Walton Beach, Fla., to Detroit, saying her incontinence pad set off alarms.
Gianaris said security measures such as scanners and pat-downs are important but said the alleged incidents were out of bounds and defied common sense.
“These women have no reason to be making these stories up,” he said.
Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4564.
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