Passenger Advocate Sought for U.S. Airports

Lawmakers want the TSA to create a new position after an elderly woman claims she was strip searched.

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    Two New York lawmakers have called for a passenger advocate at airports to immediately act on complaints by passengers over security screenings.

    U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer and state Sen. Michael Gianaris of Queens want the Transportation Security Administration to create the position at all airports.

    The proposal Sunday was prompted by an elderly woman's recent claims that she was strip searched by security officials at Kennedy Airport, which the TSA denies, saying it doesn't 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 (TSA) strives to provide the highest level of security while ensuring that all passengers are treated with dignity and respect," the agency stated Saturday night. "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 last week senior leadership talked to several national groups that advocate for those with medical conditions, including colostomy bags. After the first claim, another woman reported she was stopped because of a bulge that was a colostomy bag.

    Lee said that after consulting with advocates for those with various medical conditions, the TSA is planning to establish a toll-free telephone hotline in January for passengers that may need help 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 stated. "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 if they 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, allegations that transportation officials denied.

    Lenore Zimmerman said she was taken to a private room where she said female agents made her take off her pants and other clothes after she asked to forgo the screening. She had worried it would interfere with her defibrillator. She missed her flight and had to take one 2 1/2 hours later, she said.