Burger flipping perverts in airports
jnantz at INFICAD.COM
Thu Feb 7 04:17:56 MST 2002
Apparently some of the burger flippers who pretend to be security guards in
the airports are groping the women passengers. The url for this article is
Airport frisks stir outrage
Pat-downs improper, 32 females say
By Tom Zoellner
The Arizona Republic
Feb. 07, 2002 12:00:00
Read about the latest airport security measures at airport.azcentral.com.
At least 32 female airline passengers have complained about being fondled
and groped during random body searches at Sky Harbor International Airport
and other airports across the nation.
In many of the reported incidents, male gate agents appear to be targeting
solitary female travelers for the supposedly random pat-downs, which have
become a feature of air travel since the Sept. 11 attacks.
There is no federal law that requires airlines to provide an employee of
the same sex to conduct the searches. Passengers who try to complain find
that the price of objection can be a missed flight.
"The more I protested the more he smirked," said Anita Lawrence, a
60-year-old real estate broker from north Scottsdale who said she was led
behind a tall screen by a male employee before boarding an America West
Airlines flight to Houston on Jan. 21.
"He told me: 'Do you want to get on this plane?' " Lawrence said. "He
touched my breasts, he touched my hips. I felt sexually assaulted."
Arizona Attorney General Janet Napolitano is assembling a database of 32
aggrieved passengers who have come forward with stories of possible sexual
abuse in airports in Arizona and elsewhere. One case involves a 12-year-old
"We need a policy in place that protects passengers," said Napolitano, who
has no legal standing to prosecute the cases but has written letters of
complaint to America West and to the Federal Aviation Administration.
"Our policies for the searches do not involve targeting customers due to
gender or race," said Janice Monahan, an America West spokeswoman. "We
don't want to offend anyone, but for the safety of our passengers after
September 11, we must follow federally mandated procedures."
Passengers who haven't flown since the attacks may be unaccustomed to the
new gate searches, she said.
Women singled out
The stories of abuse are impossible to corroborate or independently verify,
but the common denominator seems to be women singled out based on their
beauty rather than their potential to be hijackers.
Erik Collins, a computer technician from Kansas City, Mo., said he was
waiting at a Southwest Airlines gate at Sky Harbor when he started talking
to two airline employees who had just patted down a blond woman.
"They chuckled and proceeded to tell me how their 'random' system worked,"
Collins said. "They would pick two or three random men, and then take turns
picking out 'the top two or three hottest women' in the gate area. After
their break, I watched them 'randomly' pick people out exactly as they had
explained, often looking at each other for approval of their selections.
"These people are on power trips. They act like they're God."
Friskings by civilian airline employees, who sometimes aren't in uniforms,
can take place within the concourse even after passengers have cleared
security checkpoints and metal detectors.
Complying with law
The FAA gives airlines latitude to conduct their own pre-boarding searches
as a last line of defense against a hijacking or bombing.
Airline officials said it is customary to use employees of the same sex as
the passenger to do the searches. But sometimes that is not possible
because of crowded flights or lack of staff.
"All we are doing is fulfilling the mandate of the law," said Mike Wascom,
spokesman for the Air Transport Association in Washington, D.C., which
represents major airlines.
"Our airlines would never tolerate a search that violates an individual's
rights," he said. Whitney Brewer, spokeswoman for Southwest Airlines, said
random gate searches are necessary but can be "an uncomfortable experience
for our employees."
Southwest's policy is to first wave a magnetometer wand over the passenger,
front and back. If the wand beeps, and the metal object can't be found, the
employee is supposed to ask the passenger for permission to pat him or her
Passengers waiting for a flight are selected for a special search by
Southwest's booking computers, which use a formula to assess risk.
If there is still time before the flight leaves, Southwest employees are
supposed to do additional searches of passengers chosen at random, Brewer
"Customer service is at the forefront of our minds in all cases," said
Brewer, who added that she has not been made aware of any complaints from
female passengers about the pat-downs.
The Arizona Republic, through telephone interviews and public documents,
has nevertheless learned of six incidents of questionable airport searches
by airline agents at the gate and security guards at metal detectors:
Passengers speak up
Corporate attorney Ruth Smith, 50, of Columbus, Ohio, said a security
guard reached up her blouse to feel for a possible weapon before a Dec. 7
flight to New York. "I really avoid flying now," she said.
Lonnie Jaycox of St. Louis said he watched in disbelief as a male airline
employee "vigorously and inappropriately" frisked the sides of his wife
Emily's breasts in Houston's Hobby Airport on Dec. 25. His complaints fell
on deaf ears. "They make it clear that if you oppose them in any way they
will call the National Guard and cause you to miss your flight and possibly
Sally Sausman, 58, of Boca Raton, Fla., said she was subjected to an
unusually thorough search by a female security guard in Tucson on Monday.
"She ran her hands up my sides to my underarms, then lifted my blouse and
ran her fingers around the waistband of my slacks," said Sausman, who
blamed "misplaced zeal" rather than sexual harassment.
After a bobby pin in Kathleen Taylor's pocket set off the metal detectors
at Baltimore-Washington International Airport on Jan. 15, a male security
guard frisked her. "Oh, she'll pass, she's pretty," the guard reportedly
said before giving her a pat on the side.
Lawrence, the real estate broker from Scottsdale, said the male America
West employee who searched her grew angry at her protests and threw the
contents of her purse to the ground, breaking a fountain pen. She reported
the Jan. 21 incident to the Attorney General's Office on Wednesday morning,
but has not yet filed a formal complaint with the airline.
Sharon Schmidt of Placerville, Calif., said she was touched in a sexually
inappropriate way by a male America West gate staffer the same night as
Lawrence. "That 'search' was in no way, shape or form a security measure,"
America West spokesman Monahan responded Wednesday: "We have had no
evidence for any basis of this allegation." The airline knows the name of
the employee but has not disciplined him; an investigation is ongoing.
Schmidt went to Napolitano, whose office was flooded with complaints after
the incident was publicized.
Air staff complains
The complaints have not been limited to passengers. The Association of
Flight Attendants sent a Nov. 9 letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary
Norman Mineta concerning "unprofessional and abusive behavior by security
screeners at airports."
The union cited three instances of harassment: a pregnant flight attendant
in Portland, Ore., who had her belly pressed during a body search; a woman
"repeatedly rubbed all over her body" with a screening wand in San
Francisco; and a flight attendant subjected to a strip search in Los Angeles.
Mineta responded Jan. 7, saying that a heightened level of professionalism
can be expected after the federal government takes over airport security
contracts on Feb. 17.
"Under the current structure, if passengers or airline employees believe
they are treated unfairly, they should ask to speak to the security
screener's supervisor or contact the air carrier's ground security
coordinator at the departing airport," Mineta wrote.
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