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TSA apologizes for mistreating elderly at JFK

State Sen. Michael Gianaris holds a press conference in favor of TSA reform with U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (second from l.) after two women claimed they were strip searched at Kennedy Airport. TSA has apologized but denied the women were asked to remove their clothes. Photo courtesy Michael Gianaris
TimesLedger Newspapers

The federal Transportation Security Administration sent a letter to state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) earlier this month admitting its agents had acted improperly while screening two elderly women who came through John F. Kennedy International Airport to visit their families.

But the TSA denied the women had been asked to remove any articles of clothing, as both of them had claimed.

“TSA sincerely regrets any discomfort or inconvenience the passengers at JFK experienced,” Betsy Markey, of the TSA, wrote to Gianaris Jan. 3.

The apology was not sufficient for Gianaris or Lenore Zimmerman and Ruth Sherman, both of whom allege TSA agents took them to another room and asked them to remove articles of clothing while going through screenings at the airport. Both had come to New York to visit family members for Thanksgiving.

“They did,” said Zimmerman, 85, of Long Beach, L.I. “They’re lying.”

Gianaris said he believed the letter of apology was the result of bureaucratic defensiveness and that he intended to push the TSA further abo the issue.

“It’s a half-step forward. I’d like them to take a full-step forward,” the senator said.

Zimmerman, who has a heart defibrillator, said when she asked not to go through the scanning machine Nov. 29, TSA agents took her into a private room and asked to raise her blouse and remove her underclothes. Her back brace was also removed for screening.

“It was an outrageous infringement on my person,” she said.

Markey said Zimmerman voluntarily raised her clothes, but said the agents improperly screened the back brace.

The same day, Sherman, 88, was pulled aside after agents raised concerns about a bump from her waist caused by her colostomy bag. She said she was taken to another room and asked to lower her pants.

Markey also said Sherman lowered her pants voluntarily, but said the agent acted improperly in asking to visually inspect the colostomy bag.

Sherman called the experience violating and says she was still traumatized by the incident. She also said the TSA had not sent her the letter it had sent Gianaris.

“I never got any letter of apology or anything,” she said.

Markey said the TSA would be retraining the officers on how to screen passengers with disabilities or medical conditions respectfully.

“The federal security director at JFK will continue to monitor the performance of [agents] at JFK to ensure they conduct screening in accordance with our high standards of courtesy and professionalism,” Markey wrote.

Gianaris held a news conference with U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) shortly after Zimmerman and Sherman came forward, calling for the TSA to institute a “passenger advocate” to resolve disputes between passengers and agents. He said he wants to have a constructive conversation with the TSA to institute a change in how passengers are treated.

“We’re not adversaries here,” Gianaris said. “We’re all on the same page trying to make the travel experience a safe and comfortable one.”

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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Reader Feedback

David from Bayside says:
TSA government thugs of the Police State that now rules this country. Google "World Trade Center building #7. Watch the video! Learn something that you never thought would have been possible!
Jan. 26, 2012, 7:17 am
David from Bayside says:
TSA government thugs of the Police State that now rules this country. Google "World Trade Center building #7. Watch the video! Learn something that you never thought would have been possible!
Jan. 26, 2012, 7:17 am
Bea from Manhattan says:
“We’re all on the same page trying to make the travel experience a safe and comfortable one.”

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!

Yo, Mike: you've got a VERY long way to go!

Boycott the airlines: don't fly until the TSA is abolished.
Jan. 27, 2012, 9:30 am

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