Spurred by three elderly women who alleged they had been mistreated by U.S. Transportation Security Administration agents at John F. Kennedy International Airport, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Sunday he was introducing legislation mandating the agency create positions for passenger advocates.
“While we must do everything we can to ensure the safety and security of our passengers, that is no excuse for TSA agents to act in ways that embarrass, harass or make passengers uncomfortable,” Schumer said in a statement.
The TSA said in a statement that it does not comment on pending legislation but offers help to travelers through its Contact Center, customer service managers and Internet-based tool Talk to TSA, which puts passengers in touch with customer service agents.
The agency said it had also instituted a hotline, TSA Cares, that passengers who have disabilities or medical conditions can call for information up to 72 hours in advance of their flight.
The senator had been calling for the agency to institute advocates, who would resolve disputes that arise between passengers and agents during security screening, since December after three women traveling to New York for Thanksgiving said they were asked by agents to remove their clothes during the screening process.
The TSA apologized for the incidents at JFK and said its agents had acted improperly in screening the medical devices of two of the women — one of whom had a back brace and another a colostomy bag — but denied the women had been strip-searched.
Schumer said he wanted the agency to hire the advocates voluntarily, but decided to mandate it when women began reporting other inappropriate behavior from agents like suggestive comments and being asked to go through the body scanners multiple times.
“These latest incidents offer further proof that passengers need an on-site point of contact who they can bring grievances to and who can advocate on their behalf when they feel they are being treated unfairly or inappropriately,” he said.
The legislation, called the Restoring Integrity and Good-Heartedness in Traveler Screening Act, requires the agency to establish an Officer of Passenger Support to record complaints, have an on-duty advocate at all times, put up signs informing passengers that they can rely on an advocate if they feel they have been mistreated, determine the best ways of resolving frequent complaints, fix problems when they occur and give passengers the opportunity to pre-arrange the screening process if they have a disability or medical condition.
Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4564.
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