Bill seeks air traveler rights at security

March 20, 2012 at 12:10 AM
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WASHINGTON, March 20 (UPI) -- Travelers who feel wrongly treated by U.S. airport security need an advocate because the federal screening agency will not help otherwise, lawmakers said.

Sens. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, introduced a bill that would establish passenger advocates at the busiest U.S. airports because Schumer said he was rebuffed when he brought the idea up with the U.S. Transportation Security Administration, Schumer and Collins said.

Schumer said he urged the TSA three months ago to create a passenger-advocacy program after three "inappropriate" screenings of elderly women by TSA security officers were reported.

He said he and Collins introduced the measure -- known as the Restoring Integrity and Good-Heartedness in Traveler Screening, or RIGHTS, Act -- after the TSA expressed an "unwillingness" to create a passenger-advocate role, which would "give passengers a voice at our nation's airports."

Additional "concerns raised over inappropriate and suggestive screenings of seniors and women" also spurred the senators to introduce the legislation, he said.

"While passengers across the country have raised concerns over screening procedures, particularly women and the elderly, the TSA has yet to establish on-site advocates for travelers to turn when they feel they have been or will be subjected to inappropriate or degrading screening procedures -- that will all change with this bill," Schumer said.

The law would require at least one advocate on duty at 24 major U.S. airports and require those airports to display signs alerting passengers of their right to call on an advocate if they believe they have been mistreated.

"American travelers deserve an advocate at airports who can give correct information about screening options, resolve disputes and be sensitive to passengers with special circumstances such as the elderly or those with medical conditions," Collins said.

"We hear often of the inconsistent and illogical treatment of everything from cupcakes to medical devices by TSA personnel and inappropriate screening of elderly, young, or infirmed individuals," she said. "My hope is that passenger advocates will help add some common sense to the screening process."

TSA spokesman Greg Soule told United Press International the agency does not comment on pending legislation.

But he said the Department of Homeland Security agency has provided information and assistance "since its inception" to travelers through the TSA Contact Center and customer service managers "in airports across the nation."

In addition, a "recently initiated TSA Cares hot line now serves as an additional, dedicated resource for passengers with disabilities, medical conditions or other circumstances or their loved ones who want to prepare for the screening process prior to flying," Soule told UPI by e-mail.

TSA Cares, which Soule said has assisted more than 3,200 passengers to date, provides screening assistance relative to conditions or will refer passengers "to disability experts at TSA," he said.

Soule failed to answer three UPI e-mail requests for a comment on whether Schumer and Collins were correct in characterizing TSA as unwilling to create the passenger-advocate positions.

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