Saturday 18 November 2017

Up close but far too personal

Gemma O'Doherty

Who would have guessed it? American airport security agents have a sense of humour after all.

Last month, New Yorker lawyer Jill Filipovic flew from Newark into Dublin to give a talk on feminism at Trinity College. In her luggage, she had packed personal accessories, including a vibrator.

When she opened her case at her hotel, she got a surprise when she found a handwritten note encouraging her to, ahem, get good use out of it during her Irish stay.

Filipovic tweeted a picture of the note written on official paper which read in block capitals: "Get your freak on girl."

At the time, the feminist blogger said she nearly died laughing in her hotel room. But the US TSA (Transport Security Administration) didn't see the funny side of it.

They hunted down the screening agent and removed him from duty for his "highly inappropriate and unprofessional behaviour".

Still, it's by no means the biggest invasion of privacy committed by TSA staff this year.

During the summer, Jean Weber was travelling from Florida to Michigan with her 95-year-old cancer-stricken mother to see some relatives for the last time.

Officials felt something suspicious during the elderly woman's pat-down and took her to a private room. Weber told them it was an adult diaper, but they insisted it be removed as they could not search it thoroughly.

The pair had no choice but to agree despite having no replacement with them. The wheelchair-bound woman was forced to fly without underwear.

In another episode of blatant humiliation, passenger Nancy Kates had a protracted battle with staff at Oakland International, California, after she was forced to remove her bra.

The well-endowed traveller was wearing an extra-sturdy bra with enough wire in it to set off the metal detector. She was pulled aside by an agent, but felt the pat-down she was subjected to was getting a little too personal when the agent started checking her breasts.

"You can't do that," she yelled. She was given one other option: to remove her bra and leave it behind. The whole ordeal took the guts of an hour and Kates ended up missing her flight.

Then there is the case of the high-security-risk nipple ring which was detected by an agent in the chest of traveller Mandi Hamlin at Lubbock Texas airport. She was told she could not board until her piercings were removed and was given a pair of pliers to take them out in the middle of the airport.

Still, at least the TSA is even-handed when it comes to dressing down the public to make the skies of the world safer for everyone.

Even high-powered diplomats have been the subject of their gruelling security checks, as Meera Shankar, India's ambassador to the United States, discovered at Jackson Airport, Mississippi.

She was pulled out of line by an agent, despite telling staff she was an envoy. Protocol exempts diplomats from such searches but she was subjected to a public frisking.

Afterwards, she claimed that the only ostensible reason for the extra screening was because she was wearing the national dress of her country: a sari.

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