There’s flying while Muslim. Flying while looking Muslim. Flying in leggings. Flying while 13 and forgetting to pull your laptop out.
But did you know about flying with a panty liner?
Evelyn Harris, a 65-year-old retiree who lives in Crofton, Maryland, was flying to San Diego earlier this year when she went through an experience that a court might consider a sexual assault.
She passed through the airport scanner at Baltimore Washington International Airport one day in January, but was then pulled aside for a pat-down that was just one step removed from being a pap smear.
“I started to ask if I had done something wrong or if this was ‘random,’ but before I could get a second word out, the TSA agent yelled at me,” Harris told me. “She grabbed my throat hard, causing me to choke and cough. She yelled at me for coughing. She then put her hands inside my bra and panties and groped my private parts with the front, not the back, of her gloved hand.
“Afterward, I worried that I may have been infected if she had groped someone else without changing gloves. Her attitude was so threatening and hostile, that I was afraid to look at her face and name plate.”
Nothing like this had ever happened to her before. The rest of her trip, she had totally normal security experiences. When she flew two weeks later, again, no problem.
But the invasive and humiliating search she’d endured bothered her. So she filed a complaint a few weeks after the incident.
The TSA investigator who called her back told her they save videos of screenings, but only for 30 days. At that point, it was too late. The search had been erased.
Anyway, the pat-down was legit, the investigator said. Intimate apparel has been a source of concern ever since Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to bring down plane on Christmas Day 2009 by detonating a bomb hidden in his underwear.
The investigator told Harris, she said, that “his own wife carried a panty liner with her and put it on after security, as this is something that could trigger a search.”
Indeed, turns out any feminine hygiene product could be grounds for a search, according to TSA.
“The Advanced Imaging Technology scanner at the checkpoint helps TSA identify concealed metallic and non-metallic items between the skin and clothing using millimeter wave technology,” said TSA spokesperson Lisa Farbstein.
“So if an individual were to try to conceal something in the area of the groin, the machine would detect it. It is not out of the question that the machine could detect something placed inside an individual’s underwear.”
There you have it, sisters. Our Stayfrees will not live up to their names.
The awful abuse of airline passengers reached new lows last week, as a video went viral showing a 13-year-old boy being patted down by a Texas TSA agent with the intensity and precision that my dog reserves for a burger wrapper.
TSA officials stood by the agent, who conducted the search because the kid set off an alarm with his laptop.
Half of America gasped at the video. The other half cheered TSA: “Thank you for keeping us safe!”
Here’s my question: At what point are we sacrificing our freedoms by giving into our fears? I bet Harris and every woman who has been similarly searched – and there are many, my mom showed up at the airport rattled and in tears after an invasive search a while back – have the same answer.
Earlier this month, I wrote about a retired police chief, Hassan Aden, who was detained at JFK for 90 minutes because of one thing – fear of his name. Nothing else, not even his decades in law enforcement in North Carolina and Virginia, mattered.
Christine T. Trankiem encountered the same suspicions and the same discrimination this month. She’s the classic American success story, daughter of immigrants who is now a trauma surgeon in the nation’s capital. She was flying home from Copenhagen when a customs agent stopped her at Dulles International Airport outside Washington.
“Where are you from?” he asked.
“D.C.,” she said.
“I meant what kind of name is that?”
“Vietnamese,” answered the woman born in Pennsylvania.
And she was immediately pulled aside to a separate room for an intense search.
“In there, I found at least two dozen travelers; all but two had varying shades of brown and yellow skin,” she told me.
“Never in my life did I ever think that as an American citizen I would be subject to this kind of racial profiling and scrutiny,” Trankiem said. “It makes me fearful of the climate of our country and where we are headed.”
It’s not too late to turn back, America.
Petula Dvorak writes for The Washington Post.