Flight Attendants Still Eligible For TSA Groping (Updated)

Rage against the new TSA requirements has tended to erase, or caricature, one very key constituency: air-travel employees. That includes mostly female flight attendants, who, unlike pilots, haven't been exempted from enhanced patdown procedures, as well as reluctant TSA employees.

The Daily Beast reminds us that "flight attendants have seen their wages cut by 30 percent since the 9/11 attacks," though third quarter profits this year may help change that. Their jobs have only gotten more unforgiving with fuller flights, fewer personnel, shorter layovers, and increased maximum work hours.

Add to this the fact that they may go through the enhanced security procedures as often as twice a day. Pilots, though they go through the same background checks and safety training as flight attendants, have won exceptions from the TSA for the enhanced patdowns. As Lindsay Beyerstein remarked, "The TSA's decision to exempt pilots but not flight attendants smacks of sexism. Over 95% of U.S. airline pilots are men, 74% of flight attendants are women. Our society takes it for granted that men have absolute bodily autonomy; whereas women are often expected to subordinate their bodily autonomy for someone else's idea of the greater good." (It may also be because the pilots' unions are more powerful, representing a highly trained and skilled constituency, and given the flight attendant to pilot ratio on a plane, represent a smaller exception to make. But the point remains persuasive.)

What about those mandated to grope? Travel blogger Steven Frischling surveyed 17 anonymous transportation security officers, one of whom said,

"Being a TSO means often being verbally abused, you let the comments roll off and check the next person, however when a woman refuses the scanner then comes to me and tells me that she feels like I am molesting her, that is beyond verbal abuse. I asked the woman if she thought I like touching other women all day and she told me that I probably did or I wouldn't be with the TSA. I just want to tell these people that I feel disgusted feeling other peoples private parts, but I cannot because I am a professional."

The TSA itself tried to allay fears by doing a Capitol Hill briefing for concerned legislators and staffers. One told Politico,

"The dumbest part: they did two pat-down demonstrations – male on male, and female on female," the House staffer said. And they used a young female TSA volunteer "and in front of a room of 200 people, they touched her breasts and her buttocks. People were averting their eyes. The TSA was trying to demonstrate ‘this is not so bad,' but it made people so uncomfortable to watch, that people were averting their eyes."

Reports of TSA officers breaking protocol — out of ignorance or malice, who knows — continue to pour in. One of them comes from an ABC news producer who was at Newark airport Sunday morning. "The woman who checked me reached her hands inside my underwear and felt her way around," she said. "It was basically worse than going to the gynecologist. It was embarrassing. It was demeaning. It was inappropriate." The TSA says you're not supposed to go there, but clearly it's happening.

The TSA also apologized to the 61-year-old retired special education teacher and bladder cancer survivor whose urostomy bag was punctured by an aggressive patdown, despite his warnings, leaving him soaked in urine. He accepted the apology. As for the flight attendant cancer survivor who was forced to remove her prosthetic breast, anonymous White House sources insisted to ABC News that terrorists have been heard discussing hiding bombs in prostheses.

You don't need to be a cancer survivor to be under extra scrutiny at the airport, though. The AP reports that "clothes loaded with metal studs are suddenly a no-no, as are bras with underwires. Slacks instead of skirts are preferred. Any baggy clothing can require extra inspection." One woman got the extra patdown simply for wearing a long skirt.

Update: The TSA has given in and will let flight attendants board as pilots do, sans groping.

Flight Attendant Freakout [The Daily Beast]
White House: Terrorists Have Discussed Use of Prosthetics to Conceal Explosives [ABCNews]
The Screeners' Point Of View [Boarding Area]
TSA Uproar Moves To Capitol Hill [Politico]
TSA: Pilots' Junk Of Limits, Flight Attendants' Fair Game [In These Times]
What Not To Wear? Clothing A Security Line Issue [AP]