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Airport watchdogs needed to ensure TSA doesn't cross line: Pols

Passenger pat down

Passenger pat down Credit: A passenger gets patted down after going through a full-body scan (Getty Images)

Fliers who feel violated by TSA agents need advocates at airports to help them on the spot, two New York pols said Sunday.

In a letter to the directors of the Department of Homeland Security and Transportation Security Administration, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer and state Senator Michael Gianaris said the TSA should provide passenger advocates at terminals to hold its employees more accountable for inappropriate searches of passengers. Three elderly women have complained they were “strip searched by TSA agents” at Kennedy Airport in the past few weeks.

"I appreciate the TSA's work to keep air passengers safe, but passengers should not be humiliated and degraded during their travels," Gianaris (D-Astoria) said in a statement.

On Sunday, the TSA denied on its blog that the women had been strip-searched.

"TSA does not and has never conducted strip searches, and no strip searches occurred in any of these incidents," the official statement posted by TSA blogger Bob Burns said.

The agency said it was setting up a toll-free number for travelers to call in advance if they want to "get guidance and information about screening."

But Schumer and Gianaris asked instead for a member of the screening crew to be trained as a passenger advocate who could intervene if problems come up. They also asked for an investigation into the women's complaints, which were detailed in the letter.

In one case, a Long Island woman claimed she was taken to a private room to remove her back brace for screening after she decided against going through a scanning machine because of her heart defibrillator. The 85-year-old woman said “she had to raise her blouse and remove her undergarments for a female TSA agent," according to the letter.

The same day, an 88-year-old woman from Florida said she had to lower her pants to show agents her colostomy bag.

A third woman from Florida said she had to remove her pants so agents could inspect an insulin pump in her leg.

The TSA blamed some of the problems on "a bit of miscommunication" and said JFK officers were receiving refresher training on screening passengers with disabilities or medical conditions.

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