Senators Introduce Bill Creating TSA Passenger Advocates

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) and U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) have introduced bipartisan legislation creating Passenger Advocates at the nation’s busiest airports. The advocates can be summoned by passengers to hear their concerns if they feel they’ve been inappropriately treated by transportation security officers.

In a statement, Schumer said he called on the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in December to implement the program after a series of inappropriate actions on the part of TSA agents.

"But in light of their unwillingness to do so and additional concerns raised over inappropriate and suggestive screenings of seniors and women," Schumer and Collins said they decided to introduce their legislation.

Schumer announced in February he was drafting legislation and Senator Collins joined him as the lead co-sponsor. Collins is the ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Schumer and Collins urged the Senate to quickly pass the legislation so that passengers across the country can finally have someone to turn to at airports when they have concerns about screening procedures.

“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,” said Schumer.

“Our legislation will finally give voice to those who think they are being subjected to humiliating or inappropriate screening. This bill will ensure that passengers have a point of contact who they can turn to, on site and at the airport, when questions arise over proper screening procedures,” Schumer said.

“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,” said Collins.

“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.  My hope is that Passenger Advocates will help add some common sense to the screening process, ” Collins said.

The Senators cited complaints over TSA screening procedures range from inappropriate and harassing behavior toward female passengers undergoing body scans, to obstacles for female passengers boarding planes because of a lack of female officers for pat downs, to a more recent report that says a female passenger wasn’t allowed to bring empty baby bottles and was forced to use a breast pump in a public bathroom in order to carry the baby bottles on the plane.

In December, in response to three separate incidents in which elderly women claimed to have been inappropriately searched at a security checkpoint at JFK Airport, Schumer called on the TSA to voluntarily implement Passenger Advocates at airports. "Thus far, the TSA has failed to do this," Schumer said.

In light of these recent incidents and TSA’s continued unwillingness to give passengers a voice at our nation’s airports, Schumer announced in February he would be introducing legislation to compel it. Senator Collins agreed to be the lead co-sponsor of that legislation.

The Restoring Integrity and Good-Heartedness in Traveler Screening Act, the RIGHTS Act, would specifically:

Require the TSA Ombudsman’s office to play a more proactive role in soliciting and recording complaints from the general public regarding screening practices at TSA by establishing a Passenger Advocate program.
Require every Category X airport to have at least one TSA Passenger Advocate on-duty at all times.
Mandate every Category X airport have clearly visible signage at each gate explaining that a TSA Passenger Advocate can be summoned if a passenger believes that a TSA employee has mistreated them on the basis of a medical condition, disability, age, race, color, religion, sex and national origin.
Establish best practices to resolve frequent public complaints and conduct training of TSA officers to resolve frequently occurring passenger complaints.
Resolve passenger complaints in real-time at designated airports.
And field advance notification calls from individuals with medical conditions or disabilities to pre-arrange for a screening process at the airport that ensures the safety of the flight without causing undue hardship for the disabled passenger.