Flying while female? 5 things to remember at the airport

Pan Xunbin/Shutterstock
Pan Xunbin/Shutterstock

On her last four trips through U.S. airport security, Anita Nagelis says she’s been pulled aside and subjected to a more thorough search by TSA agents, including an aggressive pat-down.

Nagelis, who works for a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., doesn’t know why. She never set off a metal detector, isn’t on a no-fly list, and no suspicious items are ever discovered in her luggage.

“It’s so odd,” she says. “I don’t fit the profile.”

Or does she?

Even though the TSA and other organizations that handle transportation-related security claim they don’t engage in profiling, they are known to single out certain passengers, a vast majority of which pose zero security threat.

One of their favorite targets are womenattractive women.

The most famous incident happened in April 2011, when former Miss USA Suzie Castillo was subjected to what she described as an invasive pat-down by TSA agents that reduced the beauty queen to tears.

The issue gained prominence last month when another female passenger, Hyunjoo Kim, struck back at a TSA agent after experiencing an “enhanced” pat-down in Orlando. The South Korean woman reportedly was upset about the manual screening and allegedly slapped an agent. She was arrested and charged with two counts of battery on transit agents.

If you think these air travelers were overreacting, think again. The TSA has a thing for female passengers, a fact that any employee would be hard-pressed to deny. Agents have a disturbingly extensive vocabulary to describe beautiful passengers, including words like “Alfalfa,” “Code Red,” and “Hotel Bravo” (get it — Hot Babe?).

TSA agents apparently don’t flirt with attractive females, they “engage.” And when they talk about an “X-ray” they aren’t necessarily referring to a controversial full-body scanner; “X-ray” is screener-speak for, you guessed it, an attractive female passenger.

It’s a troubling contradiction, one of many TSA oddities I deal with every week on my consumer advocacy site. Agents are supposedly trained not to profile passengers — to treat each one in exactly the same way — yet they also do profile passengers because of the TSA’s institutional locker-room culture.

This problem probably can’t be undone by an act of Congress or a few protests. But you have the power to stop it. Here’s what you should consider doing if you’re part of the 51 percent who, like Nagelis, is vulnerable to being profiled in this unfortunate way.

Take a few sartorial precautions. I asked my better half, who is a woman, how to avoid getting ogled at the screening area. Watch what you wear, she advised. Far be it from me to tell anyone how to dress. But loose-fitting clothes and shoes tend to be more comfortable on a plane, and they generally draw less attention from the blueshirts, at least according to my well-traveled partner.

Avoid private screenings. There’s no telling what goes on behind closed doors. It’s better to have the whole world watching your “enhanced” pat-down. At least you’ll have witnesses if something goes wrong.

Know your rights. You do have rights when you’re being screened by the TSA (even if they’re not always respected). The most important one to remember is: You have the right to be screened by someone of your sex. Here are a few other frequently-asked questions about the process.

Say something now. If your pat-down is making you uncomfortable, then step away and ask for a supervisor. Sometimes, the best solution is for another screener to finish the pat-down.

Report it. The TSA benefits from the fact that it operates primarily at airports, and the passengers it screens usually just want to make it to their flight without delay. Screening incidents often get swept under the rug. Don’t let that happen. Here’s where to file your complaint.

Like many TSA critics, I believe the agency should stop pretending it doesn’t profile passengers. Instead, it should focus on the air travelers who are likeliest to present a threat to flight safety and leave the rest alone. Actually, most of the screening work should be done long before anyone arrives at the airport, but that’s a concept that the reactive, slow-to-change, institutionally sexist TSA can’t seem to get its latex blue gloves around.

At least not yet.

Should the TSA engage in profiling, if it improves security?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • dourdan

    “loose-fitting clothes and shoes tend to be more comfortable on a plane,
    and they generally draw less attention from the blueshirts”

    actually they draw MORE attention. on several occasion i was sent to to the pat down area even if i did not set off the metal detector. with me were men and woman all of whom had on baggy clothing (sweats, dresses, etc).

    so now i only wear form fitting cloths when traveling and it has worked out better.

  • Richard Crest

    That was horrible experience, thanks for alerting us with that issue. This has been a very helpful tips.

  • EdB

    I was thinking the same thing when I read that part. Loose fitting clothing offers more places the hide things. However, I can also see Chris’ point that if the TSA thug can’t see the woman’s body shape, they may not classify her as ‘Hotel Bravo’.

  • ToriBlue

    I always get the name. Google and facebook are your friends. If the TSA can put our names on a list then what’s good for the goose….

    Even a last name is enough.

  • Lisa Simeone

    Agree with all except the dress advice. Lots of women wearing loose, comfortable clothing have been abused. Just because you’re not wearing skintight clothes or showing cleavage doesn’t mean you won’t be singled out.

    As always, it’s entirely up to the whim of the TSA agents. They have absolute power.

    Unbelievable that we even have to be having this discussion. That we have to talk about how to protect ourselves from assault before we get on a plane. This country has lost its collective mind.

  • Christopher Elliott

    I carefully considered that advice, and ultimately deferred to Kari. But every screening experience is different.

  • cjr001

    The ability to detect a threat before it reaches the airport requires intelligence work. So, it’s easy to see why TSA doesn’t bother with it.

  • Chaseme

    I have found having a friendly, light-hearted discussion with the agent makes things go smoother. I think it’s just as awkward for most agents as it is for the traveler.

  • Susan Richart

    Agree, as we know that women who wear loose fitting comfortable skirts are subjected to an even more humiliating grope grope at the checkpoint.

  • Susan Richart

    Christopher, we DO know what happens in the private room. It’s there that the screeners assault passengers with the palms of their hands deep in one’s genital area, across the buttocks, and on and around a woman’s breasts.

  • nana

    Complain to your congressperson and senator. They made them, make them fix them.

  • y_p_w

    I think it depends on the screener. Some might actually be interested in doing their jobs competently and see loose clothing as a possible hiding place.

    Some might be looking for “fringe benefits” and be interested only if the female passenger is clearly of a certain body type. Some might see an otherwise attractive female passenger in loose clothing and see it as an opportunity to explore further.

  • Philip Brown

    I feel the question to vote on was not worded – correctly. Yes, the TSA should engage in profiling; but what “threat” does a attractive woman possess? I have witnesses law enforcement “go wrong” where I lived in Harrisburg, PA; police were trading seized drugs for sex (as advised by “guests”) at my safe house for abused women.
    When I complained, about this and other matters in the City; I was harassed to the point that I relocated & “lost” my home. It was occupied by SQUATTERS & now the police will not evict; so YES, I am a male but have felt the wrath of “unethical actions” by legal entities”; these TSA personnel should be terminated & prosecuted under the law.

  • Ian C

    I propose a return to Airport Security to the level that it was pre-2000. This would include:

    100% elimination of the full body scanners

    100% elimination of the enhanced pat down procedures

    100% elimination of the liquids ban

    100% elimination of taking off of the shoes

    Reduction in security force at airports

    Privatization of airport security – Let the airlines handle their own security

    Allowing people to walk with their friends/ family to the gate at airports prior to departure

    Allowing people to meet their friends/family at the gate upon arrival at commercial airports

    100% elimination of baggege inspection without the person being present.

    Not allowing CBP to confiscate person’s personal property at the border without legitimate cause. A laptop is not a cheap toy and also there are often confidential files on a person’s computer.

    I remember that it was like to travel in the 80s and 90s by air. Today if you have a flight from SVO – JFK America requires Russia to inspect a person’s baggage just like in the USA, but there is one major diffrence. They do it in the presence of the passenger. I think baggage inspection without the passenger being there is wong and should be illegal. That is someone’s personal property. How does it sound when I tell people “Don’t check anything you can’t live without or replace, like an iPad.” This is so wrong. I personally think that airport security should go back to the level it was as in the 80s or 90s when flying was enjoyable.

    And above all: Eliminate the TSA, DHS, Patriot Act, etc…. All lies!!!

  • DavidYoung2

    Chris — Do you HAVE to post something to get the TSA-Wackos going every week? You say things like they have their own lingo and try to hedge your bets with ‘apparently’ so you don’t state it as fact, just as urban myth innuendo. Come on, you’re better than this. Some has-been former beauty queen who has fallen out of the spotlight and wants another shot at her 15 minutes of fame posts some video of her talking, and you take it as gospel? Oh, look, she got a few more minutes of press time.

    News flash — EVERYBODY profiles people. We might not say it, but what do we THINK when we see the person weighing 3-spins shoving a donut in their face. The Arab with the scraggly beard. The black teen listening to gangster rap and wearing a backward Raiders cap. Or the smokin’ hot babe with tight Juicy shorts on? Or the 40-something guy with a $3,000 bespoke suit and Patek Philippe watch? So the fact that the TSA does means — they’re normal. How newsworthy is that?

  • Anonymous

    I don’t think the “profiling” you’re describing above has anything to do with security but more to do with lecherousness… Have any of these women allowed themselves to be patted down by a man? Hope not. My new “trick” is to tell the TSA screeners that I just got a biopsy and am still tender (which was true at one point) — they then hardly touch me.

  • Anonymous

    Between 2004-2009 I was a weekly traveler departing out of Boston. During my weekly TSA routine I picked up on the non-verbal queues that you mention in your article. During the time, Boston was piloting a blower machine that could check for chemical residue. Attractive women in skirts were always priority candidates for that screening. This is not an imagined problem. In retrospect, I wish I had taken action.

    It is not a big surprise that this occurs. We have low skilled, low paid TSA agents who are bored and aren’t terribly worried about losing their jobs.

    I believe the problem is that the TSA hires low skilled, low educated (yes I said it) individuals for the role of agent. I propose lower numbers of higher skilled agents who have in incentive’s to take pride in their responsibility.

  • John Keahey

    Do TSA men pat down women passengers? It seems you purposely left that out of your report. I’ve never seen a male agent do a pat down with a female and neither has my wife, who generally gets patted down (always by women agents) we suspect because of wires in her bra. And, she tells me after dozens of trips, she has never felt violated or inappropriately touched. If TSA women do the pat downs, unless they are attracted to women which I doubt is widespread, where’s the incentive to “profile”?

  • Susan Richart

    “Every screening experience is different.” And therein lies a problem, Christopher. We should all know heading into a checkpoint about what to expect during screening. But we don’t. We don’t know if we are going to sail on through without a problem, whether or not we will be partially or full-on groped, whether our hands will be swabbed, and what the results of that swab might be. And because of these unknowns, we cannot give informed consent to an “administrative” search of our possessions and our persons.

  • Lisa Simeone

    Mr. Keahey, maybe Sommer Gentry will weigh in here. She’s been groped by male TSA agents. So have lots of other women.

  • Veronica

    I have not been randomly selected in the US, but I always seem to get selected out of the country (lol). They swing the magic wand over me, swab my hands and look at the bottom of my shoes. I did have one female ask me to lift my shirt so she could swab my stomach (creepy). My mom actually put up more of a fuss about that than I did (that is a mom for ya!).

    I tend to fly out on the first thing smokin’ going out and coming back on my trips so I am curious if that could be the reason why I have not seen this? Or maybe it is just that my face says, “Don’t even try it – I am not that chick!”

    Now just because I have not seen this does not mean that I feel it is not happening – there are too many complaints for there not to be something going on. I am just wondering if I am extremely lucky or if it could be the time I get to the airport (very early in the morning).

  • cjr001

    A male TSA employee doesn’t have to be the one doing the pat down to get a kick out of it. He’d be perfectly happy with watching female on female “action”.

  • John Keahey

    Obviously there are times when TSA doesn’t follow its own rules (quoted from an official TSA blog site):
    * Pat-downs are conducted by same-gender officers
    * All passengers have the right to request private screening at any point during the screening process
    * Anyone has the right to have a traveling companion present during screening in the private screening area.

    I would suggest that if a male agent tries to pat down a female or vice versa, it would be time to raise hell. I’ve been patted down a a dozen times in the past few years, but never by a female. They always called a male over to do it. A female has always patted down my wife, or she would have raised hell.

  • Lisa Simeone

    Mr. Keahey, I agree with raising hell. Unfortunately, as thousands of people can tell you, that often results in retaliatory action by the TSA.

    I know this document is long (the tragic nature of its contents), but you might want to take a look at the Master List:

  • Carol

    Your articles are informative, but your vote questions lack cohesion to the storyline, quite often; such as this one about women and profiling.

  • Susan Richart

    What you are speaking of is NOT “profiling,” rather is it making judgments about people based on appearances. Yes, we all do it. However, we need to learn how to overcome making those judgments and get to know people as individuals.

    You don’t know that screeners don’t have their own lingo to identify “hot babes,” do you?

    I, for one, am a “TSA-Wacko” who applauds Christopher for keeping the misconduct of the TSA out in the open on a regular basis.

  • JenniferFinger

    By posting frequently about it, Chris calls attention to the problem. The more publicity it gets, the more attention it is likely to get from people with the power to change things. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

  • Christy Karras

    The result of all this is that TSA agents are paying a lot of attention to young women…instead of the men who are far and away more likely to commit terrorism. I “opt out” of invasive scanners and am usually treated with much more courtesy by the female agents who pat me down than I am by the male louts who sometimes say derogatory things about my decision to not go through the screener.

  • TonyA_says

    Slightly off topic. I don’t know if anyone noticed it, but at the bottom of the page there is section called recommended for you. The first is about Kim Kardashian’s wardrobe malfunction. I thought she had a TSA issue. Nope, she forgot some sartorial precaution on the way to the gym. I wonder how they pick these stories.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    I’ve noticed the really odd connections between the stories and the “Recommended for You” column. All 5 “stories” are body-related issues. This TSA story is about bodies. Hmm. Big Brother is watching YOU!

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    I’ll add two other thoughts to “female sartorial precautions”: avoid wearing an underwire bra and *do* wear a panty liner, but not a pad. Sorry if that’s TMI, but that’s my experience. No agent is going to call “Hotel Bravo” on me, but I’ve been inspected because I’ve been wearing the wrong thing under my clothes. I won’t go into explicit detail as to why a panty liner is necessary, other than to say it’s a protective barrier, in both directions.

  • LeeAnneClark

    And here’s our resident TSA apologist.

    I take it you never read Christopher’s earlier post in which he detailed his schedule, including his regular weekly article on the TSA? He’s not going to stop writing about it because it’s a WEEKLY FEATURE. Doh.

    Susan Richard already torpedoed your utter lack of comprehension of the word “profiling”, so I’ll just let that stand. But just to bring some reality into your world…even if we are all “profiling”, we don’t have government-granted powers to touch the genitals, paw through the belongings, or detain people based on our profiling. The TSA does. See the diff?

    As for “TSA-Wackos”…so basically you’re saying that anyone who objects to what the TSA is doing is a whacko? Hate to throw actual facts at you, but the FACT is that it is not “whacko” to object to having a stranger touch your genitals without your consent. That, in fact, is the most sane reaction. Go ahead, try disputing that. It’s just not possible to come up with a reasonable argument against someone objecting to having strangers touch their vulva, breasts, or testicles. The insane reaction is whens someone gladly spreads their legs and says to the low-paid government clerk: “Please, go right ahead, rub me wherever you want, because gosh darnit you’re making me safer!”

    The “whackos” are the ones who think there is any wisdom in giving uneducated, ill-trained, low-paid clerks absolute power over the bodies and freedom of movement of millions of innocent travelers every single day. The “whackos” are the ones who think there is any actual value in having these mooks paw the genitals of civilians, strip-search elderly women, squeeze the breast implants of cancer patients, detain nursing mothers or demand that they produce milk right there at the airport, terrorize disabled children, or any of the other nightmares that have happened at the checkpoint (all of which are well documented, many with actual video of the encounter, so don’t even try to say they didn’t happen). The “whackos” are the ones who think it makes sense to give these low-paid workers access to our belongings with freedom to take what they want, resulting in thousands of reported thefts (and lord knows how many unreported ones). The “whackos” are the ones who support this insanity.

    So…remind me again…who are the whackos?

  • LeeAnneClark

    Unfortunately both I and my elderly mother have learned the hard way that it is not always a good idea to tell them you have a sensitive area.

    My mother told a TSA screener that her right breast was still tender when she flew right after breast cancer surgery. That led to the TSA screener focusing all of her attention on her right breast, rubbing it and squeezing it to the point of bringing tears to my mother’s eyes.

    I told a TSA screener not to press on my lower back where I’d just had major back surgery. That led to the the brute rubbing and pressing so hard on it that I cried out in pain.

    And these are only two of the MANY MANY reports from other travelers that telling your TSA screener about a sensitive area leads to intense focus on that area.

  • Sonali

    I’m of South East Asian origin (Indian) and I nearly always get sent to the full body scanner followed by a patdown. I’ve always co-operated with the officials because I’m always worried that by not doing so I’ll get delayed or worse. The last time I travelled, the scanner malfunctioned because the official was pushing the wrong button, and it wouldn’t stop beeping. The experience was humiliating. Of course they didn’t care, and I didn’t have the time or energy to make a further scene. The TSA does profile people, based on age, gender and race. And they do not apologise for it if you happen to point it out.

  • Daisiemae

    You’re so right. I can see that even without my glasses!

  • Daisiemae

    To quote a poster on a previous thread, Don’t like it? Don’t read!

  • TestJeff Pierce

    Correct. Women in dresses, say knee length or a little lower, will often be checked even if using a metal detector and they run their hands up to the “hey nanny nanny”. The loose clothing could easily conceal dangerous objects.

  • TestJeff Pierce

    The correct profile is “foreign visitor” on an inbound flight, and even that is suspect as there were 2 failed attempts globally by suicidal passengers.

    No US Citizen has killed anyone for over 50 years on US domestic flights by suicide attack with a working non-metallic bomb. There is simply no credible threat to allow unconstitutional searches and criminal touching of genitals.

  • Susan Richart

    Hey, DavidYoung2, do you give yourself a “thumbs up” for every “thumbs down” that others give you?

  • LeeAnneClark

    And after a decade and and untold billions of dollars, the only “dangerous objects” that TSA screeners have found concealed in the “hey nanny nannies” of women in loose clothing are tampons, menstrual pads and Depends.

    But let’s not let the facts stop the TSA from pawing all the “hey nanny nannies” they want.

    (Sorry but that is the first time I’ve ever heard my vajayjay called that, so I’m trying really hard not to laugh out loud here!)

  • LeeAnneClark

    Sorry, but I have no interest in having a friendly, light-hearted discussion with the person who is molesting me against my will.

    I also didn’t want to have a friendly, light-hearted discussion with the rapist who attacked me many years ago. As far as I am concerned, they are both doing the same thing to me.

    If the agents find it awkward, maybe that’s the tiny little bit of humanity still hiding somewhere deep in their conscience, telling them that IT’S WRONG TO TOUCH THE GENITALS OF INNOCENT STRANGERS WITHOUT THEIR CONSENT. Most of us just know that inherently. If their conscience is bothering them, perhaps they should go get a job that doesn’t require them to molest people on a daily basis.

  • LeeAnneClark

    I too tried “raising hell” when a screener brutally rammed her thumb up into my vagina during a “pat-down”.

    I was subjected to intense harassment, public humiliation, and illegal detention, followed by an even more brutal “pat-down” by a supervisor.

    Did it matter to me that both brutal pat-downs were done by women? No. It was still an erect thumb being rammed into my vagina.

  • Cybrsk8r

    And, of course, I’m sure there are lesbian agents. I’m also sure they don’t have a big “L” tattoo’d of their forehead. So you never know who could be getting their jollies.

  • Cybrsk8r

    Maybe every guy who goes thru security should pick out some attractive woman, who’s already been screened and say to the male agent, “Check out the ‘Hotel Bravo’ as a way to let them know their secret code isn’t a secret at all.

    Or if you see a good looking TSA agent (I’m sure there must be some), call her a “Hotel Bravo” or “X-ray” and see how she likes it.

  • disqus_A6K3VBf8Zn

    I cannot encourage TSA to continue to get free feels. They can screen, using female agents, without allowing them to get ‘friendly’ on women: Certainly not
    my fiance or siblings.

  • jebaker

    yes, TSA does “choose” not just “hot” women but any woman who looks like a pleasant person. I get picked out of line all the time even tho I have flown over 2 million miles, am middle aged and am as far away from the high risk group as you can go. The stress of flying as a woman is so high now not knowing what you will endure before you get on the plane. When it’s “that time of the month” we are more self conscious than ever knowing that our feminine hygiene products will be fondled by TSA agents

  • LeeAnneClark

    And you plan on protecting your fiance or siblings from TSA getting “friendly on” them…how?

  • Diane Schenker

    As a member of Alaskans’ Freedom to Travel USA, I protest the TSA weekly at the Anchorage International Airport. We have had several women tell us that they were groped specifically because they were wearing dresses or skirts; in some cases, the TSA screener clearly stated that the dress was the reason for the “pat down”. The women did not set off any alarm when going through the full body scanner, but were groped anyway. We have also had numerous reports from men that the women with whom they were traveling (wives or girlfriends) were selected for groping every single time, even after going through the full body scanner, and in every reported case, the woman has larger than average breasts; we have no idea if the ineffective scanners just alarm on larger breasts or this is part of the sexual harassment that goes on in some locations, or both. Every person who has a complaint about the TSA should complain to his/her US Senators and Congressional Representative(s). If they complain to the TSA, ACLU or others, they should also copy their Congressional delegation. These are the people responsible for funding and allowing this agency to conduct these invasive, ineffective searches, and they need to hear every single complaint, every single time – no exceptions. I do not believe profiling would be effective or Constitutional. In some fairyland fantasy it could work, because it would be done scientifically, based on facts and mathematical calculations, however, in the real world, I doubt that there are enough terrorist attacks to figure out a useful profile based on any real science. Look at what the FBI had to do to profile serial murderers – they had to interview hundreds of them. Are there hundreds of terrorists we can interview, who’ve tried to blow up planes? No. If there were, would anyone trust DHS/TSA to do such interviews? Not me. Even after the FBI came up with a profile for serial murderers, did all the males that met the profile, based on race, age, marital status, occupation, and personality traits lose their Constitutional rights? Did they get put on curfew, were they forbidden to wander around alone at night, or have their cars/houses searched without warrants because they fit the profile to a “t’? NO. Because that is not how our Constitution works. Such profiling, even if scientifically based and possible, only gives you an idea as to who may bear closer scrutiny, but such scrutiny must be legal; it does not give the government the right to throw out the 4th Amendment’s protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.

  • Christopher Elliott

    LeeAnne, I have a very polite request on behalf of the moderators, and I hope you don’t take this the wrong way. If there’s any way to be a little less graphic with your descriptions, we would be grateful. (I am appalled by the way the TSA treated you, but but I see the group’s point. We are trying to keep this site as safe as possible for a “G”-rated audience.)

  • hatefulheretic

    I don’t understand why the American people don’t demand that the TSA be disestablished. We were not less safe back when the federal government had not monopolized airport security. We were safer. In particular, women were safer from sexual assault.

  • hatefulheretic

    Bush created the TSA. Obama, instead of returning our liberties to us, saw the opportunity to create a new constituency and unionized it. It’s never going away.

  • Nigel Appleby

    Well said and I totally agree.

  • Mundane Lustrator

    And that is why I think these “patdowns” are so damn wrong. It is no one’s business what underwear I choose to wear or if I am menstruating. (I hope that isn’t too graphic, Christopher.)

    And this isn’t just about women, to bring the topic to a wider audience. Men can be sensitive (physically and emotionally) about their bodies also.

    No one should be treated like a criminal nor abused nor discouraged from flying by gov’t employees because of what they wear, their hairstyle, tattoos, piercings, etc..

    This whole situation disgusts me.

  • cjr001

    I just want to say that not shying away from such descriptions may be the only way some people are finally going to realize what TSA is putting innocent people through.

    But it’s also your site and your rules, Christopher. :)

  • LeeAnneClark

    I completely disagree with this. Nothing I have said could be construed as offensive – especially considering these are things that were done to me in PUBLIC, by government employees, in front of children. I have used basic anatomical terms – vagina, vulva, breasts. (Okay yes there’s that comment in which someone called it a “hey nanny nanny”, but that was just funny). But as far as my posts in which I describe my assaults at the hands of the TSA…sorry, but I see no reason to not describe what they did to me in clear terms. If the government is free to do it to me, in public, why should I not be free to talk about it?

    If you’re worried about this blog being “family-friendly”, well perhaps parents should know what the TSA is doing, in public, to innocent civilians. Perhaps parents should think twice before they take their child into an airport where a low-paid government worker has the power to separate children from their parents and touch their children’s genitals without the parents’ consent.

    If you’re going to talk about the TSA on your blog, you need to recognize that what the TSA is doing is decidedly NOT “G”-rated. How else shall I explain what was done to me? Would you prefer I use euphemisms? “The nice lady with the angry face placed one of her extremities in between two of mine, and, because she was moving it quickly, one of her digits ended up inside my lady-parts”. Seriously, is there a way you’d prefer me to explain that a female TSA agent rammed her hand up in between my legs so that her thumb penetrated my vagina through my thin leggings? Because that is exactly what happened.

    I agree this is your site, but I cannot even express how strenuously I disagree. And I would venture to guess that your colleagues Lisa Simeone and Sommer Gentry would agree with me. They have both encouraged me in the past to speak the truth. And that’s all I’m doing.

  • Michelle C

    I have flown into many airports across the country and Caribbean. The WORSE pat down I have received was in Anchorage. I felt violated and molested after that pat down. It was disgusting and took a lot longer than usual pat down. Other passengers were making comments/jokes to my spouse about it. It was done by a “female.” I did write to TSA and to my elected official. Alaska is such a beautiful place…to bad my trip ended on a sour note.

  • Michelle C

    They also like to select women with babies for pat downs. When I traveled alone, I never got “randomly” selected. Now that I travel with a baby I get the extra pat down every time.

  • Sommer Gentry

    I used to fly out of Boston weekly on AirTran out of terminal D. There was only one checkpoint lane there; it was only staffed intermittently; and there were always only male employees working there. This was during a time when the TSA was intensely focused on breasts for some reason, and nearly every week a male screener would try to convince me to let him fondle my breasts because, “You’ll have to wait such a long time if we have to bring another screener here.” I always stood my ground and said no, but if they tried to coerce me into it I’m sure there were other women victimized.

    In any case, women are clearly targeted more frequently than men for patdowns, because so many of the reasons TSA requires patdowns are sexist by design: wearing a skirt, using a menstrual pad, wearing tops or dresses that look like outerwear but are not, having long or voluminous hair, et cetera. Of course, the men making decisions at TSA are the kind of men who think forcing women to pose nude for strange men in the body scanner porn room isn’t abusive, and that parents should let strangers touch their kids where their bathing suits cover. The people making decisions at TSA clearly don’t care about whether they’re making women vulnerable to exploitation or abuse.

  • Sommer Gentry

    I’m proud of Suzie Castillo for speaking out about the absolutely filthy abuse she endured, and for taking positive steps to stop TSA sexual assault from happening to anyone else ever again. And then you try to tear this beautiful woman down by calling her a has-been? I dare say DavidYoung2 is a never-will-be.

  • Ann Lamoy

    And I am sorry but the whole “wear loose clothing” just smacks of victim blaming.

    Women are told to not wear low cut or tight clothing/walk down a dark street/get drunk/ etc. in order to avoid getting sexually assaulted. Men don’t talk about “hey men, the way to prevent r*pe is to not r*pe”.

    This is just par for the course.

  • Lisa Simeone

    Ann, totally agree.

  • Daisiemae

    I want to give 5,000 clicks to agree.

  • Daisiemae

    Another 5,000 clicks.

  • Daisiemae

    What happened has to be told. If it can’t be told here, where else can it be told? LeeAnne did not use any vulgar or filthy language. She simply stated what happened. It is the TSA that is vulgar and filthy. Victims of TSA’s abuse should not be forced to remain silent about what TSA does to them.

  • Daisiemae

    If TSA is intensely interested in our menstrual pads, panty liners, and adult diapers, we certainly should be free to say that here on this site. We should be free to share that information and strategize on ways and means to keep TSA screeners out of our underwear. Especially in an article featuring TSA’s focus on sexual abuse of women.

  • Daisiemae

    And yet another reason we do not fly. My husband is disabled and must wear an adult diaper when he travels. We all know about TSA’s fascination with adult diapers. We have this illusion that we are progressing as a society, but just when we think we have killed the ugly monster called “Driving While Black” two more take its place: “Flying While Female” and “Flying While Disabled”.

  • Daisiemae


    My husband and I love Alaska. Fortunately, we were able to visit there before the gate closed. We are devastated to know that we will never be able to visit your beautiful state again. We were actually thinking of buying a summer home there. But it is not feasible to drive there from New Jersey.

    I sincerely feel for all Alaska residents. I know that many times flying is the only means of transportation and that means risking sexual assault from these TSA criminals. George Bush, Barack Obama, and all the Congressmen, Senators, and Supreme Court judges who have aided and abetted this obscenity have a lot to answer for their crimes against humanity.

  • Chaseme

    Yep…I get that all the time when I opt out. ‘Sir, are you aware the scanners are safe…blah blah blah.’ Yeah, I get it, I’ve done this a dozen times and have heard you guys make the same song and dance; let me be.

  • Chaseme

    Sorry, but my interests are to help fellow travelers and
    share my advice, much in the way Mr. Elliott shared his advice in the above article. Millions of travelers share your sentiments (including me); but if you want real change I recommend you spend your time reporting it or speaking up next time instead of ranting across the internet as a victim.

  • Susan Richart

    Daisiemae, I gave up flying many years ago after standing in my barefeet on a cold wet carpet in the Anchorage airport watching a FA standing spread eagled, being wanded and groped. That was it for me. I, too, am sad that I won’t see Alaska again as it is the one place I would like to return to.

  • LeeAnneClark

    I’m curious what makes you think I haven’t been taking every possible action to fight against this government abuse? What leads to your assumption that ALL I do is “rant across the internet”? Wouldn’t you think that I would be doing more than just “internet ranting”? Interesting (and very wrong) assumption.

    As for the “ranting”, my intent is to bring the topic to light, get the word out about what’s actually going on at the checkpoints, and educate people. If my descriptions of what was done to me and my mother are shocking, that’s only because what they did to us is shocking.

    Sometimes the only way to get people’s attention is to shock them. But I feel I must point out that the ONLY thing that is “shocking” about this is the fact that they did it to me. If people find the details disturbing, doesn’t that tell you that what they DID is highly disturbing?

  • Sommer Gentry

    LeeAnne is advocating an entirely different strategy, one in which travelers should shame TSA employees for taking part in a ridiculous farce of security that has real victims and sincerely traumatizing consequences. I think anyone who works for the TSA is a monster, a person with no kindness or empathy, no understanding of history, and no concept of right and wrong. These people take money to put their hands on the sex organs of underage children against their will. This behavior is sick and wrong, and anyone who participates in it can legitimately be called a villain.

    True, there are times when victims must pretend to humor or sympathize with their attackers in order to protect themselves. I understand why someone who is sincerely frightened of the sexual assault patdowns might pretend to be happy-smiley or submissive in an attempt to divert the attention of TSA employees or play on their sympathies. I’ve done it myself. But that’s not how I really feel. I really think every lowlife in a blue shirt deserves jail time for what they’ve done.

    LeeAnne and I and many others on this board have been very pro-active in fighting TSA abuse – we organized and presented a Congressional briefing, we attended and gave public comment at numerous meetings of the Aviation Security Advisory Council, I debated the TSA’s privacy officer (he’s a walking oxymoron), we write articles for a TSA watchdog blog, donate money to organizations like EPIC and the ACLU who are suing the TSA, and we have organized protests in our local airports. I don’t understand why you would assume that someone who replies to your message has never taken any other actions to stop the TSA menace.

  • Sommer Gentry

    Thank you for opting out! Good work.

  • LeeAnneClark

    Thank you, Sommer. I am proud to be aligned with you in this fight for basic human rights…for the right to NOT have strangers touch our sexual organs against our will under government authority. What the TSA does is monstrous, and I agree that anyone who does it is a monster. I will continue doing all I can, including speaking out in any forum in which the TSA is being discussed. If my speaking out makes people uncomfortable, perhaps they should think long and hard about why it makes them uncomfortable. Could it be that what the TSA is doing to us is, simply, WRONG and indefensible?

    I refuse to feel powerless. That’s what sexual assault is – it’s all about power. Yes, if I want to fly (and I do – I will not give that up), I must be careful how I conduct myself at the checkpoint. I must submit to what I know is a crime against me. But I will NOT be silent about it. I will not let anyone shame me into silence.

    The people who should be ashamed are 1) the TSA workers who perpetrate these crimes on a daily basis, and 2) the American people who willingly and silently allow it to happen, and even support it.

  • LeeAnneClark

    Christopher, I’ve been thinking about your request, and there is something more that I wanted to say about it. I do understand your reasons for asking. And I’m sure you didn’t appreciate my rather vehement response.

    But please consider this: what happened to me was, in every sense, a sexual assault. One of the worst results from sexual assault is the feeling of shame. And society perpetuates that. Sexual assault victims are made to feel ashamed for what happened to us. We are told in many different ways that it was our fault. Think of all the rape victims who have been blamed for their rape because of how they dressed. Think of all the rape victims who’ve been torn apart on the witness stand by prosecutors accusing them of “asking for it”. And think of all the rape victims who refused to testify out of terror that that would happen to them…and all the rapists who remain free because of it.

    You asked me to be “less graphic” in how I describe what happened to me. That is shaming me. You are basically telling me that describing my assault is something I should be ashamed of.

    Daisymae put it best in a comment right above this one: “Victims of TSA’s abuse should not be forced to remain silent about what TSA does to them.”

    Please don’t add to the shame. The whole experience was already so traumatic, and one of the ways I’m dealing with it is by doing what I can to make sure nobody else is ever traumatized that way again. There is a long way to go, and many new victims are created every week. I am speaking for all the victims of this horrific abuse.

    By not clearly describing it, readers can say “Oh it was just a pat-down, quit being overly dramatic”. Only by actually describing, in graphic detail, what happened, will they actually realize that it was not “just a pat-down”. I need to provide that imagery for them to get it. They need to know that a stranger actually slammed her erect thumb up into my vagina, between my labia, penetrating it through my thin leggings. Nobody who reads those details can brush that off with “you’re being too sensitive”. They need to be able to FEEL what it felt like to have that happen.

    I know you are horrified by what happened to me, and to all the other innocent Americans who’ve been assaulted by these monsters. I very much appreciate your being willing to write about it, when the rest of the mainstream media seems too afraid to actually speak the truth. You are one of the few journalists willing to put the truth out there. As such, I would ask that you allow us victims to continue to speak OUR truth, and not hide the horror of it behind euphemisms.

  • Joshua333

    So you’re the wacko….

  • Vox_Rationis13

    Long time reader, first time commenter. LeeAnne, I understand you feel you went through a traumatic experience. I’m glad you’re finding productive ways to deal with it / seek justice other than this column. But reading your same experience EVERY WEEK is getting old. Chris highlights different experiences with TSA to show that it’s pervasive. What would you think if he re-told the EXACT same story every week? If your purpose by commenting is to get therapy, you should really seek out a professional. If it’s to “warn” other travelers of your experience, you’ve done that. Probably about 50 times, but whatever. If it’s to make people LESS sensitive to what happened to you, consider your mission accomplished. I’d say the majority of people who read this column (and particularly these comments) are regulars. You comment as if no one has ever heard you before. Learn your audience. It’ll make your message go further.

  • LeeAnneClark

    When they stop doing it, I’ll stop talking about it.

    Christopher has a fluid audience. I’m sure he’d disagree that he doesn’t get new readers every week.

    Your suggestion to “seek a professional” is insulting. What I am doing is making a difference. I can’t tell you the number of people who have told me that my story has opened their eyes. I will continue to keep telling it for as long as it takes for the TSA to stop sexually assaulting innocent people.

    Yes, I comment as if some readers have never heard it before. Because I guarantee every week, some readers have never heard it before. I’m not a journalist or blogger, I’m not looking to entertain people. I get no money for this. I get nothing other than the satisfaction that I am exposing these monsters for what they’ve done.

    And anyone who gets LESS sensitive to the suffering of others by being exposed MORE to it is, in a work, sick. That sure doesn’t happen to ME! Seeing more abused kids doesn’t make me feel less sensitive to their pain, or less angry at their abusers. It makes me feel MORE. Maybe YOU should seek help for your bizarre loss of ability to feel human empathy towards the sufferings of others?

  • Vox_Rationis13

    I tried very hard in my comment to not attack you. I’m sorry you couldn’t do the same. It’s unfortunate that your overall vitriol makes you come across as such an unhappy person in life. I am truly sorry for that.

    So… you’re saying you have the same reaction to seeing a photo of a starving African child now as you did when you first saw one? Human psychology says otherwise. And yes, when we see *different* examples of suffering, we’re more attuned to it. If it’s the same image week after week, then not so much. I just think the people you did initially win over are starting to get tired of it (as I am) and there’s a better way to get your message across.

  • Vox_Rationis13

    Hi LeeAnne:

    Pls re-read my comment. I was trying to determine the motivation behind your comments, hence the if… then construction. You yourself chose the “if you need therapy” option over the “warn other travelers”. Freudian? Perhaps.

    I’m glad people are speaking out about their experiences. They should not be hidden. I’m just saying to know your audience. You have many times likened yourself to a rape victim. But the way a victim describes his/her experience is very different depending on the audience. She might use anatomically correct language when talking to the police, but when talking to people in general, she would most likely edit herself. I think this forum is more like strangers, or at best casual acquaintances (since we’ve gotten to know a lot of the frequent commenters’ personalities) talking. If I sat across from a rape victim in a casual setting, I know I’d feel more empathy for her if she wasn’t bombarding me with labias and erect thumbs and didn’t repeat her story multiple times in the same conversation (ie.same blog post). I have nothing against you, just some friendly PR advice, because I fear your message is not being heard the way you want it to be heard.

  • TestJeff Pierce

    Chaseme: You and others who share our sentiments can join the mailing list at Freedom To Travel USA (http:/ as we are working to change the unconstitutional searches and criminal touching.

    We have a plan we are working on this year.

    Also, the TSA may open up the scanner and groping to Public Comment this year as they were ordered to over 18 months ago when they were ruled against in EPIC vs DHS.

    This will allow citizens to comment on the abusive tactics, the profiling of handicapped people, and the TSA’s unbalanced and unreasonable attack on US citizens who have not killed even one person for OVER 50 YEARS by suicidal bombing with a working non-metallic bomb.

  • Vox_Rationis13

    I’m sorry for you. In more ways than one. I hope you find peace and a productive way to rectify the wrongs that have been done to you.

  • Vox_Rationis13

    Glad to see you edited your initial reply!

  • Vox_Rationis13

    I do mean well, and as you pointed out, I know nothing about you, really. I think your message needs to be heard, but PR 101 is retain the message, vary the delivery. You’ll be able to keep people’s interest that way and reach new ones.

  • Mundane Lustrator

    I wish I could upvote this a hundred times.

  • Susan Richart

    Sadly, Sommer, attempting to “shame” screeners for their actions won’t work. The result of such attempts will only be to anger the screener, who will take that anger out on his or her next victim. While attempting to shame screeners might bring some satisfaction to the one doing the shaming, in the long run it’s a selfish action and serves only to hurt other passengers.

  • LeeAnneClark

    Well we’ve probably beaten this into the ground, but I wanted to say that, while I appreciate your advice, there are only so many ways to tell my story. What happened, happened, exactly as I described it. Yes, some will hear it repeatedly…and that’s the part where those who’ve already heard it have the option of skipping over it.

    But new people WILL read it, and WILL be shocked, and it may cause them to give another thought to what those bullies in the smurf suits are really doing at the checkpoints. And maybe a few more people will be less deluded, and more critical of this abusive government agency, and Americans will finally stand up to the abuse. That’s what I’m trying to accomplish.

    Looks like you’ve heard it enough…so going forward, please do skip over my posts, or we’re just going to have this conversation over and over again. :-)

    Have a great day, and happy flying!

  • IDoNotBowToCommies

    Phoenix, late Feb 2011, 4:30 to 5:30 PM, I observed TSA screeners put 8 consecutive people through the “porno” scanner. Their “crime”? All being 20-40 years old, female, attractive, large breasted, and normal to athletic shaped. I went through that checkpoint myself and just a cursory metal detector pass. I was sitting beyond the checkpoint, and it wasn’t until the 3rd woman in the xray machine I’d noticed something wasn’t right. So I stayed and watched to figure out when the pattern would be broken. It wasn’t, after #8 I had to leave.

  • IDoNotBowToCommies

    The airlines have the ULTIMATE interest in securing their aircraft, the TSA is doing their work for them and THEY KNOW IT.

  • IDoNotBowToCommies

    If you “took action”, what would that be?

    Confront them?

    You would get:
    1. A Denial.
    2. Put on a bad flyer list for additional secondary screening
    3. A cop in your face threatening you for arrest (for whatever charge they make up when you are annoying their buddies in the TSA).

  • IDoNotBowToCommies

    They don’t WEAR their last names on their badges. Only a FIRST name. I looked at this. Then I thought, I could look at their airport badges. I got a look at some of them. They TOO only had the first name.

    It’s hard force someone to take responsibility for their actions when you can’t identify them.

  • IDoNotBowToCommies

    I have, it gets ignored.

  • IDoNotBowToCommies

    We tried that in Texas — actually we CRIMINALIZED their behaviors in legislation. The alleged leadership of the Texas legislature last session TORPEDOED the bill, including David Dewhurst, the next Texas Gov Wanna-be.

  • Nathan

    I would probably allow a finger in my ass if it meant no line. This chick is such a drama queen. Females in Africa are having their genitals mutilated with pieces of broken glass and she’s up-in-arms about being frisked by “female” TSAs? Welcome to post 9/11 America, get over yourself.

  • EdB

    I don’t remember which state it was, if it was Texas or another, that they also tried criminalizing the TSA’s actions. The FAA threatened to stop all commercial aviation in to and out of the state if they tried to enforce it. It was dropped after that.

  • pradcliffe

    I am equally disgusted with the the TSA mentality and these assaults but I do have a couple of questions/comments. First, I don’t really see the connection between the subject of women being selected for obtrusive pat downs and whether the TSA should be profiling for “security reasons.” Wrong question for this discussion. Also, I thought women were always patted down by other women. I’ve gone through a few pat downs but always by a woman and my genitals were not of special interest to them. Have women really been forced to accept a pat down by a male? This is not to say that having your genitals touched by a person of the same sex is acceptable. Obtrusive same sex pat downs may not have a sexual motive but they are punitive and a show of power. One more comment. In the video a young woman who is clearly upset after having been been subjected to a pat down describes how a sweet older female airport volunteer tries to comfort her by telling her that such pat downs and x-ray scans are better than being blown up. That says it all and that is why the the public has let the TSA become the monster it is.

  • Emily

    I had my first enhanced breast pat down this last time I flew. Supposedly it was because of sequin-like decorations on my shirt. I guess I’m never flying in that shirt again.

  • jebaker

    I guess they figure you won’t make a fuss and perhaps make the baby upset. That’s so sad.