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Perhaps the average man likes being felt up by government workers more than women

The airport experience is bad enough these days, so when you hear stories like these, in today’s NYT piece by Joe Sharkey, you really have to wonder is it worth it. Security is one thing, but indiscriminate groping of random women passengers just doesn’t seem like it’s an appropriate or effective use of TSA staff time. Especially when box cutters, machetes and all kinds of weapons are still getting through the screening process. And I don’t think they’re getting in by being stashed in a B-cup.

At a security checkpoint recently at the Fort Lauderdale airport, Patti LuPone, the singer and actress, recalled, she was instructed to remove articles of clothing. “I took off my belt; I took off my clogs; I took off my leather jacket,” she said. “But when the screener said, ‘Now take off your shirt,’ I hesitated. I said, ‘But I’ll be exposed.’ ” When she persisted in her complaints, she said, she was barred from her flight.

Perhaps the former stage star of Evita is in the same terrorist cell as Cat Stevens.

Heather L. Maurer, a business executive from Washington, had a similar experience at Logan Airport in Boston recently. And a few weeks ago, Jenepher Field, 71, who walks with the aid of a cane, was subjected to a breast pat-down at the airport outside Kansas City, Mo.

These women and a good many others, both frequent and occasional travelers, say they are furious about recent changes in airport security that have increased both the number and the intensity of pat-downs at the nation’s 450 commercial airports. And they are not keeping quiet.

In dozens of interviews, women across the country say they were humiliated by the searches, often done in view of other passengers, and many said they had sharply reduced their air travel as a result.

The new security policies on body searches were put into practice in mid-September, after a terrorist attack in Russia a few weeks before that destroyed two planes, killing 90 people. Two Chechen women were thought to have carried nonmetallic explosives onto the planes, officials said. It is not known whether the explosives were hidden in the women’s clothing, or whether the women merely boarded unimpeded, carrying the explosives.

…While some men have complained about the groping nature of the searches, women object the most. Several women interviewed said that male colleagues had scoffed at their complaints, saying that a physical pat-down was a small price to pay for security.

“I laugh when men tell me that,” said Betty Spence, president of the National Association for Female Executives, who says she has been selected for pat-downs several times in the last month on trips from New York to Chicago, Washington and Miami on various airlines. “Men don’t know how offensive it is to be touched by anyone when you don’t want to be touched.”

…With the new rules, security personnel are given more latitude to select whomever they want for secondary screenings, whenever they want, and to conduct more intrusive pat-downs and more thorough examinations of carry-on bags. In both cases, travelers have the right to seek a private area, and women can request female inspectors.

A provision in the new rules – which says that a screener’s “visual observation” of a passenger is enough to order a secondary screening – seems to single out women, something that many women searched attribute to a belief that bras are good places to conceal nonmetallic explosives.

The provision states, “T.S.A. policy is that screeners are to use the back of the hand when screening sensitive body areas, which include the breasts (females only), genitals and buttocks.”

At the Fort Lauderdale airport on Nov. 5, Ms. LuPone says she removed her shirt after vehemently protesting, revealing the thin, see-through camisole that she was wearing. Next, she was given a pat-down by a screener who, she said, “was all over me with her hands,” including touching her groin area and breasts.

Ms. LuPone said she demanded an explanation. “We don’t want another Russia to happen,” she said one of the screeners told her.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding