(CJenna MacFarlane was on the way to visit a friend in Baltimore in April when her carry-on bag triggered an alarm at Charlotte’s airport.
A Transportation Security Administration screener told MacFarlane she would have to undergo a full-body pat-down by a female officer. Late for her flight and with no option other than to be searched in private, MacFarlane agreed.
The pat-down, done over her clothes, explored her breasts, crotch and buttocks.
“I did not imagine that she would ask me a few times to spread my legs wider and in fact touch my vagina four times with the side of her hand,” MacFarlane later wrote in a complaint to the TSA.
The experience humiliated MacFarlane, 56, a Charlotte graphic designer and part-time teacher who flies several times a year. It also left her with a nagging question that millions of fellow travelers could ask: How much privacy must Americans give up in order to fly safely?
Just a month before her search, TSA had launched a new, “more involved” pat-down procedure…
“Pat-downs result in the discovery of knives and other dangerous items carried on a passenger’s person on a daily basis,” spokesman Mike England said. “They are a valuable tool in keeping our skies safe.”
But some security experts question whether the screenings are really effective, and civil liberties advocates say pat-downs can be nearly sexual in their intimacy.
Complaints poured in when the TSA began more aggressive searches in 2010. Travelers gave graphic accounts of genital contact by agents, the New York Times reported, and “a general sense of powerlessness and humiliation…”