Daniel Rubin: Women complain about TSA screeners at Philly airport

Posted: June 21, 2010

Is it a Philly thing?

Are complaints about strange security screenings at the airport something you'll find across the country, or is there a particular problem here?

I can't give you statistical certainty on this. But when you listen to frequent fliers like Quality Quinn, you have to wonder.

"There is something wrong with the culture at this airport," Quinn, a 55-year-old educational consultant, told me last week.

For 20 years she has flown around the country, giving talks on literacy, and in January she moved from Austin, Texas, to Philadelphia.

"Never in my life have I experienced what I go through almost every other week at the Philadelphia airport," she said. "I have had the most excruciating, embarrassing [screenings] there."

She called me after my column last Monday about retired professor Nancy Anne Phillips, who complained that before an April flight an airport screener's wand made contact with her crotch.

The TSA has reviewed a tape of that encounter and concluded its security officer did nothing inappropriate. The agency has since erased the tape.

Quinn said she, too, had endured a recent wanding that went too far.

So did Fayette Veverka, a Villanova University theology professor.

And Lynne Lechter, a King of Prussia lawyer who has run for the state House.

"I cannot stress enough that this behavior has not been encountered in any of the other cities from which I have gone through security," Lechter wrote last week to US Airways CEO Doug Parker.

Lechter was complaining about an April 19 flight to Raleigh-Durham International Airport. She isn't sure why, after she went through the metal detector, she was selected for a secondary screening.

But she said in an interview that the woman holding the wand had run it up and down the inside of her legs - Lechter was wearing a skirt - and that Lechter had found it "sexually suggestive."

Worse, she said, "a leering man watched the entire search." When she complained to a supervisor at a desk, he investigated, but the man was gone, Lechter said.

Like Phillips, she declined a private screening. "The last thing I wanted to do was go in a private room," Lechter said. "I'd rather have the public humiliation."

Veverka said she was heading for an early-morning flight to Cleveland on June 11 when her metal replacement knees set off the alarms.

"I had on a loose skirt," the professor said, and when the female screener wanded her, "I just jumped. I was like, 'Excuse me?' . . . I just found it very invasive."

She said the screener had put her hands under and between her breasts, presumably because Veverka's bra contained metal.

"The press was too hard for what they're looking for," she said. "I felt groped."

Quinn's most recent adventure at the airport was on May 28 as she was heading to Charleston, S.C. She's had two hip replacements, and her back and knee are girded with metal. After the detector sounded, she walked to a glass enclosure for a secondary inspection.

She had to stop the screener who wanded her.

"I just said, 'Too invasive.' The person examining me slapped her hands at her side. A supervisor dismissed her and sent someone else over."

TSA spokeswoman Ann Davis said she couldn't address the specifics of the women's complaints, but recommended that anyone uncomfortable with a screening should approach the agency's customer-service representative.

"We want to treat every passenger with dignity and respect," she said, "and if they feel that isn't happening, we want to hear about it so we can give the screeners remedial training in standard operating procedures."

When I told Quinn that I'd heard from two other women who complained about screenings after my column about Phillips ran, she offered a theory about why these incidents involved professional women.

It wasn't what I expected. I had written in the spring about Deirdre Walker, a former Maryland police official who has concluded from personal experience that the TSA likes to select those who look least likely to put up a fuss.

Quinn ventured that she and other multitasking businesswomen had a super-focused look that screeners could take for haughtiness.

"We always just look like our hair is on fire," she said. "I'm sure we have that look that says, 'Make it snappy.' "


Contact Daniel Rubin at 215-854-5917 or drubin@phillynews.com.

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