The Transportation Security Administration warns that “incidents of female terrorists hiding explosives in sensitive areas are on the rise all over the world.” By “sensitive areas,” the TSA does not mean airplane cockpits or cargo holds; it means breasts and vaginas.
Still, that does not explain why TSA agents at the airport in Lubbock, Texas, forced Mandi Hamlin to remove her nipple rings on February 24, saying she could not board her flight to Dallas until she did so. The removal was a painful and embarrassing process that required the use of pliers and elicited snickers from the screeners.
It was also contrary to the policy described on the TSA’s website, which says passengers with body piercings may have to undergo “additional screening for a pat-down inspection” if their intimate jewelry sets off the walk-through metal detector. In Hamlin’s case it didn’t, and she says it never has. Instead she was selected for secondary examination at random, and the screener’s wand reacted to her nipple rings. Hamlin explained the situation and offered to show a female screener her breasts in private to verify that the nipple rings were not explosives or weapons. She was not permitted to do so.
Nor was Hamlin offered the choice implied by the TSA’s website, which says “you may ask to remove your body piercing in private as an alternative to a pat-down search.” Hamlin says she would have preferred a pat-down but was never given the option.
An internal investigation nevertheless concluded that TSA personnel “properly followed procedures.” At the same time, the agency said, “TSA has reviewed the procedures themselves and agrees that they need to be changed.” From now on, it promised, “TSA will inform passengers that they have the option to resolve the alarm through a visual inspection of the article in lieu of removing the item in question.”
The TSA may also have to tweak its procedures for passengers with feeding tubes. In March a screener at the Orlando International Airport forced a teenaged traveler to unseal his backup feeding tube, contaminating it and putting his life at risk. After press inquiries, the TSA apologized and opened an investigation.