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Flight crews report improper searches Union accuses screeners of 'illicit touching'
By Blake Morrison
Crewmembers have been fondled and groped by airport screeners and targeted for improper searches at security checkpoints, the nation's largest flight attendants union says.
The charges were outlined earlier this month in a letter the Association of Flight Attendants sent to Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta: ''Numerous flight attendants report being hand frisked, told to remove shoes and belts and having their bags thoroughly searched when passengers were not subjected to the same treatment.''
''It's just unacceptable,'' union President Patricia Friend said Thursday. ''My hope is that it will begin to resolve itself'' as the government makes screeners federal employees.
Friend said she has not heard back from Mineta. Bill Mosley, a spokesman for the Department of Transportation, said Thursday that officials ''have not responded to Ms. Friend yet, so we can't comment.''
The letter cites four specific instances in which flight attendants were subjected to what Friend called ''abusive behavior'' or ''illicit touching'' by screeners:
* A pregnant flight attendant based in Portland, Ore., ''was subjected to a search during which screeners pressed against her belly'' after the buttons of her blouse set off metal detectors. ''When she asked them to refrain from doing this,'' the letter says, ''the screeners became angry and threatened her with a strip search.''
* A female flight attendant ''was repeatedly rubbed all over her body with a screening wand wielded by a male security guard'' at San Francisco International Airport. ''Although she asked him to stop touching her body, the guard continued to do so until she eventually stepped away from him. The guard got angry, then called for a female pat-down.''
* A male flight attendant passing through security at Boston's Logan Airport ''was frisked, made to open his belt and the top of his pants and to shake them in front of passengers in the airport boarding area.'' When he boarded, he noticed a passenger with knitting needles, which screeners should have confiscated, the letter says.
* A female flight attendant was asked by a screener at Los Angeles International Airport ''to put her food container through the X-ray scanner. The flight attendant told the screener that food could spill, and asked that it be hand searched. The screener became irate and asked the flight attendant if she wanted a private room, without explaining why. The flight attendant indicated that she didn't know why she would need a private room, at which time the screener had armed National Guardsmen surround the flight attendant and demanded she strip down,'' the letter says.
The letter then quotes the flight attendant: '' 'My fellow flight attendants ran to the gate to the captain,' she reported. 'When the captain showed up asking what was going on, they told him there was nothing he could do, and they felt that I was a security risk.' ''