TSA to change procedures for passengers with body piercings

Sunday, March 30, 2008

LOS ANGELES -- The Transportation Security Administration said it will change the way its officers search passengers with body piercings after a Texas woman complained she was forced to remove a nipple ring with pliers in order to board an airplane.

Mandi Hamlin, 37, had demanded an apology, and her attorney sent a letter to the TSA this week requesting a civil rights investigation.

Hamlin said she was trying to board a flight from Lubbock, Texas, to Dallas on Feb. 24 when she was scanned by a TSA agent after passing through a larger metal detector without problems.

The female TSA agent used a handheld detector that beeped when it passed in front of Hamlin's chest, the Dallas-area resident said.

Hamlin said she told the woman she was wearing nipple piercings. The agent then called over her male colleagues, one of whom said she would have to remove the jewelry, Hamlin said.

Hamlin said she could not remove them and asked if she could instead display her pierced breasts in private to the female agent. But several other male officers told her she could not board her flight until the jewelry was out, she said.

The TSA said Friday in a statement on its Web site that the officers properly followed procedures, but that the procedures must change. In the future passengers can either allow a visual inspection of their piercings or remove them, the agency said.

The statement stopped short of apologizing to Hamlin.

"TSA acknowledges that our procedures caused difficulty for the passenger involved and regrets the situation in which she found herself," the agency said in a statement. "We appreciate her raising awareness on this issue and we are changing the procedures to ensure that this does not happen again."

Hamlin's attorney said she accepted the TSA statement as an apology, and commended the agency for taking quick action. The policy change is "an achievement for the protection of passengers' civil rights while meeting the security goals of the TSA," Gloria Allred said.

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