PHOENIX – Some women claim they are getting a lot more than their bags checked by male airport screeners in this era of heightened security.
Dozens of women from across the country have filed complaints with the Federal Aviation Administration and state officials alleging that they have been groped during the increasingly frequent body searches at U.S. airports.
The complaints include 18 filed with the FAA by women traveling alone who claim to have been singled out during supposedly random body searches, then fondled by male security guards, according to FAA spokesman Jerry Snyder.
Arizona Attorney General Janet Napolitano has been contacted by at least 35 women who claim they were touched inappropriately during pat-down searches, spokeswoman Pati Urias said, but none have filed a criminal complaint. The complaints were made from Oct. 11 to Jan. 31.
Sharon Schmidt, of Placerville, Calif., described how an America West security worker led her to a private area used for airport screening, put his hands inside her sweater and sneered as he moved them up her torso.
"I am appalled, infuriated and disgusted that the FAA has given airlines their approval to randomly violate my civil liberties," she said.
Female passengers may request female screeners at airports, but no federal law requires airlines to have an employee of the same sex on hand at all times to conduct searches.
The complaints are being forwarded to the airlines, which are responsible for disciplinary decisions, Snyder said. He did not identify the airlines involved in the complaints, nor give further detail on the alleged incidents.
America West said it interviewed three male gate staff agents who may have witnessed the Jan. 21 search that horrified Schmidt.
"No one could recall this particular passenger, but all denied ever singling out women for search; continuing to search any male or female passenger who refused a search; or touching women inappropriately during the search process," America West general counsel Linda Mitchell said in a letter to Napolitano's office last week.
The three men were nevertheless "counseled on the use of tact and professionalism," and the same message was reiterated to all gate agents, Mitchell wrote.
Nobody has been disciplined as a result of Schmidt's complaint, she wrote.
Passengers of Alaska and United Airlines also contacted the attorney general's office about being groped during searches, Napolitano said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.