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The Monday Rant: You Pierced What?!?

Cindy Loose

Should you have to remove body piercings to pass through security?

Well, now you apparently don't, but not before an ugly incident in Texas. According to an Associated Press story, Mandi Hamlin, 37, of Texas says she wasn't given a patdown option when her nipple piercings set off alarms last month in Lubbock. Instead, she was told she must remove the piercings, she says. She preferred to simply show them to a female agent, but was told they came out of her nipples or she came out of the line.


On the case: Mandi Hamlin, right, who claims a Transportation Security Administration agent forced her to remove a nipple ring with pliers in order to board an airplane demonstrates what she was asked to do by the TSA, as her attorney, Gloria Allred, looks on. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

Behind a curtain, she easily took out a bar-shaped piercing, according to the report, but couldn't get out a ring in a second breast. She told the TSA officer that it wouldn't come out without pliers, and the officer gave her a pair.

She got it out with pliers and was allowed to board, even though she was still wearing a belly button ring.
Hamilin says she filed a complaint, and the TSA's customer service manager at the Lubbock airport concluded the screening was handled properly. Hamlin asked for an apology and pulled attorney Gloria Allred into the fray.

According to a letter read by Allred, "After nipple rings are inserted, the skin can often heal around the piercing, and the rings can be extremely difficult and painful to remove."

The TSA, to its credit, has now amended its policy. In a statement posted on its Web site, the administration says: "TSA has reviewed the procedures themselves and agrees that they need to be changed. In the future 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. TSA acknowledges that our procedures caused difficulty for the passenger involved and regrets the situation in which she found herself. We appreciate her raising awareness on this issue and we are changing the procedures to ensure that this does not happen again."

According to the AP report, Hamlin's attorney said she accepted the TSA statement as an apology. The policy change is "an achievement for the protection of passengers' civil rights while meeting the security goals of the TSA," Allred said.

But wow, yet another reason not to get nipple rings. But that's not really the point, is it? If someone wants body piercings, seems it's not my business. Nor the business of the TSA, beyond making sure that they are what the owner purports them to be.

Can't see how a nipple ring would be a danger to anyone but the owner and any baby she might decide to breast feed. Then again, now that I think of all the other possible body parts that are sometimes pierced . . . What's a free society to do?

And why do these sorts of things happen in the first place?

By Cindy Loose |  March 31, 2008; 6:31 AM ET  | Category:  Air Travel , Cindy Loose , Monday Rants
Previous: The Friday Photo: Look, It's a Bird . . . | Next: Clear Lane: A Clarification (and Apology)

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Yet another example of common sense being lost in the name of "security." It is patently absurd that this even happened in the first place. It shows that the morons that are employed by TSA would do better to work somewhere where logic and commonsense are not necessary.

Posted by: DB | March 31, 2008 8:53 AM

This story outrages me. As someone who regularly flies in/out of a smaller airport, I have more trouble there with security because people have the time to just, in my opinion, make things up - this is the only place where I was pulled aside for special screening because I opted to wear my flip flops rather than going barefoot (before the rules changed to make it mandatory) to the surprise of another worker (since the person who decided I needed more screening thought that I could somehow hide something in my 1/4 inch heels).

As for this incident, in any other, normal airport, they would have asked if she had on an underwire bra and she would be on the way. I honestly think that I would have opted not to get on the plane rather than have to go behind a screen to take something out of my breasts.

Posted by: Betty | March 31, 2008 9:01 AM

I have had a varying number of piercings in my head and torso over the years, and they have never set off metal detectors. Are these updated, more sensitive detectors? In any case - make sure it was what she said it was, sure, but make her take it out? Ridiculous. It's not like popping earrings in and out; replacing the piercing will cause her, at best, pain, and at worst, she'll have to wait for it to heal entirely and have the piercing re-done.

Posted by: Maxine of Arc | March 31, 2008 9:52 AM

Is there a step in TSA training where all common sense and judgment are taken away? And I know the passenger is stuck following whatever rules the current TSA person on duty dreams up, but they should have some kind of instant appeal service (beyond talking to a supervisor, who can be just as dumb and wrong as the first person you get) - say, polling the next 10 passengers in line, or asking someone working at the newsstand, or calling someone with half an ounce of common sense.

Posted by: h3 | March 31, 2008 10:31 AM

This is particularly absurd considering that she was not required to remove her belly button piercing.

Posted by: S | March 31, 2008 10:57 AM

Ditto what Betty said.

I live close to MSP airport, but there's a small regional airport in my town. NWA has priced it way out of reason these days, but we used to use it frequently (since "long term parking" - one row from normal parking - is $4 daily).

My carry-on bag was always emptied (I guess blood glucose meters are currently being used as cleverly disguised bombs these days) and then I'd have to be wanded. And for some reason, they were always barking at people to stay in line. Which was ludicrous, because the way the layout between the lounge and the TSA line, most people stayed in their seats until the line was moving, since a line of more than 5 people really wasn't possible. It was ridiculous.

And the last time my parents flew out of there was truly the last. Because it's a one-gate airport, TSA agents open security right before you board your little commuter jet. Out of habit, my mother tends to go to visit the ladies' room right before she boards (she takes a diuretic) - but she didn't realize that they don't have a bathroom inside the post-TSA screen area.

So they let her back out to go to the bathroom - ten steps away from their post, and she was gone for a duration of about 60 seconds. She even left her carry-on with my father.

But when she came back, they had her turn out her pockets, take off her shoes (again), then take off her belt and her sweater, and patted her down. And they were distinctly unpleasant to her the whole time.

I guess they thought she was having a clandestine meeting with a terrorist in this 97% Caucasian, conservative Republican town, where said terrorist strapped a bomb to her body. Instead of just being a late-middle-aged woman on diuretics who didn't realize there wasn't a bathroom on the other side of the gate.

After that, my parents decided to just rent a car and take the easy drive out 94 instead.

Posted by: Chasmosaur | March 31, 2008 11:07 AM

So if she was a he and had his nipples pierced do you really think TSA would have put him through this BS! Doubtful! Sue TSA and the screener. Make the screener's life miserable since he doesnt have liability insurance and TSA will not cover him/her!

Posted by: Anonymous | March 31, 2008 12:34 PM

Chasmosaur, I'll do you one better on TSA screeners not permitting one-time-only screening for people exiting and re-entering the gate areas. Last fall my mother and I had to fly through JFK twice, and both times we had to deal with hostile wheelchair attendants who were rightly PO'd that every time they escorted a wheelchair through the line, they had to take off belts and shoes. These people are recognized employees of an airport subcontractor, and *they* apparently can't be trusted not to strap on the explosives while outside the gate areas! Madness. And don't get me started about how wheelchair passengers are treated. The entire experience was an exercise in humiliation for all of us, which was especially unappreciated as we were on our way to bury my father. Travel was Arizona to New York, so driving wasn't an option. TSA employees are all either clinical sociopaths, with no sense of empathy, or they're subhuman.

Posted by: BxNY | March 31, 2008 1:03 PM

I have titanium bars and screws in my lower spine, so they don't set off the current generation of metal detectors, which screen only for ferrous metals. My luck may change when TSA installs the next generation of screening equipment. If TSA starts requiring my to strip to show them my scars, I intend to get the following tattoo on mu buttocks:

DEAR TSA, IF YOU REQUIRE ME TO EXPOSE MY A$$, I REQUIRE YOU TO KISS IT. HAVE A NICE DAY.

Posted by: Sasquatch | March 31, 2008 1:25 PM

to BxNY:

Gads, that's horrendous. I know we used to arrive three hours early when traveling with my grandmother, who could do without the wheelchair if pressed, but didn't like to in the airport because of long distances. Security was such a royal pain in the butt with her, too.

I'm not sure what TSA is thinking when they look at these frail, 90+ year old people. Sure they can be vigorous, but they are so tiny - where are they possibly hiding anything?

Posted by: Chasmosaur | March 31, 2008 2:19 PM

I detest TSA. We got the patdown on our last trip home (the most dangerous people in the world are middle aged couples traveling to visit relatives at Christmas). and I sincerely believe that we got the patdown because we got bumped from one airline to another. And because of travel delays, we didn't leave until the next day. What happened? got the patdown again. So when they say that the patdown is random THEY ARE LYING. And note to TSA agents reading this: DO NOT SAY you are doing the patdowns to keep the traveling public safe. The traveling public will think you are pathetic drones incapable of independent thought.

Posted by: Beth | March 31, 2008 2:58 PM

Yuck. I don't care how much TSA employees get paid. It ain't enough to see some saggy breast mutilated by some piercing. Double yuck!

Posted by: Anonymous | March 31, 2008 4:01 PM

Hmmm.

As a fairly conservative male, I am not into body piercing. But I can't help but wonder how it would go over if a man had to whip out his "Prince Albert" piercing at a checkpoint.

(If you don't know what that means, Google "Prince Albert piercing," but be warned that the search is HIGHLY likely to turn up images some may deem offensive. Heck, I have the body part in question and the notion of seeing one mutilated like that makes me shudder in discomfort.)

Posted by: Rich | March 31, 2008 9:56 PM

The only plausible explanation is sexual harassment. Otherwise they would routinely make people remove ear rings, and belly button rings (which are not real common, but probably a lot more common that nipple piercings).

Given that even on this woman they made her remove her nipple piercing but allowed her to keep her navel piercing in, I see no other explnation than a juvenile sense of humor, manifesting iteself in sexual harassment, on the part of TSA agents.

EVen in its own statements about the issue the TSA offerred no explanation for why one had to be removed but not the other. Why? There is no good reason.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 1, 2008 1:01 PM

in the article i read in san francisco, where body piercings are more commonplace, the woman made it through the regular scanner but for some reason was pulled aside to be scanned with a wand. it was at this point that the metal detector in the wand went off, and thus her troubles began. i have no personal knowledge of this incident, so my question is: why was she screened secondarily with a wand, and why was she not given the option for a full "pat down" by a female TSA official? body piercings are not uncommon and surely the TSA can come up with a relevant protocol for dealing with them that does not humiliate travelers while still protecting the interests of all. also not mentioned in this article but in the article i read in san francisco was the conduct of the TSA screeners (male) who made fun of and laughed at the woman trying to go through screening while she was in distress and was crying throughout the process. not a good situation.

Posted by: dextert | April 2, 2008 7:15 PM

Informative,topical and timely .

Posted by: Somnath Bhattasali | April 3, 2008 12:20 AM

I am glad to see that TSA is continuing to keep our nation safe. It would be a true danger to allow nipple piercings onto aircraft. It would be almost as bad as allowing tweezers and bottled water to fly. We can't let the terrorists win! Yes, that's sarcasm.

TSA continues its ridiculous farce masquerading as security-- does anybody really believe they are doing a better job than the airlines would do, especially once you account for all the new high-tech gear they have??

Their ongoing utter incompetence (notice how badly they fail penetration tests) is bad enough, but cruel sexism isn't in TSA's duties last time I checked.

Everything indicates this woman was singled out and tormented for her "sexy" piercings (the tittering TSA twerps are a dead giveaway).

When's the last time somebody was required to remove earrings, or belly rings, or even wedding bands? If a nipple-bar is deadly, so are earrings!

Nobody seems willing to call TSA on their erratic, unreasonable, pointless behavior. Have we become so cowed, so afraid, we'll accept any indignity from any purported "authority" in the name of so-called "security"? Travelers and travel writers both seem too frightened to call like it like it is.

We need to clean house, starting by firing every TSA employee involved in this sad, ridiculous situation, and establish a grievance system for addressing such abuses. We should not have to wait for CNN to break the news before getting results.

In a first-world republic, this should have happened already.

Posted by: omars | April 3, 2008 5:09 PM

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