Following the refusal of ExpressJet pilot Michael Roberts to submit to imaging or a pat-down, pilots' unions have asked the Transportation Security Administration for changes, with little luck. One pilot says agressive pat-downs kept him grounded. — Ed.
I am a USAirways pilot with hip replacements. I am unable to successfully pass through a metal detector. For approximately five years I have been questioned, wanded and patted down every morning each day I report for work. I've asked for help with a solution, I've been through all the company and union channels to no avail.
Approximately one year ago, I encountered something new called a groin check. This is where they run the back of their hands down your fly from top to bottom one inch to either side. I said I would allow this if they don't touch my stuff. The screener accused me of being a "homophobe" and said he can't guarantee he wont touch me in this area. I said then I can't go through the check. I called the airline for direction and they agreed to assist me in finding a solution if I would JUST take the flight out. I allowed him his groin check and was so humiliated and enraged that I was pretty much useless in the cockpit, I was self-absorbed. Fortunately my captain could see this and just picked up my duties also and never said a word. I called the union about this and they informed me that I NEVER have to let someone touch me there, that that is wrong. They also reminded me of my obligation to remain fit for duty in our flight ops manual as well as federal aviation regulations, and should I find myself in a similar situation again, don't fly. Well, I noticed that this groin check kept popping up more and more often until I forced myself to accept it and block it out.
Oct. 30 rolled around and I was to fly Phoenix to Charlotte, flight 1550 at 1745 EST. We had received a company message stating if we refuse the body scanner we WILL receive the new pat down and we must comply. I knew I was "in for it." I elected to follow all company procedure and directives and if it was as bad as they stated, I WILL not fly this time. Well, I beeped [in the metal detector], was offered the scanner and opted out instead to endure the pat down. I requested a private screening with the Captain as my witness (you always have the right to a witness.) They started in my shirt collar, went inside my pants waistband all the way around, up inside my crotch and squeezed around from the front each side and up the backside both sides. I was groped 4 times total! Next they rubbed my whole body down with a full palm pressure...including my buttocks and the front groin one inch either side of my fly. I exited without saying anything, the captain and myself just hanging our heads in shame. This is a new breed of LOW that I never thought I would allow…EVER.
I arrived at the aircraft and the captain and I both agreed I was not fit to fly. I was red-faced and sweating profusely (every swear word I ever knew was being silently mouthed). For the first time, it occurred to me that it's humiliation, not embarrassment, that causes anger. We advised the agents, the company and the union. They were unable to locate a replacement at the time, so subsequently the flight was cancelled. I followed the letter of the law in every way, and yet I have risked my career, reputation and the well-being of people around me who depend on my support.
Rest assured folks, Michael Roberts's view of this "land grab" of the last of our precious rights is right on. I've watched the screening system get progressively worse for five years. I estimate I've already endured over 700 pat downs. It's as if they plan some new hideous procedure, try it on us for a while and if they get away with it, they go further. It HAS to stop here. We own our bodies, not the government. It occurs to me that a groping does not reveal a pound of explosive in someone's rectum. So, if this is how TSA approaches its mission to prevent airplanes from blowing up, has anyone thought what's next? If we go along with this I can see cavity checks around the next corner. They believe just using "in the name of safety" makes it so and makes it right. IT DOES NOT!!!!!