Flight Attendant Forced to Show Her Prosthetic Breast in the Name of Airline Security

Photo of a Prosthetic Breast pictures photographs

Although it wasn’t the first airplane hijacking, the 9/11 terrorist attacks have changed air travel security forever.  While vigilance, caution, and thinking outside the box (except for the tampon thing … that was just nuts) in terms of potential dangers are both necessary and admirable, it’s only a matter of time before airport security goes too far and airline passengers are …

… essentially victims to something akin to a police state.

It looks like that time is approaching fast, as cancer survivor Cathy Bossi can attest to after being subjected to a pretty humiliating experience in the name of air security.  Specifically, Bossi was ordered to remove her prosthetic breast during an enhanced pat-down despite explaining the unpleasant circumstances of her fake boob.

From Yahoo News:

Cathy Bossi, a flight attendant for three decades, told WBTV television in Charlotte, North Carolina, that she was selected by a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent to go through a full-body scanner, and then was sent to be patted down.

Passengers and airline crew members are being randomly selected to pass through new scanners being deployed at airports as part of stepped-up security measures.

They are supposed to be given an “enhanced” pat-down, which includes a frisk of their private parts, if they refuse to go through the X-ray machines or if the scanner shows something suspicious.

Okay, here’s where my brain and my heart diverge.  I understand the need for every precaution being taken.  I totally do.  Logically, I think that any action that could deter another catastrophic nightmare like 9/11 is very wise.

However, at what point does it become too invasive?  There have been a lot of stories about airline security going beyond the pale, but the details of this one are especially disturbing:

Bossi said the TSA agent who patted her down “put her full hand on my breast and said, ‘What’s this?’

“I said, ‘It’s a prosthesis because I have breast cancer.’ And she said, ‘Well, you’ll have to show me that,’” Bossi said.

“I did not take the name of the person at the time because it was just so horrific of an experience that it just blew my mind. I couldn’t believe someone had done that to me,” she said.

That’s a horrible violation in my opinion.  Like, unforgivably horrible.  The woman survives breast cancer, has a prosthetic breast so that she can look as “normal” as possible, and gets harassed over it?

And, yes, I do think that’s harassment.  If Bossi had thirty years as a flight attendant under her belt and was upfront about both the prosthesis itself and the painful reason necessitating it, isn’t that enough?

According to an e-mail sent from the TSA to WBTV, agents are “allowed to ask to see and touch prosthetics but are not allowed to remove them.”  When I think prosthetics, visions of fake arms and legs come up in my head.  With the advances in technology that have allowed prosthetic breasts to be possible comes the need to wade into muddy water in terms of more traditionally private body parts.

It’s one thing to talk about touching and seeing a prosthetic leg, but fondling a fake boob in the name of safety?  Yeah, that’s going too far …



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35 thoughts on “Flight Attendant Forced to Show Her Prosthetic Breast in the Name of Airline Security

  1. Do you see the logical side of this? Do you believe that these procedures will stop incidents?
    The reason the planes were so easily hijacked in 2001 was not because the men had the terrifying weapon of a utility knife, but because no-one stopped them. Why did no-one stop them? Not because of the terrifying weapon, but because there was no reason to.
    In 2001, hijackings usually meant hostages, and ransom money, or some other demand. It was usually considered safer and more practical to allow the plane to be directed. There was no (common, public) idea that the planes would be used as weapons themselves.
    .
    We live in a different world now. When someone tries to set off a bomb in their shoe or in their underwear, people do what they can to stop them. No-one is going to succeed in taking over a plane with an xacto knife, sewing scissors, or knitting needles. There is no reason to fear that.
    .
    Someone puts a bomb in a shoe, so everyone must remove their shoes. Someone puts a bomb in underwear, so everyone must be stripped nude and groped. It’s a constant game of catchup, and it punishes the average citizen for what other have already failed to do. What is going to be the reaction when someone puts a bomb up his rectum? When he embeds it in a woman’s stomach? When he has a child swallow it?
    It won’t make us safe – it will merely make us citizens of a police state. What is needed is looking ahead, coming up with things that might happen, and taking realistic precautions against them. What is needed is letting people know that they can make a difference. what won’t help is punishing the masses.

    • Thank you! This exactly!
      My poor facebook friends have been hearing me rant about this (in fairly similar terms) for the past week or so. The sheer number of incidents that have cropped up in the last few weeks point to how totally inappropriate these measures are. If a stranger approached me and touched me the way the TSA agents touch passengers, I would call it sexual assault. The utter disrespect and disregard the TSA agents have for airline passengers is shocking. If this continues, airline travel will be down the shitter, and there will be no one to blame but the TSA.

      It also pisses me off that Obama has said it’s an “unpleasant but necessary” precaution. Yeah, tell me that when they strip search your daughter. Wait, they won’t; he’s the president of the freaking United States.

  2. There are a LOT of people coming out about this. A few years ago, I was at LAX and required the use of a walker. (I’ve got a condition that causes severe spasms, and I often trip and fall without a walker.) TSA pulled me aside to screen my walker. They told me I had to walk through security without it while they screened it for explosive residue.

    When I told them I HAD to have it, they said there were no exceptions. Since I was being hand-wanded, there was no reason to keep me from using the walker. I managed and just shook my head at the idiocy.

    I can not IMAGINE how embarrassed I’d be if I was forced to show a breast prosthetic. This especially hits home because my mom is a survivor, and she wears a chicken cutlet to fill out her bra. (One side is smaller after the lumpectomy.)

  3. I am getting on a flight in 2 hours. I’ve already made my mind up to do the enhanced pat down instead of the scanner. My very religious neighbor told me to fart on the TSA agent when they grope my ying-yang! I got a good laugh with that considering her consertive personality.

    My entire problem with this are the TSA agents. I wouldn’t probably mind as much if they were professionals, but run of the mill egotistical, hound dog mentalities groping me just doesn’t do anything for me. Hell, maybe I wil go through the scanner.

  4. I have been fretting about this for weeks.
    I love to travel, and I have been very happily planning a trip to Europe for the month of July. Unless I can figure something else out – I won’t be going.
    .
    Sometimes you think that you are over something, it may take decades before you can finally take a deep breath and say “I am free”.
    I thought I was free, and I basically was – but a huge part of this was my ability to decide who touches me, who gets to see me naked. I had control.
    Finally, I had control. It has taken me the better part of 3 decades to reclaim myself, but I find the thought of some jackass looking at my naked body abhorrent.
    .
    I can’t do it.
    The enhanced pat down? I think I’d breakdown, I really do.
    This has only served to remind me that my rapist is still, over all of the years, hurting me.
    .
    I wonder what President Obama would have to say about this if his daughters had to fly commercial and were subjected to this?

  5. They have simply gone TOO FAR at this point. The reactive (instead of proactive) security procedures enacted by the TSA are ridiculous and penalize people who just want to get from point A to point B. They’re not making us safer, they’re just making us feel like cattle. It’s amazing that things have been allowed to get to this point, and I’m glad people are finally putting up a fuss. Enough is enough. I thought things were getting out of control with the liquids ban (seriously? Because explosives are never made out of solids!), but this takes the cake.

    • It’s ridiculous. The measures don’t do anything except harass and terrorize air travelers. I’m so glad I live in the same town as my parents; if they lived overseas or across the country, I think I would stay away for Thanksgiving just to avoid the TSA.

  6. This is why my roommate and I are driving to San Antonio for our next conference. On our last trip, she was subjected to the x-rays. She was absolutely mortified. Ten more hours of travel is nothing in comparison to that.

  7. @Kai – They are not supposed to separate anyone from their mobility aids, at least according to the TSA website. There have been several stories out this week about TSA being completely insensitive about disabilities and health issues, though. One poor guy had pee spilled all over him when the agent pushed on his urostomy bag. :o/

    If these measures actually prevented terrorism, I wouldn’t mind. However, TSA is completely reactive instead of proactive. They have not managed to stop anything.

  8. Flying is not a right, it’s a service. If you’re not comfortable with the strings attached to said service, you don’t have to use it. Fortunately the market takes over from there, and if everyone now decides to drive, I suspect enhanced pat downs will magically disappear.

    It just goes to show you though, how stupid the folks who have a terrorist bent toward the US really are. Give me 5-10 suicide bombers eager to earn their virgins and access to bomb making materials, and I could entirely shut down a major city in a day. It wouldn’t recover quickly either. These boobs didn’t really even put a ding in New York, as atrocious as 9/11 was.

  9. Many of the people complaining are the very people who demanded increased security after 9/11 and have endorsed and praised the Patriot Act and Homeland Security. I guess it’s okay to have phone calls monitored because you’re pretty sure you’re not doing anything wrong but it’s entirely different to be searched.

    I think it’s all ridiculous and it would be fine if TSA people were pros, but they’re not. They’re by the hour wanna be cops with power trips. I’ve seen them target individuals based on how rich they looked or if a passenger gave them the stink eye.

    • I was vocally opposed (and still am) to the Patriot Act and everything else you’ve mentioned. I think a lot of people were, but their voices were drowned out by the shouts of Rush Limbaugh/Glen Beck fanatics who were running around worried that ‘the terrorists’ were coming to personally blow them up.

      • I’m thinking of people like my parents and my in-laws who are all in favor of the Patriot Act and all sorts of draconian and conservative means of placating the people. Now, suddenly, they’re arguing that this TSA stuff is somehow the work of Obama and Democrats and has nothing to do with Homeland Security or the Patriot Act. It’s an outrage born of Socialism to them.

        • Oh, thanks for clarifying, I thought you meant a more general “you”. I agree with your assessment; it’s yet another symptom of our polarized political situation. If one party says it, it’s horrible. If the other party says it, it’s been handed down to us from Jesus himself.

  10. It’s totally unacceptable and embarrassing what happened to Cathi Bossi. The need for better security at the airports are understandable, but this is going too far. I can only imagine what Cathi must have gone through, it must have been horrifying. It’s easier to enter China than the United States these days…

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  13. People are up in arms about this because no one has blown up a plane in nine years. A few thoughts -

    First, SentWest is correct – air travel is not a right, it is a privilege. And in availing one’s self of that privilege, there are prerequisites. Presently, this is one of them.

    Second, all of those who object to the enhanced screening should get on a flight together. One flight for those who go through enhanced screening, and one for those who object. Let’s see how eager the objectors are to climb aboard a 747 with a cabin full of others who objected to rigorous screening.

    Third, I do concur with those who opine that all of it is of limited utility. Indeed, the whole thing rather strikes me as theatre – exercises really just designed to make the traveler feel as if they are safe. Security measures are almost necessarily reactive instead of proactive. We conjure up protocols designed to have prevented the last attack, it being impossible to thwart that which we cannot anticipate.

  14. I don’t care what kind of spin that you put on it, this is an invasion of privacy.
    The airlines do not require this – OUR GOVERNMENT does. That is a major difference. The reasons for not doing this are many and it is pointless to do so now.
    As for Gob’s ridiculous assertion to have flights with and without the screenings? Would I go on the unscreened flight?
    Hell yes!
    I have done it in the past – HUNDREDS of times with nary a single incident.

    I’m just waiting for that case with the 15 year old traveling alone to visit the grandparents who is given the enhanced patdown.
    Oh yeah, there will be a huge suit there.

  15. Blurry – I could get into an esoteric discussion of the legal standard to be applied, but suffice it to say that the analysis (and I’m really, really dumbing it down for brevity….) is whether the solution is worse than the problem – or the balancing of the individual’s right to privacy with the public’s safety. Applying the standard in the instant matter, it seems to me that planes getting blown out of the sky or crashing into buildings (the problem) is worse than asking approximately 2% of people who choose (acting under no compulsion) to board an airplane to undergo enhanced screening (the solution.)

    I have no doubt that such screening IS an invasion of privacy. Indeed, it is meant to be. That’s not what the argument turns on. At the crux of the argument is consent – no one HAS to fly.

    Further, specifically under what grounds would a cause of action arise, as you opine that a “huge suit” would ensue under your hypothetical. The 15-year-old in your hypothetical consented to the screening required at the time of travel through the purchase of the airline ticket by their parent or legal guardian.

    Some attempt – wrongly, I think – to make Fourth Amendment cases against these screening procedures. However, I think the consent argument will carry the day.

    Let me also add – I’m an attorney, but a tax lawyer, so I’m drawing on whatever I recall from law school ten years ago. If anyone out there has a firmer footing on search and seizure jurisprudence, I’d be most curious to hear their thoughts.

    • So by purchasing a plane ticket one automatically gives up all of ones rights to personal privacy? That seems to be rather a stretch. And yes, no one HAS to fly. They could not take that plane and lose their job, or not take a plane and never see their family in the UK again. Similarly, if someone’s holding a gun to your head and demands fellatio, you certainly don’t have to say yes. You totally have the choice to say no! The consequences of saying no, however, are fairly steep in both situations and it’s ridiculous to say that someone has “made the choice” and thereby waived all of their rights.

  16. Let me get this straight.
    You’re saying that a 15 year old traveling alone – say for the holidays- is LEGALLY able to consent to a search such as this? Let us complicate matters even further – Suppose said child has been diagnosed on the Autism spectrum. Does he legally even have the capacity to waive his rights?
    Really?
    I don’t think so. Can you say Bivens?

  17. It is also worth noting that airports are free to opt out of TSA procedures.
    The sad thing is that if there ever is an incident, there will most likely be a ton of lawsuits.
    This all points out to me that there has to be a better way of attempting to ensure safe flying.

    Make no mistake – short of naked strip searches along with cavity searches of EVERY passenger, and a no luggage rule – there is no 100% in this area. There will always be someone circumventing security.
    How much are you willing to give up to pander to this insane mass hysteria which Chertoff, et al are so gleefully exploiting – cheerfully sucking in that so-called Economic Stimulus money?

  18. Erin – it’s actually your conflation of the gun-to-the-head scenario and security screening that’s ridiculous, because in the former, you didn’t voluntarily (one assumes) place yourself in the situation where you’re facing such a conundrum. Further, a simple reading of what I said would reveal that at no point did I assert that in purchasing a plane ticket one sacrifices “all of one’s right to personal privacy.” What I DID say was that the standard that is typically laid down in these cases is one that balances the individual’s right to or expectation of privacy with the public good that is purportedly being served. In the instant matter, my (admittedly a bit rusty) Con Law knowledge strongly suggests to me that a court (particularly the Supreme Court as presently comprised) would rule in favor of TSA. Out of curiosity, I looked at a few blogs maintained by minds greater than my own with regard to privacy jurisprudence, and they all pretty much agree. You have a choice here – take a train. Drive. Buy a bus ticket. Hop on the Queen Mary. You may not much care for the choices, but they are choices nonetheless.

    Blurry – as with Erin, read what I said. I clearly stated that a 15 year old (much less one with autism…..) really can’t consent to anything in the eyes of the law – or, by implication, waive anything. However, a parent or legal guardian CAN consent on their behalf, and it seems to me rather cut and dry that the purchase of the ticket is consent on behalf of the minor to security patdowns. The fact that a child is traveling alone has NOTHING to do with it. Consent – exercised legally by a parent or legal guardian – is given at the time of purchase. If the parents don’t like it, then find another way to get over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house this year.

    You made me do my homework with Bivens, as I recalled only the very basic facts. Bivens is, I think, EASILY distinguished from any case arising out of the instant matter. The court in Bivens ruled that the implied cause of action arose out of circumstances where DEA agents entered Bivens’ home and arrested him without a warrant. Bivens NEVER consented to their entry into the home, the search of the home or the ensuing arrest. It doesn’t take Laurence Tribe to glean the difference between DEA agents coming into your house and arresting you – all against your will with no warrant – and voluntarily purchasing a place ticket and going to the airport. All Bivens tells us is that the Fourth Amendment can give rise to an implied cause of action – from an attorney’s perspective, it really has nothing to do with airport screening. The underlying facts are just so different as to not really render it applicable. Again, as I’ve said innumerable times, it really just comes down to consent.

    As long as I dusted off the Con Law book, I did a little reading. The Supremes ruled in Minnesota v. Dickerson (1993) that a police officer could, during a patdown, reach into an individual’s clothing. And several courts have ruled that airline passengers consent to searches by nature of being airline passengers, but that the search must stop if the passenger turns back and informs screeners that they no longer wish to board the plane.

    Let me add – I am completely sympathetic to anyone who says they don’t want to be subjected to this. I certainly wouldn’t. My career has to date required extensive travel. I’ve already taken trains twice in the last 30 days (which I’ve found is really far more pleasurable than flying….) and I expect I will be making far more frequent use of my firm’s video conferencing facilities. But the unavoidable truth is this – you don’t have a right to fly on an airplane. And in terms of public safety, courts have really stacked the deck in favor of public welfare over the privacy of the individual. And I’d make a substantial wager that the Roberts court of 2010 would do the same.

    • That’s really nice that you have access to trains. Not everyone has that privilege. What happens if they start molesting train passengers, too? You walk for business trips?

  19. I’m happy that you’re getting a mental workout – BUT – this is pretty standard with lawyers. You take everything very literally.
    Let us pare it down to basics, shall we?
    .
    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
    .
    There you go.
    Do a couple of laps around the Fourth Amendment.
    This whole thing makes me ill.
    I empathize with your taking the train, etc. I have been doing so myself lately. Unfortunately, the entire mass transit system is in line for the TSA style screening in the near future.
    .
    Welcome to Orwell’s nightmare.

  20. Blurry – I’m not trying to belabor the issue. But I have to take strong exception to your assertion that I’m taking a lawyer’s literal approach. By looking only to the language of the Fourth Amendment, you’re the one taking the literal approach.

    There are those who argue that the Constitution is to be interpreted literally with no regard for modern circumstances or any extrinsic factors. We call them strict constructionists, and Antonin Scalia is the greatest practitioner of this philosophy. The Fourth Amendment – or any Amendment or statute – was never intended to settle all matters on its very face. It’s impossible. We most typically see this issue arise with regard to Second Amendment issues. This is why we have judges. The law evolves. Slowly, yes. Incorrectly at times. But it evolves.

    I understand everyone’s concerns with regard to these types of searches. My only point has been that it seems to me CLEAR that they are legal under today’s Fourth Amendment jurisprudence and do not give rise to a tort action.

    That said – and this may be where I make some enemies – it is IMPOSSIBLE to plan for every contingency. What we don’t like to talk about is that there are prices for living in a free society – or a society that purports or aims to be free. And that price is often risk. Americans tend to be prima donnas with regard to this and think that we can have our cake and eat it too. We want to think we can be completely safe from those who would do us harm, but not sacrifice liberties. We can’t. And that’s just how it is.

    Cheers to you. I’ve enjoyed the intellectual exercise and the brief foray into an area of law I’ve not touched on in quite some time.

    • Gob, I often forget that using this medium removes all inflection and facial cues.

      I find these new “protective measures” abhorrent,and I am perfectly willing to fly without all of the bullshit these regulations impose on my liberty (or feeling of such). Unfortunately, we will always will have the morons who say “If it saves even one life…” – and be quite sincere about it.

      For now, I have decided to fly out of regional airports and take my flights out of country through Orlando. They have opted out, bless them.

      I am simply unwilling to give up this most basic right, an expectation of privacy as a free, innocent citizen.

  21. I just wanted to say I really enjoyed reading the back and forth between Blurry and Gob on this (I am a nerd and have a thing for the different interpretations of the law and/or ethics).

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