Body piercing has now been a part of American culture for two decades, but the Transportation Safety Administration has never created any policies concerning them. And with passenger screening getting more and more complicated, this has finally backfired in their faces. Famed women's rights attorney Gloria Allred's latest case involves a woman who was forced to take out her nipple rings before being allowed to board her flight.
It should be noted that nipple rings, or just about any body piercing isn't actually detected by the standard doorway airport metal detectors. If a passenger is selected for special screening, where the hand-held wand detectors are used, body piercings will be detected. I've known this since I first got piercings below the neck, just about twenty years ago. Whenever I went to a rock concert, where hand wands are used extensively, I'd beep for the security and they'd just laugh and wave me through. I even had my own experience with extra screening at the airport and had to "prove" my piercings once.
However what happened to one woman in Texas seems to have crossed the line into both unwarranted and unreasonable behavior on the part of some airport screeners. While being screened for a flight from Lubbock to Dallas, Mandi Hamlin was picked for hand-wanding. Her nipple rings were detected and she was then told by airport screeners that she must remove the jewelry or she wouldn't be allowed to board her plane. While male screeners gathered nearby and snickered, she was given pliers to removed her nipple rings.
Nipple rings register as much as the metal in an underwire bra, but are women made to take off their bras before boarding? What about other rings, necklaces and regular earrings? How is a body piercing a threat to airline safety? The TSA says they are concerned about "bra bombs." Interestingly, Ms. Hamlin's navel ring seemed to cause no problem and she wasn't made to remove it.
After a two days of increasing media coverage the TSA has now issued a statement that they will revise their policies so that passengers will have the choice of having to display their jewelry to a same-sex screener or remove them before boarding flights. As a woman with thirty body piercings including some genital piercings, I don't find either of these choices something I wish to face before boarding an airplane.