TSA declares war on large breasts

A large-breasted woman flying from Oakland to Boston was accosted by the TSA when the underwire in her bra set off the magnetometer. She was given a choice: allow her breasts to be fondled or give up on flying. Instead, she raised a stink:
Kates asked to see a supervisor and then the supervisor's supervisor. He told her that underwire bras were the leading item that set off the metal detectors, Kates said.

If that's the case, Kates said, the equipment must be overly sensitive. And if the TSA is engaging in extra brassiere scrutiny, then other women are suffering similar humiliation, Kates thought.

The Constitution bars unreasonable searches and seizures, Kates reminded the TSA supervisor, and scrutinizing a woman's brassiere is surely unreasonable, she said.

The supervisor told her she had the choice of submitting to a pat-down in a private room or not flying. Kates offered a third alternative, to take off her bra and try again, which the TSA accepted.

Arbitrary, no-exceptions "security" rules unduly punish innocents -- people with surgical pins in their bodies are now subject to discriminatory treatment when they fly, as are those whose names are similar to aliases used by suspected terrorists, and they're now joined by women with large breasts. Free societies shouldn't punish the innocent to get at the guilty. Delayed by her bra, air passenger is indignant (Thanks, Kevin!)


  1. I’m amazed by the sudden indignation in the article about the pat-down of private parts. The Super Special Security Search (SSSS code) I got in Detroit in 2004 on my way home certainly involved the guy running his hand over my nuts. (Though he did at least have the decency to look a little embarrassed.)

    I’m not saying it’s right, just that it’s not exactly new. At least it’s getting some press, I guess.

    I’m not sure what they expect to fin there. Maybe someone with a nitroglycerine scrotal inflation? (NSFW!!!)

  2. This is really going just a little bit to far. It’s almost as bad as the woman who had to rip her nipple piercing out with plyers before she was allowed to board…We’ll probably be hearing a lot more about this

  3. Kiernan@1: the pat-down you experienced is bad enough, true, but it was randomly assigned. It wasn’t discriminatory. The woman in this article is being punished for having large breasts. Imagine if the fact that you had brown hair or bushy eyebrows meant that EVERY TIME YOU FLEW you pulled the four SSSS ticket.

  4. Cory, I am quite confident that the pat-down was *not* randomly assigned. All the other South Africans travelling with me got the same treatment, and the stories I’ve heard seem to indicate that this is most likely the case for all South Africans.

    So, yeah, the fact that I’m South African does seem to mean that EVERY TIME I FLY I pull the SSSS ticket (at least, if I chose to go to the U.S. again).

    Discrimination based on nationality and discrimination based on anatomy are still both discrimination.

  5. It is shit. (The TSA is my special hot button.) Good for her for making a stink, but she let them off too easy. Her third option should have been for them to just deal with it, but they are far to entrenched to try that option.

  6. This is absolutely correct.

    4th Amendment:

    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.

    –Which you’d think would be the end of it, but…

    However, US v. Flores-Montano (1985) established that “The Government’s interest in preventing the entry of unwanted persons and effects is at its zenith at the international border.” and that “searches made at the border… are reasonable simply by virtue of the fact that they occur at the border.”

    Though fortunately, the court has upheld that so-called intrusive searches (of people and their private areas) still require reasonable cause (their logic? The reasons that the dignity and privacy of a person must be protected by “reasonable cause” do not apply to inanimate objects.)

    Kates asserted her Constitutional Rights and got them, in part because she knew what the IV Amendment was and pressed the issue. Just goes to show, you can’t depend on anyone else to defend your rights for you.

    All of which leaves me with 2 questions:
    What’s the legality of depending on a measurement tool with so many false positives (metal detector which is functionally used as a threat detector) to establish probable cause? I would think if anything it would be better defined as improbable cause in this case.

    Also, since US v. Flores-Montano specifically states “international” borders, why doesn’t that translate to “no routine searches for domestic fliers”? I would think that the definition of an airport as an international border should be established by one’s capacity to board an international flight.

  7. Why the focus on large breasts? Women of all sizes wear underwire bras and are subject to possible TSA scrutiny.

  8. This is an abuse of power, plain and simple. I’ve had a nipple ring set off wands on secondary searches on numerous occasions, and I’ve never had any trouble getting the TSA to take my word for it. I just explain what’s going on and move along. I’ve only been asked to pull up my shirt once, and that was back in the 90’s, before the TSA even existed.

    This is just an opportunity for some bored, under-skilled loser to humiliate a woman and maybe cop a cheap feel.

  9. Why the focus on large breasts? Women of all sizes wear underwire bras and are subject to possible TSA scrutiny.

    I think it’s probably the simple fact that bras with larger cup sizes require more underwire, thus more metal to set off the detector.

  10. I’m torn on this – I agree the security theater is pretty silly, but the constitution doesn’t guarantee my right to fly United Airlines. There are several ways to get to your destination that don’t involve TSA.

  11. Kieran – I’ve flown to the US on my SA passport and have had no problems at all. So it’s not all SAns :)

  12. Yeah well, my fiance flew while all of that hubbub about liquids was going on, and she wore a gell bra (no underwire though) and got through no problem. If the amount of liquid that is considered unsafe is accurate then she could have blown up several planes.
    It is all security theatre, and has done nothing to prevent attacks, since it would not have stopped 9/11 anyway (besides, the whole point of terrorism is that you don’t have to stick to planes… you take whatever target you can reach)

  13. I have a surgical rod in my right femur, and two steel plates and several screws in my left leg. I also have nipple rings and braces on my teeth. For some reason, I have never set off a metal detector in an airport. My guess is the woman was right about the detector being set too sensitive. An underwire bra should not be setting those off.

  14. I think that we’re going to find out, one of these days, that there’s a foot switch that can set off the alarm even if the detector doesn’t pick up anything; that way, the inspector can have an excuse for giving someone a little extra special attention.

  15. My sternum is held together by wire, but I have not had to fly since my surgery. I did, however, set off a metal detector in a Federal court house. I showed my scar and was waved through. I wonder how I will be treated by the TSA.

  16. as someone who wears a g cup bra… i have had their greasy little mitts in my treasure chest more than once. once they even made me undo my shirt so they could see the wire in the bra. some other times they slide 2 fingers under the wire to make sure the only weapons i travel with are my feminine charms.

    it sucks, and its really embarassing.

  17. House: No, you can just pull that down in front. Good. Lord. Are those real?

    Mrs. Campbell: Do they look real?

    House: They look… pretty damn good.

    Mrs. Campbell: They were a present for my husband’s 40th. I figured he’d enjoy them more than a sweater.

    House: That’s so sweet. I’m afraid the cause of your problem could be staring us right in the face. Actually I guess I’m the one doing the staring. Of course I can’t be sure, I’d like to consult a colleague. He’s actually somewhat of an expert in these matters. [picks up the phone] Can I get a page on Dr. Wilson?

  18. It’s not just larger underwires worn by larger women that set off the machines. I’m a B cup and my underwire bras have set off the damn machines. This was on domestic US flights.

    I’ve been wand groped enough as a result (and slowed down by the additional “security” procedures, like their going through my carry-ons or running all my tubs through the xray machine again) to stop wearing underwires when I fly.

    Come to think of it, the last 4 times I’ve flown, I didn’t wear a bra at all. Unfortunately, that’s not an option for business travel, or for women with larger breasts who need the additional support.

    The TSA has destroyed air travel in the US. I fly 1/10 as much as I used to before they ruined it.

  19. @Lionel (#19): I don’t actually think that was a reasonable alternative. Having to walk from the bathrooms, through the screening point, and then finding the nearest bathroom on the other side without a bra is still pretty embarrassing. Yes, it’s better than having them grope you, but I still wouldn’t call it dignified or respectful of her privacy.

  20. This isn’t the first time this has happened. Generally they just look down your shirt.

    And normally they don’t give you a private room.

  21. Finally we have a rally point for political activism in the country that will resonate with the average man.

    If only we could could have shown a negative impact on the ability to access porn via the Internet as a result of the recent FISA update, that bill would have been dead on arrival in Congress.

  22. I accidentally left a pocket knife in a bag that I used as a carryon a week or two ago. Totally left it in unknowingly and they didn’t even catch it. I should’ve stabbed someone out of principle.

  23. Finally, a story about a reasonable and assertive passenger who wins.

    Thank you TSA Bob, wherever you are.

  24. bullies have always preferred sexual humiliation as a weapon. Give the TSA a little less supervision and I am sure they will work their way up to back-room rape.

  25. Just great. I had a port-a-cath (an IV drug shunt) in my chest for a few years following chemo a decade ago. It was made of titanium and did not set off metal detectors (this was pre-2001, though). I am glad in retrospect I had it removed before 9/11, or I would have had to go through surgery every time I wanted to fly. “We just had to open you up and make sure it was real.”

    @32: As far as I’m aware, there have been no successful charges or even complaints filed against TSA workers or others at airports since TSA came into being. Penn Gillette had a great account a few years ago of being felt up, trying to file a complaint, and being rebuffed. Many, many cases against baggage handlers for theft from suitcases were simply dismissed because the gummint decided prosecution was less important than security theater and they didn’t want their “secrets” revealed in court.

  26. I’m sorry to say, this phenomena isn’t new. I’ve been stopped one too many times for my underwire. I’ve taken to wearing a sports bra when I travel. And while that doesn’t sound like an inconvenience, try traveling for 12 hours in a jock.

    The frustration is that it’s all so arbitrary. LGA and White Plains have the most sensitive that I’ve been through. And yet…. my knitting needles and embroidery scissors are perfectly fine. Doesn’t matter that a size two kitting needle could do some serious damage. Or my hollow size 30 needles are big enough to hold all sorts of crazy things. As long as l don’t try to put anything in my bra we’ll all be safe.

  27. This is just unAmerican! We should do our best to encourage all forms of self-expression, ESPECIALLY big boobies!

  28. and would it kill ya to provide a picture of something? Maybe a sketch on a napkin? I’ll submit that you cannot lead with the headline ‘Ware on Large Breasts’ and not provide a picture. Where is your journalistic integrity?

  29. It sounds like there is a potential market for “Travel Bras” with a non-metallic underwire.

  30. Perhaps this will be the tipping point – there is no way americans will stand for a war on breasts, especially large ones.

  31. …Give me your tired, your huge,
    Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
    The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
    Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
    I lift my “lamp” beside the golden door!

  32. here’s a chance for American men to stand up for their women-folk; in solidarity, travel with an underwire bra: “Excuse me sir, you set off the metal detector, is there something under your shirt?” “Yeah!, my underwire bra! Ya gotta problem wid day buddy?! Maybes ya wanna cop a feel or sumthing, ya dirt-bag?”

  33. I’ve set the detectors off with bras a few times. Maybe one in six screenings or so, so this is definitely not news to me. In my experience, they don’t exactly “fondle” you – they get a female attendant over and tell you exactly what they’re going to do each step and they use the back of their (gloved) hands. I’ve never experienced cupping, copping, or any other, er, titillating activity. I usually just make a joke of it, saying it takes a lot of reinforcements to hold these puppies up. I feel more discriminated against by the fashion industry, to tell you the truth.

  34. Forget the underwire, boobs can be lethal weapons! The bigger they are, the easier it is to knock a person out cold by boob-slapping them. Take it from me. I am a black bra expert in Boobrate. I can take a dude OUT. TSA is looking in the wrong place.

    Er, the right place, but the wrong component.

    I’m not sure I typed BOOB out enough in this comment.


  35. I know it’s typical of the media to sensationalize every detail so I’m not quite sure why anyone is surprised. It appears that even online media, blogs, and other social media sites are susceptible to the same over-dramatization of these events. But before you read too deeply into what I’m saying, know this:

    -Too much is too much. If anyone is a victim of discrimination for any reason, it is wrong. It is an injustice to post stories of large breasted women who feel they were improperly treated by the TSA and to as quickly disregard the hundreds of thousands of men and women each day who are subject to discrimination in their daily lives.

  36. @#49 (myself)

    This comment is directed towards the comments, not the article. Essentially I wanted to say, “why are people talking about the boobs and NOT the discrimination?”

  37. Boobs is right! TSA boobs, that is. (Thanks BB, for keeping us abreast of this issue!)

    So, let me get this straight: Woman is allowed to go through screening without being “padded down” by taking off her bra. Another woman, is asked to get off a flight by airline attendants because of her revealing cleavage. It’s looking like a double-D standard to me. Isn’t it about time the TSA and all asinine travel policies went tits-up?

  38. They should start making those underwires out of Kevlar or carbon fiber composite or something else non-metallic.

  39. I am SO tempted to go through airport security in a chain-mail bra now.

    “Yeah, I’m wearing a C-cup metal bra. IS THERE SOMETHING WRONG WITH THAT?”

  40. in 2001, at the Monterey International Airport (which is like calling a twinkie a wedding cake) I had the metal in my bra and bobby-pins in my hair set off the metal detectors. This was before 9/11. But the woman with the wand was bustier than I was, and let me pass.
    I’m flying in November…let them try this on me.

  41. @48 If your body jewelry sets off a metal detector, take it out and throw it away because it is almost certainly crap. Proper jewelry for body piercings is made from materials that do not set off the (majority) of detectors. To prove a point I once wore a fairly massive half inch thick piece (through my septum) through a detector (pre 9/11) it got no reaction and the wand also did not respond to it (the guard wanted to try it after being surprised the walk through detector did not). In the days before the glut of cheap jewelry manufacturers no one ever worried about their jewelry setting it off but if you got that barbell or CBR at the local mall it just might, it also might rust in your piercing and cause you even more problems.

  42. This is not the first report – by a long shot – of a woman with an underwire bra being told to submit to groping or not get on a plane. Many of these reports include male TSA employees selectively deciding to pat-down rather than wand the attractive women. It is, however, the first report I’ve read of them being halfway reasonable about it (sometimes they won’t even get a female employee when asked, although I believe they were finally forced to stop that one), and in many cases any attempt to question the policies gets you treated as a terrorist criminal.

    And it’s not just women with big boobs, either – B and C cups are the most common sizes, and lots of B and C cup women wear underwires. I’ve taken to wearing one of those tank tops with a built-in shelf bra whenever I have to fly, and avoiding flying in favor of trains whenever possible.

    And the liquid/gel rule is also more punitive for women then for men; you risk getting your expensive makeup stolen from your carryon, or you go without toothpaste and shampoo, or you go without makeup, because you can’t fit everything you need in the stupid little bag. (Not to mention it being a completely idiotic rule that does nothing to actually protect us, right along with the shoes one.)

  43. I tell my husband to wear his utilikilt thru security. He likes doing a little ballerina pirouette for the TSA and when his kilt’s buttons set off the sensors he flashes them. That usually ends it quickly.

  44. I have traveled every week for the past two years for work and am a size D and have under-wire in my bras and have never had to have my breasts fondled to get through security.

  45. TR #54 says They should start making those underwires out of Kevlar or carbon fiber composite or something else non-metallic.

    That would make my bras even more expensive and likely doom many to saggy titsdom.

  46. #34 Takuan:
    “bullies have always preferred sexual humiliation as a weapon. Give the TSA a little less supervision and I am sure they will work their way up to back-room rape.”

    I have yet to be invasively searched at airport security, but my reaction to other invasions of my privacy has been to turn the tables and develop an exhibitionistic attitude. The expected reaction is to squirm and say “oh no! they want to look in my bra, how awful!” I would be inclined to just start stripping on the spot. I’ve suggested it before, and I’ll suggest it again: a bunch of people book plane tickets, walk up to the security checkpoint, and start taking off all their clothes and putting them in the x-ray bins.

    #44 Takuan: “here’s a chance for American men to stand up for their women-folk; in solidarity, travel with an underwire bra: ‘Excuse me sir, you set off the metal detector, is there something under your shirt?’ ‘Yeah!, my underwire bra! Ya gotta problem wid day buddy?! Maybes ya wanna cop a feel or sumthing, ya dirt-bag?'”

    Of course, that’s even better!

  47. Sounds irritating and like someone is following the letter of the law to the point of not making sense.

    But being delayed is not a punishment. And she was not delayed because of having big boobs. Why spin it like that?

  48. “being delayed is not a punishment”


    delay costs you,embarrasses you,makes you miss your mother’s funeral, leeps you from your children and makes you live in fear of unaccountable little Hitlers.

    They know it. That is why they do it.

  49. I’ve traveled several times by plane since 9/11 and I hate the Rent-a-Cop-a-Feels that work at the TSA. I am quite bosomy, even more so than the poster with the G cup, and I remove the underwire from all of my bras because it just doesn’t work for me. With the exception of a fairly recent trip to Vancouver, I have been pulled aside in the security line and asked to divest myself of my upper clothing and “can you please lift your breasts and pull them apart so we can see if there’s anything under or between them?” has happened to me every. single. time.

    Once I found myself racing through the airport to get to my plane just before final boarding because they really made a big production of it and one woman asked me “are those real?” At this point not only am I terrified of falling out of the sky, I am even more terrified of being pulled into a rickety little “booth” off to the side of the line and being asked to make like Gypsy Rose Lee, quicktime harch! Clever, TSA guys, what with the white sheets and all for walls.

    The underwire excuse just doesn’t hold up for me, sorry. I haven’t used underwire for many years now and I rarely beep going through the portal to 1984, but it seems like my boobs have crosshairs on them, Terminator-style, with a running possible list of things I could have nestled away in my chest of wonders…Hair Gel…Dirty Bomb…Very Small Additional Passenger…Bomb…Inflatable Raft…Voltron…Extra Laptop Hard Drive With Caddy…

  50. I apologize, there should have been a “Regular” before that second “Bomb”. A RaCaF informed me that they have to take care not to let “bombs or even dirty bombs” onto the plane. Apparently “pillows or even dirty pillows” too.

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