Busted!

When underwires are outlawed, only outlaws will give uplift.

Time for another call to Chuck Cannon, who in the intervening days had received an e-mail from a woman commenting on an unexpected pat-down between the thighs. He didn't know much more about the policy than he had a few days earlier, except to note that while some airport magnetometers have silent warning lights, "which show the area of the body where alarms were set off," DIA does not yet possess such machines.

Argenbright is still not returning calls, nor is Randy Weinacht, supervisor of airport operations at DIA for United, which contracts with Argenbright to provide all security screening at the airport. Weinacht had been called down to the customer-service desk to speak to my colleague last week, and showed all the warmth of a speculum. "He told me that if I had a problem with what happened, I should have complained before leaving the screening area," she remembers. "I told him it wasn't right and that there was no sensible reason to be touching women's breasts. He told me that if I felt I'd been touched inappropriately, 'That's your personal interpretation.'"

And certainly not United's problem, Weinacht said, since all airport security matters are dictated by the FAA.

Not according to the FAA's regional office in Seattle. (The local office isn't answering reporters' inquiries.) "A lot of people are putting that on us," FAA spokesman Allen Kenitzer says. "It's really an airline issue. Airlines issue their own security program."

True, the FAA has tightened security guidelines since September 11, but "all of this stuff is so fluid," Kenitzer notes. "At their discretion, they can do a pat-down. It's up to the discretion of the individual airline and the individual screener. It depends on the situation."

And can an underwire present a sufficiently threatening situation?

If the machine is set at an unusually high sensitivity level, it can, Kenitzer says, then adds, "My wife wears one, and there's not much metal there."

DIA is still showing plenty of brass, however. Who knows how many minutes would be cut out of those long waits if the airport screeners quit copping free feels?

Until the airport turns down its machines or comes up with an explanation for its underhanded underwire pat-down practices, frequently flying females may want to leave home without it.

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