Article first published as How The Flawed TSA Procedures Affect The Disabled on Technorati.
If you like to fly, raise your hand. Go ahead. Think about it. Take your time. I’ll wait.
Bueller? Bueller? Anyone? Anyone? Yeah, that’s what I thought.
Sure, if I’m invited to the Royal Wedding next summer, I’ll go. Or, if Sir Paul McCartney wants to invite me over to smoke pot with him and Dana Carvey while explaining how the Beatles were finally able to settle their differences with Apple and come to iTunes, of course I’ll accept the invitation. I mean, it’s Paul McCartney. Those exceptions aside, I hate flying.
Admittedly, as a wheelchair user I do get certain perks at the airport. I’m automatically moved to the front of check-in and security lines, I get to board the plane first to avoid being completely run over by frustrated travelers, who once I’m on the plane sitting comfortably in bulkhead, are pushing and shoving as if their seats will disappear completely, forcing them to stand for the duration of their flight.
Having the fast pass at the nation’s airports and prime seating on the plane is nice, but don’t delude yourself into thinking that I’ve got it made when I travel. Getting on the plane and through security is hardly a seamless process thanks to the agency now dubbed Transportation Sexual Assault by some travelers in light of new security measures.
Putting the privacy issues and the radiation concerns raised by the new TSA security measures aside, the full body X-ray machines and “enhanced” pat-downs that made Jon Tyner walk out of the airport in San Diego earlier this week in protest are not new to myself or any other disabled passenger for that matter. Most disabled passengers know what they’re in for when they travel. We undergo these enhanced pat-downs each and every time we fly. There is no “random selection” prior to our screenings, and that’s understandable.
After all, we come equipped with our own metal chairs, and because of their varying sizes, they provide lots of real estate to hide potential weapons and other forbidden items. All of these factors make the metal detectors at the airport ineffective and useless security measures, making the full body pat-down a indisputable reality. Unfortunately, despite how nice the TSA agents can be (and more often than not they are), they too are useless and ill-prepared to effectively screen disabled passengers. From my experiences with TSA, screeners don’t undergo nearly as much training as they should when it comes to screening disabled passengers and that doesn’t inspire confidence.
Let me set the scene for you. The process usually goes something like this:
I wheel to the security checkpoint. After checking my ID and boarding pass, I am directed to a designated wait area where I am told a male TSA employee will be along “momentary” to conduct a full body pat-down (and yes that includes a groin check). Sometimes they arrive quickly, sometimes it takes two to three reminders by another TSA employee as they shout that they need a “male assist” to come over. I, meanwhile take delight in humming the Jeopardy theme. Depending on my mood, I’ll either do it out loud or in my head.
When the TSA agent finally comes over, he runs through his practiced script very methodically as he alerts me to how the search will be conducted. He asks about sensitive areas on my body before telling me when to lean forward, backward, sideways, essentially every direction possible to ensure every inch of me has been searched. I stretch my arms, move my legs and half expect that he’ll soon ask me to juggle three balls in the air with one hand and wheel with the other. He checks both me and my chair for prohibited items, finding nothing out of the ordinary. Then he again asks if he should be made aware of sensitive areas just prior to using the back of his hands to do the groin check. Yup. I have a groin. Check. Then he stops, and looks at me puzzled like he’s forgotten his own name.
What he’s really forgotten is the protocol which he recited to me from memory only moments before. Oops. If I can paraphrase a famous Seinfeld sketch and adapt it to the situation in question, “You know how to explain the procedure, you just don’t know how to do the procedure. And that’s really the most important part of the procedure, the doing.”
Part of me just wants to pretend we’re done, say thank you, collect my stuff that I’ve put through the X-ray machine and move on, but we both know he’s forgotten something. I know what it is. He clearly doesn’t. Like an encouraging teacher to a struggling student, I try and help him along.
“Don’t forget the wheels,” I tell him, reminding him to swab the wheel with a cloth and run it through the X-ray machine to check it for explosive chemicals. Then I show him my hands, hoping he’ll pick up on the next clue, “And the gloves, swipe the gloves.”
“Right,” he says, before following my directions and thanking me for the reminder.
Now, I’m not Macgruber. I don’t know how I would or could cause any sort of trouble with nothing more than a set of detachable wheels and a presumably explosive chemical sprinkled throughout, which if it were truly explosive, I certainly wouldn’t want to be touching with my half gloved hands all day as I push around. However, the fact is, it is TSA procedure, and the majority of TSA agents don’t remember it, or how to follow it correctly. All of this leads me to wonder, what else are they forgetting? More importantly, when will the training improve so that passengers like myself aren’t walking TSA employees through their own rules and regulations?
I’ve asked it before and I’ll ask it again: Anyone? Anyone? I would honestly like to know the answer.