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Amputee TSA issues

Posted May 05 2008 12:00am
Taking a short break from book chapters, I just traveled by plane for a little vacation and had some real issues with TSA so I felt compelled to file a formal complaint on behalf of amputees who are getting unnecessarily harassed by TSA. Here is the text of my letter to TSA I wrote this morning.

Dear TSA:

I am an amputee (35 years) and travel a lot (2+ times a month). I am one of 2 million Americans who is an amputee. By far the vast majority of the time I go through airport security wearing my prosthetic leg. Obviously it's got lots of metal in it (and even a computer as well) so I am used to setting off the metal detector and having to go through the pat-down process. It's a time consuming process for sure and in years past you have put procedures in place that have done no more good than to harass and humiliate amputees. The Amputee Coalition of America (ACA) has lobbied the TSA to make these procedures meet your security requirements and not humiliate law abiding citizens who have already been through a lot of personal trauma to become amputees in the first place. It has been a fight for the ACA to get these rules to be reasonable (for example, to not require amputees go into private screening areas and pull their pants down so your agents can see the prosthesis). But these efforts have been largely successful and for the past few years I would have to say in general you have pretty good procedures and most of your staff execute those procedures consistently and well.

But last night I got to see how you have taken a giant backward step. I was flying from San Diego to Boston on a red eye with my wife and on red eyes I have a chance of getting a little sleep only if I am not wearing the fairly uncomfortable prosthesis. So my wife carried my leg in a specially designed bag while I went through security on my crutches. At the metal detector I suggested to the agent he grab my crutches and I hop through. This worked the one other time I traveled without wearing my leg. But the agent refused to allow me to hop through the machine. Why? Because the new rule, he said, requires everyone walk through "normally". This actually outraged other passengers waiting behind me before I had time to get outraged myself. Once again, you have managed to formulate procedures that embarrass, harass and humiliate amputees for no security rationale that meets the test of common sense. If I had been allowed to hop through (already a situation that would draw plenty of stares from other passengers) I would have not set off the metal detector, the crutches could have been screened, and I would have been able to collect my bags and been on my way like every other "normal" passenger last night. But instead I had to get the hand wand, the hand pat down and the rest of the manual screening process from agents who themselves were grumbling the rules change too often and this rule change made no sense to them either.

What I suggest and request is that you sit down with the Amputee Coalition of American team and clearly articulate and communicate a set of reasonable procedures for amputees with and without their prosthesis that you stick to and don't keep changing. The guideline for this framework of procedures would be that they provide the same level of security and screening you must provide for all other passengers without embarrassing, and harassing the two million of us who are frankly being singled out and humiliated each time we try to fly on a plane.
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