Saturday, February 25, 2006

a day in the life of a gimp at the airport

For those of you who haven’t experienced traveling as (or with) a disabled person…I shall now shed a little light on what you can possibly expect from Airport Security (aka The TSA—Transportation Safety Administration).

In my own personal experience, since becoming a gimp, every single time I've flown, I have ended up in the super special we’re-going-to-pat-you-down-and-pillage-through-your-bags area. It doesn’t matter what kind of mobility equipment I bring along with me. They all have metal components, and therefore I am to be pulled aside.

If I arrive in a wheelchair, I’m patted and pillaged.
If I wear my prosthesis, I’m patted and pillaged (I’ve even heard that some amputees have actually had to take their limbs off).
I’ve even tried to slip through on just crutches (sans prosthesis), hoping they’d x-ray the crutches and let me hop through the metal detector...but no dice. Apparently hopping is completely unacceptable airport behavior.

So I get patted and pillaged every single time. This means I also have the added bonus of having to wait around while they find a TSA approved female to do the pat down search. And every time I travel with MyFK he asks, “Mom, why does a woman have to do it?” And every time I never know how to respond. When I try to explain that perhaps some women might feel uncomfortable being inspected by a male, I then get drawn into a discussion about societal gender rules…and once that discourse gets under way I have to be the type of mom that explains that this “comfort concept” is completely moot if either woman is a lesbian, but isn't it odd that nobody ever considers that?…to which MyFK questions, “Well then shouldn’t they send over a boy who likes boys to pat you down mom?? (heeheeheeeeeeee…I love my kid. What a crack up.)

Anyhow, these discussions with MyFK always end up with my reminding him (and this is my speaking my truth when I add this): that I am very thankful that the airport security is doing such a fine job of thoroughly checking. It makes all of us feel safer travelling.

To tell you the truth, this pat and pillage routine has actually proven to be a benefit to me almost every single time I fly. By now, understanding that it is senseless to waste time in the “regular” security line, I just go straight to the pat down area and get it over with. On most occasions I have made it through security faster than my able-bodied traveling companions. And on most occasions I am treated with respect and consideration.

Except today.
No benefit. No respect. No consideration.

And, oddly enough, today I’m not even the one flying.

Today I am going to the airport to pick up a friend’s son who is flying alone. TheKiddo has some sort of overnight layover in my town, and then he travels on again tomorrow. So MyFK and TheKiddo are having a slumber party.

Driving to the airport, I hit major Bay Area traffic (yes, we have traffic on Saturdays). The flight had been delayed 2 hours, but while I’m en route to the airport, I call in again, and the flight is now only 1-1/2 hours late instead of the previously stated 2 hours. We’re going to be late, and I can only warp time in the car when I’m driving solo.

TheKiddo’s flight had already landed and was disembarking as we arrived in the airport parking lot. I am stressed and very very cranky. I take my prosthesis off and switch to a wheelchair because not only am I hell on wheels, but I’m also aware that at some point I may possibly need to take my leg off for some bozo to x-ray it, and I’ve got no time for that shit.

This is my first time dealing with a kid who is flying alone, and as instructed by TheKiddo’s Mom, I check in at the service counter to sign paperwork, and I ask if TheKiddo can be brought down to me outside the security checkpoint. The agent tells me that this is no problem, he radios ahead to the gate to advise, and I proceed to the checkpoint.

I am met by the TSA people who pull me aside to a waiting area.

Hey! This was easy!
Just wait for TheKiddo!
With time for clearing the plane, we must have made it on time after all!
I guess we did warp time after all!

We wait.

And wait.
And wait.

Finally, the guy holding me at the checkpoint says into his radio (in an exasperated tone), “We still have another one….”

Hmmm. A this point, I question him about exactly what it is I am waiting for, only to find out that I’m not waiting for TheKiddo to be delivered…no. I’m waiting for the female to pat me down.

I guess they want me to pick up TheKiddo at the gate, not at the checkpoint.
Because somebody blew off the instructions to bring TheKiddo TO me at the checkpoint. Instead TheKiddo is stuck waiting at his gate…not alone, mind you, but with the same airline attendant that was previously radioed the instructions. Apparently the attendant is either deaf, hates his job, is killing time entertaining TheKiddo until his shift is over, or is just plain stupid.

Grand. Here comes the female TSA-Bitch, and she isn’t going to listen to one word I have to say.
Nope. She’s on a mission, and she’s going to pat me down. Period.

I say: I’m not flying, and I’m not attempting to go to the gate. I've already signed the paperwork to have TheKiddo brought to me.

…but the TSA-Bitch is going to pat me down and scan my shoes and swab my wheelchair and…

…allllllll the while, I am being probably the biggest disabled smart-assed snot I have ever been in my life. (so much, in fact, that the stuff in the colored text you are reading is actual quotes, verbatim, to the best of my memory, unembellished...only names changed for *ahem* security's sake)

MyFK: But MOMmmmmmmm!! TheKiddo is waiting ALONE!
Oh, I know, but I have to wait while this lady has her way with me.

I stand up to be patted down, and TSA-Bitch tells me to sit down.
So I do.
And then 20 seconds later she says she needs me to get up out of my wheelchair, and asks if I am physically capable of being in a standing position.

I say: Ummmm I think I was just standing a second ago when you told me to sit. No? Am I confused?

I stand up but hold onto my chair to stabilize myself while being patted, because sometimes someone pushing against me can cause me to lose balance (duh).

TSA-Bitch says: I need to move your chair. I have to get all the way around you.
(and before I can answer pulls the chair out from under me and pushes it way out of reach)

I say: Well jeez, you didn’t ask me if I was physically capable of standing without something to balance with. So...isn't my holding onto something and rotating or turning around acceptable?


So I’ll balance on one leg for you.
Want me to juggle for you at the same time?

MOMmmmm!! What is taking so long??!!!
Well, once you are disabled, you lose certain rights, son. People are allowed to touch you when and where you don’t feel like being touched, which would be fine IF I actually wanted to pass beyond this area. But I do not.

So the TSA-Bitch begins to do her pat down, and let me tell you…I’ve been patted down a whooooole lotta times by now, and never have some of these particular nooks and crannies been patted before. AND she took her time. And THEN she decides that my under-cleavage is suspicious and has me raise my arms in 20 different positions (while balancing on one leg for several minutes by now) so that she can get under there again. And again.

She asks me if I have a problem.

Yes, as a matter of fact I DO.

Great. Here comes DickWad. A fucking idiot who couldn’t pass the police force exams because he’s a moron, and so he ended up working the airport. But I need to show respect ya’ know, because, well, he’s boss of this tiny little world, and he has a uniform and shiny badge to prove it.

The TSA-Bitch is now telling him that my wheelchair looks fishy because it hasn’t passed the swipe test.

Mr.Dickwad, Sir. Could we PLEASE stop examining me. I do not need to be inspected. I’m not flying, and I’m not attempting to pass this checkpoint to get to the gate. There has been a miscommunication. TheKiddo I am retrieving was to be sent down here to the checkpoint. Can you please send TheKiddo down here?

DickWad says: Well, that’s up to the airline.

Well, then can you please call the XYZAir desk and have them send TheKiddo here, because that is what I asked for, and that is what they agreed to do.

Yes, I will call them. What’s your name, what’s TheKiddo’s name, what’s the flight number?
I give the data.

He leaves, and while he’s gone the TSA-Bitch is starting to furtively take notes about my hair color, what’s in my purse, and that my sock (singular) matches my blouse. And now allllllll my personal information is being entered into some database that probably now catalogues me as suspect for the rest of my frickin traveling life (not that we can't all be eavesdropped on at this point, anyhow, mind you).

MOMmmmm, are they done yet??
No, apparently mommy's wheelchair is possible suspect for high treason.
(actually, it is my REMOVEABLE wheelchair pad that is supposedly coated in bomb-goo…mental note: do not picnic on the newly fertilized park lawn and then sit your ass down on a fabric wheelchair seat)

DickWad comes back to help TSA-Bitch do the cataloguing.

Ummmm, excuse me DickWad Sir, but when you left, weren’t you supposed to be calling XYZAir and remedy this situation??
I didn’t hear you ASK me to do that.
Maybe that’s because you aren’t actually listening?

Turning to TSA-Bitch: Make her stand up and swipe her seat pad again and her backside again..

MOMmmm!! What is TAKING SO LONG?!?!?!
They aren’t done humiliating me yet.

But MOM!!!
Honey, shush. The fake police aren’t through exercising their weak little power trip muscles.

Bitch to DickWad: Her pants pass but her removeable seat pad does not.

Let’s see…ME AND MY CHAIR are okay to pass through, but the REMOVEABLE PAD is cause for suspicion. Does the concept of REMOVING THE PAD and leaving it here work for you (so I can blow yer asses up with it and rid the world of a couple of idiots?)

DickWad to TSA-Bitch: Well, she’s basically going to have her wish granted….
(funny, I don’t remember wishing on a little star or anything)
…because we can't let her through. They will have to bring the kid to her to the checkpoint to meet her..

I sit there reminiscing about this Bill Cosby stand-up routine. He gets kicked out of bed to feed the kids breakfast. He gets busted for feeding them chocolate cake instead of scrambled eggs. He is sent to his room.
Which is exactly where he wanted to be in the first place.

* sigh *

Well TheKiddo is finally brought down to the gate.
And then we need to go hunt down luggage, because by now, it has been stowed away because it wasn’t picked up quickly enough and is now suspect for high treason.

Best part? I get to do this allll over again tomorrow when I bring TheKiddo back to the same airport for the 2nd leg of his flight. YAY!!!!!!!

See?! having a 2nd leg can, in fact, be bad ;-)


jodi said...

I hope you are going to write a letter of complaint, to both the airport and the airline. And possibly also the paper.

Gray said...

What a terrible story, both your treatment and what you must have been feeling about the kids!

As a parent it makes me squirm because I know what it feels like to feel thwarted in your responsibility to your kid or another child.

I hope that you have better experiences in the future.

an9ie said...

Dear A,

Just wondering if there is a happy ending to this? In the sense that they appeared on 60 minutes and had to come grovelling back and gave you a dozen free interstate flights for being incredibly dense?

Why is there no justice in the world?!? *clenches fist at sky*