I'm leaving on a jet plane... If security stops hassling me.This actual event incident happened about a month ago, but I thought I needed to share my experience. As you may or may not know, I play power soccer, an electric wheelchair sport for people with disabilities. And because the sport has teams and tournaments across the country, it requires a lot of travel. So this particular incident occurred when I was flying to a soccer tournament in Santa Barbara with my teammates.
It started off normal enough; we unloaded our bags at the curb and checked in. There was nothing out of the ordinary until we approached the security checkpoint to go through to the gate. Once we showed them our IDs, my teammates and I were escorted to an area near the metal detectors so TSA Security Guards can inspect our wheelchairs.
For those who are unaware of the procedure, the security guards generally swab down a few areas of the wheelchair to check for any unauthorized substances and then do a pat down to make sure we aren’t caring any concealed weapons.
Notice how I said generally… This time was anything other than routine.
Within a few minutes, my two teammates went through the entire process with ease and were granted access to the boarding area. But of course, with my luck, my inspection wasn’t so smooth.
At first, things seemed to be going fine. The security guard swabbed my chair and patted me down with no problem. After he collected the swabs, he went to place them in the machine to analyze the samples. Once the tests were done, the guard returns with one more swab and a bewildered look on his face. Generally, this is the time he smiles and says “You’re good to go,” and sends me on my way, but not this time.
“Are you able to get yourself out of the chair?” He asked clutching a swab.
As much as I wanted to whip out some witty, satirical remark that would make Zach Braff proud, I controlled my anger and replied, “No, I am quad and can’t move my arms and legs.”
This is where it gets very interesting. The security guard proceeds to explain to me that he needs to check my seat cushion and the bottom of my pants before he can let me go to my gate. He then asks how I normally get out of the chair because I can’t go until he checks my cushion. I then tell him that I use a Hoyer lift to get me out of the chair and didn’t have one available to use. He then asks if a group of people could just lift me out of the chair. I politely respond back and explain to him that my bones and muscles are very brittle and sensitive, so that idea would be dangerous.
But this security guard was having none of it.
With no real solution, the security guard goes to get his supervisor and some other hands to help lift me out of the chair. While the guard is away, my dad meets up with me after going through the security checkpoint. I tell him about the situation and saying that he was less than pleased would be a huge understatement.
Once the guards and the supervisor return, my dad and I implore them to just let me go without checking my seat. We even tell them that I have never had to get out of my chair before whenever I’ve gone through airport security on past flights. They just say that this is procedure and I can’t go until they check this final test.
We then question their response that it is procedure because my other two teammates were cleared within a couple minutes and were never asked to get out of their chairs.
“You are my responsibility,” remarks the security guard. “I’m not concerned with them.”
But why was I singled out and why couldn’t I go without them checking my cushion? If it was procedure, why weren’t my teammates asked to get out of their chair? We asked the guards and supervisor repeatedly, but never got a straight answer.
At this point, we were at a stalemate; I couldn’t get out of my chair and the guards weren’t going to let me through until they checked my cushion. The only option they gave us was to have several guards lift me up, but we weren’t going to do that. I wasn’t about to have three random guys lift me up who had no idea or proper training to lift people with disabilities. So finally, my dad just lifted me out of my chair so they could run the test and let us go.
The whole ordeal was ridiculous and very disheartening to see how the TSA employees treated a person with a disability. I never had to go through something like that before and can’t believe that I was treated in that manner. If you use a wheelchair and are traveling, please keep my experience at Sky Harbor Airport in mind. I hope you don’t encounter the same problems that I did.
What makes it even worse is that I was never even asked to get out of my chair at security during the checkpoint process on the way back. Procedure? Yeah, right.