a tsa update: 6 flights in 6 days


6 flights in 6 days 01.22.13Each and every person who reads less is more clicked on through to Amped last week, right? This new joint venture with Peggy Chenoweth (aka The Amputee Mommy) provided you with 18+ minutes of scintillating TSA analysis/storytelling. (And yes, I use the word “scintillating” here without even a hint of my normal sarcasm. The Amped podcast is (and will continue to be) truly scintillating.)

As I thought about when Peggy and I first recorded that podcast, however, I realized that I’ve flown quite a bit since then. With that in mind, and with the TSA on my brain because of Amped, I give you my travel details of January 9-16. (Or, as I like to call it, 6 Flights in 6 Days.)

day 1, flight #1: Islip to Baltimore

At the checkpoint I got to step into one of the full body scanners that increasingly seem to be the norm at America’s airports. I’m sure that these devices are sending staggering amount of x-rays into my body. I’m sure that they will take valuable years off my life as I become one of legions of frequent flyers who, 15 years from now, develop a rare form of cancer thanks to this technology. And as I navigate airport after airport, I frankly don’t care.

The glass wall spins magically around me, I step out, they swab my shoes, hands, and prosthesis, and I’m on my way. No full body pat down. No 12-image cast scope.

Unfortunately, my rolling suitcase gets flagged. When this happens – which is maybe a third of the time – I always assume it’s either, (a) the extra battery and charger for my prosthetic knee, or (b) the 14-inch long solid metal shoehorn that I could bludgeon a wild boar to death with if necessary. But the zealous TSA agent wasn’t looking for either of those. Instead, she triumphantly pulled out the Allen wrench that I keep on hand for prosthetic emergencies. She held it up with arched eyebrows for my consideration, seeking some kind of explanation from the potential terrorist before her. Clearly, this was the most exciting thing that had happened to her so far this morning.

Smiling, I said, “That’s for my prosthetic leg.” Her face transitioned from excitement to disappointment, and she put it back in the suitcase.

“These are prohibited,” she said. That’s why you should tell us before it goes through the scanner.” I said nothing, took my bags, and walked to the gate. I considered telling her that this same Allen wrench has cleared security with me roughly 50 times in the past year alone, never once triggering TSA scrutiny, but I thought the better of it.

day 1, flight #2: Baltimore to Phoenix

After a quick meeting in Baltimore I found myself back at BWI. The security process was so unremarkable that I can’t even remember it today. The Plane-Disabling Allen Wrench didn’t trigger scrutiny, so my current working hypothesis is that TSA personnel at Islip have less to do and more to get excited about than their peers at BWI.

One side note: 90 minutes into my flight, (and as I referenced briefly in last week’s post), the 9 year-old girl sitting next to me knocked an entire drink into my brand new MacBook Pro. As I frantically turned the computer upside down in a fruitless effort to save it, the screen flickered and then went black, much like the electrical equipment you see in disaster movies detailing a helicopter’s or boat’s inexorable descent into the ocean’s depths.

I promptly purchased in-flight Wifi so that I could furiously text my wife from 30,000 feet and vent to her, rather than upon the hapless girl next to me.

day 1, flight #3: Phoenix to Palm Springs

I didn’t have to clear security, as I only had to move from one terminal to another in Phoenix. But just one question, designers of the Phoenix airport: how did you conclude that traversing 23 consecutive moving walkways would make a 7-mile walk within the airport appropriate for travelers? I’m pretty sure the Phoenix marathon consists of a run from terminal to terminal with the moving walkways turned off.

day 4, flight #4: Palm Springs to Phoenix

Pat downs are generally annoying. Pat downs at 5:30 AM when you’re half asleep have the feeling of what I imagine prison cell inspections must feel like. Thankfully, I don’t have to endure that. God bless the full-body long-term death scanning machine yet again. No problems with the TSA agents.

day 4, flight #5: Phoenix to Tampa

It is 9 AM in Phoenix, and after walking the 12.7 miles from Terminal A to Terminal B I can definitively conclude either (a) that this is the busiest airport in the country, or (b), it has the fewest seats. I reach my gate a full hour before the flight and it looks like a refugee camp, with people sprawled out across the floor as far as the eye can see. I consider calling the Red Cross, but instead opt for standing against a wall and thanking the Gods that my prosthesis permits me to pre-board. Flight #5, like all my previous flights, has no empty seats.

day 6, flight #6: Tampa to LaGuardia

By far the most interesting of my security check appearances. As I’m waiting to go through another full-body scanner, I see a group of wheelchair athletes get waved to the front of the line. From their team polo shirts, I quickly deduce that I’m looking at some members of the Canadian Wheelchair Rugby Team. Most of its members look like they’re spinal cord injury survivors, but their ranks also include a bilateral below-the-knee amputee. My thoughts, as these guys rocket to the front of the line aren’t, “Wow, guys who play murderball!”, or “I should introduce myself to the bilateral BK,” but rather: “[Expletive deleted!] Four guys in wheelchairs means 4 ‘male assists’ who can’t help me and the Patriots’ kickoff is 5 minutes from now!” (Pre-Pats v. Texans. And no, I don’t want to talk about this weekend’s game.)

I am, when it comes right down to it, a selfish bastard.

However, Tampa TSA rallies, with “male assists” appearing out of the ether to move each and every one of us on our way quickly. I do strike up a brief conversation with the BK and learn that he and his teammates appear to be primarily from Western Canada and are participating in some tournaments in Florida. I remark that playing in Florida in January strikes me as preferable to playing in Winnipeg in January. He agrees.

I rush off to watch the Pats spank the Texans.

Final flight note: we’re flying into LaGuardia and it’s foggy. The captain tells the flight attendants to sit down as we’re on final approach. The plane eases into that pre-landing position where the nose is higher than the tail and it feels like the wheels are reaching for the ground. And then, suddenly, the engines fire and we’re climbing again. We land 35 minutes later. The flight attendant jumps on the speaker after landing and asks us to applaud the pilots who “always keep us safe.”

I take this to mean that we were all pretty close to dying.

But on the bright side, in summary – 6 flights in 6 days and no TSA disasters to report.

One Other Thing

For those of you who haven’t seen this yet, please watch my good friend, Scout Bassett, wow the crowd at TEDx Sarasota. I was in touch with her both before and immediately after she delivered this talk, and she absolutely killed it!

2 thoughts on “a tsa update: 6 flights in 6 days

  1. Nothing turns my quiet and sweet 14 year old into a bad-attitude teenager faster than going through airport security. We have tried explaining that it is just part of the process of keeping everyone safe, but she’s been yelled at, questioned and we’ve even had to pull the “I know my rights” card (ugh, no, we are not going to check her running leg because we do not trust that your airline will keep it safe!). I suppose I should try to understand her bad attitude a little better 🙂

  2. Kris – you bring up a totally different perspective here, and a really interesting one: TSA dealing with prosthetic-wearing kids. My 14 year-old son freaks out if he leaves the house and his hair doesn’t look perfect, so I can imagine that a prosthetic-wearing teen might find the whole TSA experience especially galling.

    Ultimately, the TSA screening process is something that we all have to endure, and unfortunately, amputees get more scrutiny than many other individuals. But no one said we should be happy about it. Framed in that light, your daughter’s reaction to the process strikes me as quite understandable.

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