Tuesday, January 18, 2011

TSA - Grope or scope? You don't get to vote!

Maybe this wouldn’t have been such a miserable experience had Dave and I not been stuck on a shuttle bus for 3 hours and 40 minutes in total gridlock traffic coming from the conference in Keystone to the Denver Airport. Nonetheless, it is a real situation, one every traveler faces at some time when something keeps you from getting to the gate on time and you have to hurry to catch your flight.

We checked our bags at the Southwest gate, 20 minutes before our flight was to depart and arranged for a wheelchair because there was no way I could move fast enough to make it to the gate in time. But first, we had to get through security. Fortunately, there was a line for the “disabled” so we thought it would speed things up going through this shorter line. Think again.

I pulled off one boot and Dave went through with my boot, computer and purse. He was in and out in a flash, but I sat at the threshold between the full body scanner and the metal detector. One of TSA’s finest stared at me, rolled her eyes at my exposed C-leg and groaned, “Oh brother – I hope we don’t have to use the CastScope.” I said, “I’ll do the full body pat down, I just need to catch my flight.” Still, I waited. I waited until 3 more TSA agents showed up and they finally let me through the metal detector. It beeped (duh!) so I got the public pat down and gunpowder/bomb residue check. When she was done I realized she wasn't going to let me go and more TSA agents were standing around. Dave tried to hand me my boot but I couldn’t have it. I stood there with one pant leg rolled up, one boot off, Dave nearing panic, the wheelport transport guy checking the gate information and then they told me I had to undergo the CastScope.

I heard a guy on the bus saying that he wouldn’t know what to do if his wife had to have a full body pat-down. I find this so crazy. The majority of able-bodied are freaked out about the pat down but we amputees just have to get used to it. At at least there are options for the able-bodied. You see, the able-bodied can opt out of the full-body scanner if they don’t want to get exposed to X-rays and get a groping instead.

Amputees have no options. If an airport has a CastScope, it’s mandatory that we be exposed to several X-rays while they try to figure out what’s in there (or not). If you submit to the scoping, you can get out of the groping but not vice versa.

So, back to Denver… After what seemed like an eternity, I was taken to the door of the CastScope machine and waited for the poor schmuck before me to come out. The TSA agent wheeled me in front of the machine and started pushing a bunch of buttons on a flat screen. Without prompting and trying to speed things along I just stood up and positioned my leg in front of what looked like the right thing. Then she said, “You can go now.” As I left I heard her comment that it had “locked up again.” All that, and I never got the scope, just the grope. Dave ran through the airport and thanks to the heroic effort of the wheelchair transport gentleman, we got to the plane seconds before the door closed.

If you’ve lost a limb, you’re automatically a security risk. I wonder how this will play out with our servicemen and women who lost a limb or limbs defending our country? Somehow, I don’t think that being treated like a security threat will sit well with them.