The TSA, religious preferences, disability, and you.

The TSA, religious preferences, disability, and you. November 20, 2010

By Masery

Thomas Sawyer “A retired special education teacher on his way to a wedding in Orlando, Fla., said he was left humiliated, crying and covered with his own urine after an enhanced pat-down by TSA officers recently at Detroit Metropolitan Airport.” Thomas is a bladder cancer survivor. The x-ray picked up his medical device and he was pulled aside for a pat down. What happened was after several attempts at a private screening, he was escorted to an office. There he informed officers of his urostomy bag (a bag that collects urine through the abdomen). They didn’t listen. Because of this bag he has to wear loose clothing and since his belt was off for the x-ray his pants fell down. He had to request several times to pull up his pants. During the pat-down, when his abdomen was checked the bag opened and urine leaked down Thomas’ clothes. The officers did not acknowledge the incident or offer to help him clean up. Thomas was unable to clean up until after boarding the flight since time was short. He has filed a complaint with the TSA, his congressional representatives, and Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network.

TSA spokesperson Dwayne Baird said, “We will review the matter and take appropriate action if necessary.” He encouraged travelers with disabilities to visit the TSA website and read their guidelines. This shows an utter lack of concern for disabled travelers. Reading the guidelines does help us prepare and understand how to pack our equipment. It doesn’t; however, make up for insufficient training of TSA officers.

Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network executive director Claire Saxton said that there are hundreds of thousands of people living with ostomies in the United States. “TSA agents need to be trained to listen when someone tells them (they) have a health issue and trained in knowing what an ostomy is. No one living with an ostomy should be afraid of flying because they’re afraid of being humiliated at the checkpoint.” Indeed, TSA agents needs to be trained to listen when ANYONE tells them they have a health issue.

Because of stories like this one, and our own experiences with rude personnel, expensive food, that my husband and I have decided not to fly again.

I feel very fortunate that the only difficulty concerning my disability and flying was staying hydrated. You aren’t allowed to carry in drinks or bottled water because of the restrictions on liquids and the price of water can be $4 after security and near the gates. Because of my auto-immune deficiency, I don’t drink from public water fountains. The airports, at least not the one’s I’ve been to, don’t have free water from dispensers. Something similar to a water cooler would be great.

I take eleven different medications, including insulin, and supplements. As you know, medication can be very expensive and if it is a controlled substance like pain or anxiety medication, it is difficult to refill. Don’t risk putting your medication in checked luggage. Put medications still in the original bottles into a clear zip lock bag. Keep in it your carry on. At some airports when I declared my medication, the screener wanted to see it. It was easier to pull out one bag they could look into then digging around for each bottle. Other times, they were in a hurry and didn’t care. One actually got very agitated when they asked if I had any containers and pulled out my meds. “That’s too much, I’m not going through that. I didn’t ask about your meds.”

As disabled Pagans, medication and medical devices aren’t our only concern. There are some traditions that include swords, ritual knives. Some of us like flowing dresses, loose shirts and such from different eras. Put them all in checked baggage. Sharp objects aren’t allowed. Loose clothing can potentially conceal objects so security will do a pat down. Honestly, it isn’t practical to have strangers handle sacred or magickal items of any kind. Wear simple, small protective items in the form of necklaces, rings, earrings. They can be just as potent as larger more elaborate medallions.

TSA pat-down leaves traveler covered in urine. By Harriet Baskas
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