Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Got Flights? TSA Cares, But You Have to Call Them!

Spring has sprung!  Tell tale signs include not just birds and flora, but in an unusual uptick in temperatures.  At 50 degrees, flip flops are being worn by most teenagers.  Target is already running out of swimsuits and the nearby fitness hot spot is packed after a brief hiatus for those that gave up on New Year's resolutions.

Thus, spring break travel season has also arrived.

If you are considering flying to your vacation destination and have worries about navigating through the airport with children or adults that have medical needs, than you may want to contact TSA Cares.

TSA Cares is a free service in which passengers alert the TSA ahead of their scheduled departure (suggested time is three days before flying) of your specific medical concerns.  While the same security measures are applied, they are handled in a way that allows the passenger to retain privacy and dignity.

Trust me, as a mom who has utilized TSA Cares and also, gone without, the TSA Cares provided much more comfort in knowing that my daughters' needs were being carefully handled, with kindness and compassion.  This is completely opposite of an experience that was miserably created during a return flight from our nation's capital in which both my daughter and I were subjected to intense pat-downs while being separated from each other, hand swabs, luggage checks and carry-ons that were nothing short of vandalized.  The experience was so terrifying that if it hadn't been for the Delta concierge crew that rescued and calmed us, I am not sure if I would have had the stamina to even board the plane.  Thank you to Delta DC crew - we are forever grateful!

In an ideal world, security wouldn't even need to exist.  However, the reality is that post 9/11 the TSA screens millions of passengers daily in an effort to keep our nation safe.  Not knowing me or my daughter, they worked only under the assumption that our insulin pump, medication and other T1D gear - all unfamiliar to each and every security person that day, had the potential to do harm.  While it could be argued that the TSA was out of line in their handling of two females that frankly, look about as non-threatening as could be, the TSA was simply doing their job.  Still, I know that I never want to be in that terrifying situation.  Worse, I especially do not want my daughters to be subjected to such intense scrutiny - for what? - bringing along their life-saving medical items.

After my DC experience, I wasn't sure if the girls and I could manage the screening process again and certainly not by myself without the Naturally Sweet Dad.  (The reality is that we do feel more vulnerable when we are alone with the girls being split into two different directions - one parent can not be in two places at once and that is scary!) At the urging of another T1D mom (mind you, she has FOUR beautiful children and three of those have been diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes) that recommended the pre-planning of TSA Cares, it became clear from her easy, breezy attitude of getting in and out of security that I needed to try at least once.  The mom explained that if airport security knew about our medical concerns ahead of time, than they could better understand how care for our family AND still retain the safety of the millions of other passengers.  While it shouldn't be this way, the system was working better for families living with T1D - IF- we called at let our personal medical needs be known.  I am sure that some where, right now, the creator of HIPPA is rolling over in dismay.   

Call TSA Cares at 1-855-787-2227 if flying with medical concerns

On our next flight, we planned in the time to call ahead (about three days prior) to TSA Cares so we could discuss our family's medical needs.  The phone was staffed with a polite young man (sounding fresh out of college and happy to help) that explained while he was not the actual agent that would meet us, he would make sure that someone at our airport would be alerted about our medical concerns and would find us before we stepped into the security line.  Oddly, I did not provide a physical description of myself or my daughters but as planned on the morning of our flight, a security agent found us as soon as we walked to the general screening area.  With a friendly smile, he waited while the TSA screening agents processed my ID and all of our tickets.  Then, the security agent led us to a medical screening line and helped us through the actual screening process - which still included swabbing, pat down (albeit gently with questions asked about where infusion sites and/or sensitive areas were) and metal detectors  that could safely manage the screening of an insulin pump that was attached - and without complaints of not being able to use full body imaging.  The manner in which our care was handled felt less accusatory and less criminal.  Instead, we were treated as United States citizens that simply needed to get to their destination by using airport transportation.


The difference between the two security screenings was critical as my oldest daughter needed to understand that having Type 1 Diabetes was not a restriction that limited her ability to participate in anything, especially the ability to be a passenger on a plane.  She also needed to understand that she could trust that the security agents were going to help and not hurt her, her sister, or even her mom.  

Our agent must have also sensed this need because he took the time to be calm, cheerful and to explain the procedures before proceeding.  Simple but effective.   Afterward, our oldest asked at what age could she fly by herself.  The question was just her way of showing that she had regained the confidence to continue. The TSA Cares agent reached into his pocket, pulling out the card shown in the pictures and while handing it to her shared an encouragement; "Anytime."

Each time after that first TSA Cares flight, I have called ahead to the TSA Cares hot line.  Happily, we have yet to encounter any of the issues that our DC flight had.  Instead, we have all agreed that we feel much like any other person that travels through security; meaning while it is not a fun process, at least we can retain our dignity and safety while trusting in the process.  Really, that is the best result that there could be.

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