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Amid Complaints, TSA To Launch Disability Hotline

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As the holiday travel season heats up, the Transportation Security Administration is preparing to launch a toll-free hotline for passengers with disabilities, but at least one lawmaker is calling for the agency to do more.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., wants the TSA to designate passenger advocates at every airport to address concerns and help travelers with special needs. The request comes after a number of complaints from elderly women in recent weeks. In multiple cases, women alleged that TSA agents subjected them to strip searches because they were wearing specialized medical devices.

“While the safety and security of our flights must be a top priority, we need to make sure that flying does not become a fear-inducing, degrading and potentially humiliating experience,” said Schumer. “Right now, passengers who feel that their rights are about to be violated have nowhere to turn, but by training passenger advocates at each of our airports, the TSA can finally give passengers a voice.”

In a letter to top officials at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the TSA, Schumer and Michael Gianaris, a Democrat who serves in the New York state Senate, said they want passenger advocates to receive training to familiarize them with various medical conditions and devices so they could provide “alternative methods for addressing the needs and concerns of elderly, disabled and other vulnerable passengers.”

TSA officials declined to comment specifically on the lawmakers’ proposal, but said in a statement that they already have “customer service representatives at most major airports.”

In addition, the agency said they plan to have a toll-free hotline in place by January so that passengers with disabilities can call in advance if they need extra assistance during security screening.

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Comments (5 Responses)

  1. Thur Annfin says:

    “While the safety and security of our flights must be a top priority, we need to make sure that flying does not become a fear-inducing, degrading and potentially humiliating experience,” said Schumer.

    Too late!

    My daughter is terrified of flying now just because she saw the airport screeners patting people’s private parts on a TV news show. And she never got over the airport security man making her throw out several bottles of her expensive hair product she had packed in her carry on just because they were a little bit larger than the allowed size. We’ve been using alternate modes of transportation as much as possible. Flying has become an exercise in humiliation and fear.

  2. codeman38 says:

    Hopefully this hotline will be TTY-accessible, so that people who are unable to speak or hear on the phone don’t have to deal with the additional frustration of making a relay call.

    Or better yet, a non-phone-based method of contact (web-based form! IM! Twitter! SMS!), since many deaf and hard-of-hearing people are replacing TTYs with more efficient Internet-based methods of communication.

  3. ecurra19 says:

    I am happy to hear that Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. wants the TSA to designate passenger advocates at every airport to address concerns and help travelers with special needs, but this took a long time and still something has to be done. This is only NY, imagine the other states and territories.

  4. Ani says:

    Is it in fact “a breach of contract” for TSA to allow a passenger with disabilities traveling on his/her own to be accompanied to through security by a family member (or someone else familiar)?

    This morning my adult son, who has intellectual and physical disabilities and is prone to anxiety, was to fly out of Hartford, CT airport on his own. His father asked, as he had in the past, to accompany our son through security and was refused initially. He was finally allowed to do so, told that this was a breach of contract—that there were personnel trained to handle passengers with special needs. Given what ensued, had my son’s father not been there, it is quite likely that our son would have had a complete anxious meltdown and not been able to travel.

    The short story: As he was about to step through the metal detector, my son was stopped because of the suspicious bulge under his shirt (a plastic chest protector my son wears to protect his heart given he was born without a sternum). His father explained adding that the shield would not set off the alarms. My son was allowed to pass then was immediately surrounded by three large men who took him to a private room and did a complete body tap (is that the term). Subsequently, (with another screening tool, I believe), chemicals were detected on his hands and he was taken again to be screened full body by someone wearing rubber gloves, after which the gloves were tested and chemicals found on them. It turns out the chemicals were the result of a disinfectant hand wash but my son, too tense by then and beginning to melt down, said no to everything when asked, including if he had used anything on his hands.

    There is more to the story, but this is enough for now. My son is due to return from Utah alone in three days. We want to assure that his older brother can accompany him to the gate and “protect” him from what could be greatly confusing and anxiety-provoking experiences that could result in full blown panic and my son not being able to fly home.

    Useful advice/guidance in dealing with TSA would be much appreciated! (Do individual airports have differing policies or are such “contracts” uniform???)

  5. Brenda says:

    Once upon a time, people like me with wheelchairs were quickly scanned with a wand and a brief pat – equivalent to entering political buildings in Washington DC today. Now, we endure invasive pat downs and (in my last encounter last week) excessive bomb residue swabbing – chair, clothes, hands, and all belongings that went through the x-ray. In fact, my children were targeted for excessive scrutiny because of their association with me. It is about time that we have people with authority to protect our rights. TSA is great, but there must be a line. Otherwise, let us make protocol the same for ALL people flying.

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