laughing with monkey

It appears that I have gotten sick. Bleah redux.

But since I can't sleep I thought I'd recount the TSA incident at least. (I'll tell the dogfight story later.)

So, as every guide dog handler knows, going through airport security can be a bit of a headache, since all the metal in the dog's harness and collar can set off the detector and possibly lead to one's being wanded or patted down unnecessarily. I've gone through it more times than I can remember, and since I'm a bit hypersensitive to being touched by strangers it tends to make me tense..

But there is a way of mitigating the problem. The technique that I and many other doghandlers were taught, and which has been approved by the TSA, is to adjust the leash to its longest length, put the dog at sit and stay (or "rest") at the entrance to the gate, walk through by yourself and then call the dog through. That way, it is clear whether it is you or the dog who has set off the metal detector. It's easier and faster and less discomfitting than just walking through and having to assume the position, as it were.

So anyway, my colleague Sue and I are both dog handlers and were both leaving from the same terminal. We were being assisted to the gate by Abraham, a youngish (mid-twenties?) African-American male who told us he spent his spare time working in after-school programs teaching nonviolence and conflict resolution.

We get to the security checkpoint and he is told to bring Sue and I through the side door where we will be wanded down.

"Why do we have to do that?" I asked the security agent.

"Because the dogs will set off the detector."

"Yes. And this is how we handle that," I said, and explained the procedure delineated above. "It's been approved by the TSA."

"I AM the TSA," she said, and promptly began talking to our man Abraham and ignoring me. (Meanwhile, the line is backing up.)

"Please call a superrvisor," I said, and was ignored.

"Blah blah blah blah, te dogs can't be separated from them, they have to go through the door over there. Blah blah."

"I'd like to speak with a supervisor."

"Blahblahblah ...."

"Stop talking!" Sue (who was behind me this whole time) said.

"Blahblahblahblah."

"Stop talking and listen!"

"Who is she talking to?"

"You!"

"She can't tell me to stop talking. I'm grown!"

"So are we!" I responded. "Please call a supervisor."

"You know, it's not worth it," said another woman (I couldn't tell if she was another security worker or a passenger). "They can have you kicked out of the airport."

[Kicked out of the airport for expecting to be listened to and treated like an adult? I don't think so!]

But things were getting backed up. Sue and I went through the side door and waited for almost 10 minutes for somebody to come pat us down.

"We hear there was a misunderstanding?"

"Yes," Sue said, "We were treated very rudely."

I explained again what I had requested.

"Did you ask to speak with a supervisor?"

"Repeatedly."

"Nobody ccalled me. I'll go get the manager."

All three of us (Sue, Abraham and I) gave our statements to the manager. I overheard her saying that that person needed to be called off the line right away, and then she confirmed that the technique that I had requested to use was perfectly fine and that there was no reason for us to have had to be wanded down, then apologized profusely for how we were treated.

It did spark all kinds of conversation between the three of us on the way to the gate (with a stop off to pick up some food and to take a restroom break.) Outside the restroom Abraham asked about the braille sign, and I showed him how the letters and contractions (letter combinations placed into a single symbol to save space) worked. (I'm sometimes struck by how my friends rarely show any interest in such things but that strangers are always asking.)
He was a really cool guy, curious and engaged and thoughtful. I felt humbled when he said that he had been proud to meet us: "Strong, intelligent, beautiful women who have learned to handle adversity." I don't know how much that applies to me, I was still feeling shaken by the incident at the security checkpoint. I offered him a tip for wonderful service, and he refused, "You're my friends now." Maybe he will have a story to tell his afterschool kids. I don't know.

He was certainly a bright spot in that whole experience.

Comments

How could you have been any more clear about what you needed? Being ignored is so enraging and upsetting. I am sorry, and glad you're lodging a complaint. I felt teary about your interaction with Abraham.
I'm glad that there were sympathetic people there as well but that sounds like a really awful experience. You seemed to have kept your wits about you and not escalated things (which I always have a problem with doing) so good for you. It does sound like you handled adversity very well. Heck, you were modeling what that guy teaches.

and just for the record, when I made a post awhile back about people being whiney about airports and TSA screenings, I certainly did NOT mean situations like this.
Thanks. I remember that post. I didn't think you meant things like that, mostly because most people don't know that situations like that happen. (This isn't the first time I've had to deal with it; it's just the first time things got that bad.)
"I am the TSA"!? It's so frustrating that you had to go through that. Sounds like you handled it admirably, and that Abraham will have lots to talk about with his students.
Well no wonder you're sick. God.

I'm glad Abraham was there, and I'm glad the manager had her head on straight, but there's not a lot that can make up for the feeling of being completely depersonalized. I'm sorry.
Thanks for recounting this, and thanks for standing up.
laughing with monkey

May 2010

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