The TSA does not take kindly to
amputees. Janet Napolitano used to sniff that only 3% of passengers are fully searched. I would like to clarify that
statement: it is 3% of the flying population, 100% of the time. Please understand that amputees like me cannot board an
aircraft without egregiously intrusive, full-body assault. Every. Single. Time.
Amputees cannot escape full body checks. My first flight out of Detroit was a nightmare. McNamara Terminal was relatively
new, and the security area was also new. No matter that I told the clerks I was going to set off the metal detectors… I was
told to follow a couple of middle-aged women into Concourse A, where I stood and watched while they took three rickety
office cubicle dividers and leaned them up against one another and a wall – right in the Concourse, travelers walking past.
I was then told to take off my trousers. Now, at the risk of too much information, it’s better for me to wear pantyhose
under suit trousers so the fabric doesn’t get stuck between my body and the top of my artificial leg. So there I was,
stripped down to my pantyhose in the middle of Concourse A. The women obviously struggled with asking me to take off
my pantyhose - since I had nothing under them, they decided against it. I was absolutely livid. Livid! That day trip was to
DC, and coming back I had my breasts felt up by this rather large, rude woman. Fit to be tied. I cannot begin to tell you
how humiliating that was. I would not let it rest; I contacted the Detroit News and told them my story. When I walked into the 2005 Lahser Football Banquet, I was told I was on the front page of the Detroit News. A Marine Lance Corporal from
Texas ended up reading about it and took the time to search me out – he called me, furious at what was happening to me
and to his mother. He alleged that the TSA was itself violating the Patriot Act by terrorizing the citizenry. There is a huge
undercurrent of hatred in this nation – hatred that the government has turned on its people, especially the disabled.
It never got better. The HIMSS Conference was the last in that string of flights, and by that time I had the telephone
number of one Sandra Cammaroto, Director of Disability Screening at the TSA. Our first phone call was cordial – she said I
could ask for assistance with screening. So the next time I flew out of Detroit, I dutifully asked for assistance. I was met by
a kindly black man who was going to escort me through screening. What I thought was going to be a check-only-what-
alarms screening was nothing but – that was the Full Monty. The screener told me she wanted to impress the Boss… he was so embarrassed he had to look away. Nothing like having a stranger’s hands publicly down your pants.
My second call to Sandra was not so cordial. She started on her same schtick, and I quickly came to the realization that
she did not remember me at all. I was so in her face that she became quite unnerved. She was screaming, vacillating
between telling me she had all sorts of staples on her torso somewhere and that she was going to hang up on me. But she
never did – I am certain she had no idea of the vitriol that exists in “the real world.” I asked her about the discrepancies
between what she had told me and what happened to me – she admitted that her department and the screening
department were not coordinated. That certainly did not calm me down. So I wrote an email from my Dallas hotel room, at
two in the morning, declaring that I was going to fly home the following day, and that I would not allow any more sexual
assault upon my person. It is sexual assault, by the way – in any other setting short of prison that’s what it is called.
When I got to the airport I was locked out of the check-in kiosk. I presented myself at the counter, got my boarding pass,
and headed to security. I put my belongings on the conveyor, declared I was going to set off the alarm, and went through
the metal detector. Of course, beep beep beep. The clerk came over with a hand-held and determined that my right leg
from knee to ankle was the only area that alarmed. So far, so good. However, that’s where things went south. They said
they needed to touch my torso. I refused. I told them they could search the area that alarmed, but nowhere else. They had
two screeners and a supervisor there – they told me later that they were the ones that had locked me out of the kiosk.
Two screeners and a supervisor. Would I please let them touch me? It would only be like “this.” No. I was wearing a lycra-
laced T-shirt, under which I wouldn’t have been able to hide a Kleenex. No. We went around and around for over two
hours, they trying to convince me to back down, me nicely, in so many words responding, “What about ‘no’ do you not
understand?” They called my boss in Michigan. They called EDS Corporate. Over two hours of haggling. I never did get on
that airplane. However, I had won over those three people. The manager let me use his office to make sure I could make
arrangements for the three kids. He told me he respected me – called me a Rosa Parks. The two screeners asked me to
please try and get the rules changed – they knew what they had to do was in most cases absolutely stupid. Those were
their exact words. So I left the airport and went to a hotel in Arlington, where I sat for two days until I could grab a ride
home on the corporate jet.
On day three a limo came to get me, taking me to Plano headquarters. I sat around in a conference room until 5 or so,
when someone came to fetch me so I could get on the corporate helicopter that would take us to the private jet. I was in
the company of the CEO, the President… and Ken. Mr. VP Ken.
What I never will forget are the aircraft. The helicopter had powder blue leather seats for passengers. The jet had a smiling
stewardess waiting at the foot of the gangway. The interior was arranged for work – leather lounge-like seats facing one
another on either side of tables. Before we took off the stewardess took our dinner orders. Just like in the movies. And
that’s where I described my healthcare solution to Ken – across from him, over dinner. And that’s where he told me to hold
off until he could talk to his buddy at Wellpoint.
When we landed at what was at the time Detroit City Airport, we were met by two matching black limousines sitting out on
the tarmac. One took me to my car at Detroit Metro; the other was for the executives. When I got back into the office I
was told that the company “would think twice about ever putting me on a plane again.”
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