Mastering Air Travel as a Blind Person: Security
Before turning to look at getting through security as a blind person, it might be helpful to remember the obvious: the purpose is to screen everyone as quickly and, hopefully, as thoroughly as possible. To the extent that you, as a passenger, can help expedite this process, you’re more likely to make going through security to be a nonevent in your travel, something that is altogether for the good. If you fly from or to a small or medium-sized airport with any frequency at all, you’re going to be remembered by the employees. Create a positive impression, and this applies to all the personnel you come in contact with — not just screeners, and you may have a more positive experience than the average sighted traveler.
There are only a few basic things, all of them simple, to keep in mind.
- ID and boarding pass. Remember that when you approach security, the first thing they’ll need is your identification and boarding pass. The only catch is that you’ll have at least one, and quite probably both, hands occupied. There’s a line of other passengers waiting behind you and an official anxious to keep the process moving. It’s far preferable to already have the documents where you can quickly get them than to cause everything to come to a complete halt while you set down your luggage to search for them.
- Quick orientation. If you have enough vision to see or if the noise makes it obvious, you next need to identify where the conveyor belt for depositing the luggage is located. Left or right? How far away? The assist personnel will likely want to put your luggage on the conveyor for you. If I have more that my shoulder bag, I’m not going to use this as an excuse to demonstrate how independent I am by demanding to take care of everything myself. Time is at a premium for everyone in line. Needlessly slowing things down, whether you have a disability or not, will make you as popular as a skunk at a garden party.
- Keep it moving. Now you’re ready for the TSA strip search. If a non-disabled passenger fumbles around putting their stuff in the basket and on the conveyor, they’re viewed as annoying. Unfortunately, in the eyes of some of your fellow passengers and airline security people, if you do the same thing, it’s because you’re blind so you’ll want to know what you’re going to do and do it quickly.
- The metal detector. The only suggestion here, and if you fly with any frequency you already know this, is to turn sideways as you walk through the machine since your chance of inadvertently touching the sides is higher than the average passenger. If, before entering the scanner, you reach to touch the hand of the official on the other side to help with orientation (something they’re used to doing with blind passengers), the process is simplified. Again, the goal here is speed. You don’t want everyone behind you secretly praying for your early death because you’re slowing the process.
- Hand-held scanning. It’s been my experience, and this may just reflect the airports I go through, that the process for scanning with the wand has become more standardized in recent years and TSA personnel are better trained and more comfortable doing it with blind passengers. You just do what they tell you.
All of us who fly more than once in a while have our favorite anecdotes about some horrible travel experiences. One of mine has to do with going through security in a large Midwestern airport a few years ago with my guide dog. Virtually all TSA personnel, in my experience, love dogs; however, this agent, likely one of the last members of the Nazi Party still at large, insisted that I remove the dog’s harness and surrender the dog to him while he walked a few paces away to examine him. While I would still be in the immediate area of the examination, this was a completely unreasonable demand, something I knew was not TSA policy. I asked to speak with a supervisor, but, as luck would have it, he was the supervisor. Our plane was being called, the next available flight wasn’t for many hours, and I was trapped. Filing a complaint with TSA when I got home hopefully helped other passengers in the future but did nothing for me at the moment.
The point of relating this experience is to underscore that, like every other passenger, security is empowered to make you do what they want and make you do it the way they want. This is, however, an extremely atypical example. I’m mindful that TSA personnel have a highly stressful job, and that, by helping them to be able to do it as quickly and efficiently as possible, we are helping ourselves.
Now that you’ve checked-in, had some experienced with passenger assist, and gone through security, I’ll look at arriving at the gate and actually getting on the plane, something that can either be embarrassingly simple or unnecessarily challenging.