Baltimore/Washington International Airport
August 2, 2010
Kellisa and I were flying home from Baltimore after a quick weekend trip to bag three highpoints when I came close to getting arrested by TSA government employees at the airport. Why close? Because Lisa did not make this trip with us and I barely showed restraint at the last second out of concern for Kellisa.
Here's what happened: Most airports have a line for flight crews and wheelchairs. Not Baltimore's airport. OK, so we zigzag through the long line like everyone else without a complaint. After 15 minutes, we are probably halfway through the line. All of a sudden from behind, two airport workers are making their way through the zigzags pushing two people in airport wheelchairs. (I view airport wheelchairs with a bit of skepticism. People using those chairs are usually not really disabled because they can somehow get from their car, taxi, bus to the ticket counter without a wheelchair. I know some really need a little help or assistance, but definitely not everyone who requests airport wheelchairs needs them. I try not to judge, but at the very least, I know they are far less disabled than Kellisa). As they pass us, I follow them to the front of the line...assuming this is the "wheelchair procedure" in Baltimore.
I was wrong. TSA workers allowed the two wheelchairs to go directly to the front, but stopped Kellisa. I was told to take Kellisa and go back to the end of the line. I explained that I didn't understand the process. I was told that the other wheelchairs were escorted by airport workers and since Kellisa did not have this "escort", we would not be allowed to move to the front of the line. I tried to reason by explaining that Kellisa could not walk at all and out of the three wheelchairs, Kellisa's was the only "real" wheelchair.
While we are having this "discussion", the guy in the first wheelchair gets up, walks through the metal detector and starts gathering his bags, all while standing. I wasn't ready to explode, but my temperature was rising fast. Then I look over at the other line and see the little girl in the other wheelchair getting up and actually running through the metal detector. The TSA workers made her go back and asked her to walk slowly through the metal detector for a second time.
I was done talking and began yelling at the TSA workers. I pointed to guy as he was still standing holding three bags without any assistance while he waited for his wife. He looked at me and then acted like he couldn't hear me as he started to walk away.
Then I pointed to the mother of the running daughter and accused her of having her daughter fake a disability just to get through the line faster. I told her I would apologize if she told me what caused her daughter to need an airport wheelchair while allowing her to run through the metal detectors. The mother turned away, dropped her head and proceeded through the metal detectors. Her daughter was probably 5 or 6 and unaware of what was happening because she was doing a little dance next to the wheelchair while she waited for her mother. I told the mother and the first faker that we would be "talking" once I got through security.
At this point, I was being surrounded by additional TSA workers who were all talking into their little radios and a couple grabbed my arms. Kellisa had been giggling with all the attention, but at this point, she became visibly scared and nervous. I believe she could sense the situation becoming very serious for us. Looking at Kellisa's face, I actually settled down a little. I realized that I probably made a threat and I couldn't afford to get arrested because I didn't have anyone who could watch Kellisa.
During this moment of calm, the TSA supervisor approached through the crowd that was now gathered around us. She asked if I was OK and explained that the airport's policy was to let all escorted wheelchairs proceed to the front of the line without questioning if the people were disabled or not. I assume she was listening to the entire incident and possibly even watched the beginning on a monitor in a back room somewhere. Before I could argue my point, she offered to let us go through the metal detectors without going to the back of the line if I agreed not to continue the incident with the mother/daughter or the other guy. In hind's sight, I'm thankful that I agreed to her reasonable offer. We made it past security without further incident.
I'll admit to looking for the disability fakers as I pushed Kellisa through the terminal to our gate. I didn't see them. I would have liked to give them something specific to think about while hoping it would prevent them from ever faking a disability again.
To the man, I would have said, "I bet you wouldn't last a day in real wheelchair" and "what you are doing is like stealing a benefit granted to people with disabilities and it's a small concession when you are really disabled".
To the mother, I would have said, "do you realize what you are teaching your daughter" and "you should be thankful every day that your daughter can run through an airport because kids like Kellisa will never be able to even walk".