After the divorce from my abuser was finalized, there was no pressing reason for me to remain in Nevada. I decided to move back to Texas to be surrounded by family while I sought new employment.
After months of closed doors and promising interviews that led to no where, I accepted an absolutely amazing engineering position at a reputable company. The job required an out of state move, and a rather rapid one because they wanted me to start as soon as possible.
I packed up a few suitcases and traveled with my aunt to the new state but my Olive Thief could not travel with me for the initial move. I secured keys to my own place as soon as possible so that I could return to pick up my cat. He is a critical member of the Clearly Alive family and I did not want to be separated from him any longer than absolutely necessary.
I decided to do a turn-around trip in order to fly him to my new home. My flight to Dallas was at 8AM. My flight from Dallas was at 7PM, on the same day. In between landing and leaving, I would pick up the kitty. That’s a challenging itinerary for someone with fully functional adrenal glands and I was about to attempt it solo. But I needed my Olive Thief.
In my correspondence with the Disability Branch of the TSA, I learned of a special program designed to help people with disabilities navigate TSA security:
“TSA Cares is a helpline for travelers with disabilities and medical conditions. TSA Cares agents have received special training to provide callers with specific information about the screening of travelers with disabilities and medical conditions. In addition, you may provide a TSA Cares agent with a flight itinerary before upcoming travel. The agent will notify TSA officials at the airports to allow them to prepare for your screening and assist you through the screening checkpoint. You can contact TSA Cares toll free at 855-787-2227 (Federal Relay 711) from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. EST from Monday to Friday and 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST on weekends and holidays. We strongly recommend that you contact TSA Cares no later than 72 hours before travel.
The Passenger Support Specialist (PSS) program was created to assist passengers with disabilities and medical conditions. Passenger Support Specialists receive specialized disability training, including how to assist and communicate with individuals with disabilities. Although they are not always available, the goal is to have a PSS in the vicinity of an airport’s checkpoints to provide proactive assistance and resolve traveler-related screening concerns. You can request a PSS at the checkpoint, or you can ask for the assistance of a Supervisory Transportation Security Officer.”
This trip would be a perfect opportunity to try out these two services. I had no fear about my flight to Dallas, but I was incredibly nervous about my flight back with a cat. I did not want to introduce myself to any paramedics. I called TSA Cares.
Using TSA Cares
The man I spoke with recorded my name, flight itinerary, and my concerns. He stated that when I got to the first TSO who is checking ID’s, I should ask for a Passenger Support Specialist or a Supervisor. The officer will help me through security and there should be no issues.
The flight to Dallas was uneventful. I had to wait longer than I would have preferred at the rental car counter but eventually I was on my way to retrieve my kitty.
I decided to return to the airport ridiculously early in case there was an issue going through security.
Going through TSA Security
At the ID station, I showed the TSO my disability card. On the back of the disability card, I have taped an educational card provided by Adrenal Insufficiency United. This makes it more difficult for TSA to ignore information about Adrenal Insufficiency. I told the TSO that I had called ahead using the TSA Cares line and I requested a PSS or a Supervisor in order to assist me going through security with my cat.
The TSO called for a supervisor because their particular check point did not have any Passenger Support Specialists. When the supervisor arrived, I informed him I have a medical device, a serious medical condition, and that I would like to opt out of the scanners. I was also traveling with a cat and I did not want to cause any trouble going through security. I disclosed how one of my recent encounters with a seasoned TSO required the intervention of paramedics, and I would prefer to avoid a repeat experience.
He treated me with the utmost respect and allowed the Olive Thief to return back into the safety of his carrier as quickly as possible. Once again, my suitcase was flagged for a secondary search. I believe some airports are now hand searching every bag that contains food. I was allowed to observe their screen, and they actually requested that I unlock my suitcase for them.
Once my bag was cleared, I received a pat down. My pump site was visible in the back of my arm, and the TSO completing the pat down had no issues. It took perhaps a total of ten minutes to clear all of security, with a cat.
A cat on a leash?
My Olive Thief was quite popular at the airport. Many people had never seen a cat on a harness with a leash before. I had one lady ask if she could take a picture of him to send back to her daughter. I had no idea I was traveling with such a celebrity!
The flight back, the Olive Thief was completely silent. He felt safe and secure in his carrier, which was actually lined with one of my pillow cases. This was actually his fifth flight in his six years of life. I remember when I told that to the veterinary technician, her response was “Your cat has flown more than me!”
By self identifying to multiple TSOs before the security screening began, I increased the probability of being treated appropriately. I do not like to view Primary Adrenal Insufficiency as a disability, but truthfully, it is. Because it is a disability, we gain access to additional resources.
The presence of the supervisor and his help with my luggage drastically reduced the amount of stress of the experience. If any of those in the Clearly Alive community are apprehensive about traveling through airports, call TSA Cares. Ask for a Passenger Support Specialist. Ask for a supervisor to help you through the process. You have a medical condition, and there is no shame in requesting reasonable accommodations.
Will I utilize this service again? Maybe? It depends on the situation surrounding my flight. Most of the time, I have absolutely no issue navigating security. However, I do know that these resources exist and I will not hesitate to utilize them when necessary. I encourage y’all to do the same.
PS- Kitty was ecstatic to finally arrive at his new home.