On Wednesday, April 10th, 2013 the National Spinal Cord Injury Association (NSCIA) hosted “Disability Air Travel & the TSA: What You Need to Know,” a webinar in sponsorship with Able to Travel, a program of the United Spinal Association. Guest speaker, Jeremy Buzzell, Senior Policy Officer with the Office of Disability Policy and Outreach/Office of Special Counselor, at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), presented information on support for air travelers with disabilities; specifically, tips on security screenings from mobility devices, services animals, respiratory equipment, and medications.
Mr. Buzzell presented information on the Office of Civil Rights and Liberties, Ombudsman, & Traveler Engagement (CRL/OTE), the division of the TSA responsible for ensuring that TSA’s security screening policies, procedures, and practices comply with all applicable civil liberties and civil rights laws, regulations, and executive orders. The CRL/OTE works with approximately 50 disability and civil rights organizations to ensure that TSA policies do not discriminate against travelers on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability, genetic information, sexual orientation, or parental status. Additionally, Mr. Buzzell presented information on the various types of screening devices and briefly discussed which type of screening process is ideal for particular disabilities or medical condition conditions (i.e. mobility aids, service animals, and respiratory equipment).
To assist travelers with disabilities and medical conditions, the TSA established the TSA Cares Helpline in December of 2011. Travelers with disabilities and medical conditions may call TSA Cares toll free at 1-855-787-2227 prior to traveling (ideally 72 hours ahead of travel) with questions about screening policies, procedures, and what to expect at the security checkpoint. The hours of operation for the TSA Cares helpline are Monday through Friday 8 a.m. – 11 p.m. EST and weekends and Holidays 9 a.m. – 8 p.m. EST. Travelers who are deaf or hard of hearing can use a relay service to contact TSA Cares or can e-mail TSA-ContactCenter@dhs.gov.
Takeaways from this webinar:
- Be prepared
- Arrive early
- Know your needs
- Communicate your needs from the get go
- Ask for a Passenger Support Specialist (before or during for assistance)
- Medical documentation is not required but may be helpful (see TSA Notification Card section below)
- Separate medically necessary items from regular travel items (i.e. portable TENS unit, medications—especially liquid medications) for easier inspection
- You do not have to be in a mobility device to request to use the disability line and/or be moved to the front of the security screening line (Note: TSA does not control how security lines are set up that is the purview of the airport)
Passengers with disabilities and medical conditions are not required to provide medical documentation to TSA officer. However, many passengers find it helpful to have medical documentation as a way to discreetly communicate information about their needs. TSA has created a Notification Card that passengers can use for discreet communication. It is important to note that use of this Notification Card, or of medical documentation, does not exempt a passenger from screening.
Contact the TSA Care Help line and/or visit the Travelers with Disabilities and Medical Conditions Traveler Information page on the TSA website. The webpage includes links to the different types of security screenings (i.e. Advanced Imaging Technology and Metal Detector Screening, and Pat-down Screening) in addition to specific information on various disabilities or specific medical conditions (i.e. use wheelchairs or other mobility devices, blind or Deaf, have diabetes, or have Ostomies).
What if you should have a complaint?
The Office of Civil Rights and Liberties division of the TSA has an information page For Travelers: Filing a Complaint. It is important to note that civil rights complaints must be received in writing but individuals are not required to use the form to file a complaint; a letter/email with the same information is sufficient. However, if you file a complaint by letter/email, you should include the same information that is requested in the form. Complaint/information can be submitted by email to: TSAExternalCompliance@dhs.gov.
Customer service complaints can be submitted by email at TSA-CRL@tsa.dhs.gov or by calling 866-289-9673.