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With new airport security, disabled fear loss of service

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    With new airport security, disabled fear loss of service

    With new airport security, disabled fear loss of service
    By Aaron Davis
    Mercury News

    When Barb Mackie limped into San Francisco International Airport for a weekend flight to Minneapolis, a security screener quickly helped her to a wheelchair.

    Alberto Penacerrada rolled the Pleasant Hill woman to a check-in counter, waited as airline agents checked her luggage, then escorted her past a crowded checkpoint to a quiet spot where screeners could remove the brace holding her dislocated knee and check for weapons.

    She might not get the same treatment on her way home Tuesday.

    The federal government takes control of security screening at airports across the country today, and advocates for the disabled and others are wondering whether tighter security will mean tougher trips for people who need special help. It may also mean the end of the common airline practice of moving passengers whose flight is about to depart to the head of the check-in line.

    Airline and airport officials say they don't expect the switch to mean an immediate change in how screening is handled in the Bay Area. But over time, the government warns, screeners will focus more on security and less on service.

    ``There will be a grace period, and these security workers will continue to help special passengers, so nothing will change immediately,'' said Ron Wilson, San Francisco Airport spokesman. ``But questions remain about who will ultimately be responsible in some instances. The federal government is not going to handle wheelchairs.''

    Until the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks prompted Congress to replace airline contractors with security screeners who are federal employees, customer service was as much a part of many screeners' jobs as checking bags for bombs.

    But with the Transportation Security Administration takeover -- a process that will occur between now and Nov. 19 and involve replacing all 31,000 screeners -- a whole new rule book will be written for airport security.

    At San Jose Airport, skycaps are now permitted to pass through security, to roll passengers all the way from the curbside to their boarding areas. Will they get security clearance to do so when the government takes over?

    At San Francisco and Oakland airports, officials say airlines may have to hire additional customer service representatives to help passengers through security. But it will be the new federal screeners doing the pat-downs -- will they be trained to properly remove disabled passengers from their wheelchairs for screening?

    Nobody is quite sure.

    Lenny Alcivar, a Transportation Department spokesman, said the decision not to allow federal security workers to get sidetracked with airline customer service issues, such as helping disabled passengers, will keep checkpoint screeners on task and reduce mistakes.

    Aside from the millions of disabled passengers who require extra customer service annually, the new, less-friendly skies may also mean trouble for the countless passengers who depend on a little extra help to get to their flights on time.

    To keep planes running on schedule amid heightened security and extra-long lines, airlines have been summoning late-comers up to the X-ray machines while others wait. But the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) isn't about customer satisfaction, it's about safety, said TSA spokesman Hank Price, who cautioned that the practice may end.

    United Airlines spokesman Joe Hopkins in Chicago said the airline wants to work with the TSA to make sure time-strapped passengers continue to make their flights, but he admitted the airline has many more questions than answers at this point.

    Disabled passengers, who say post-Sept. 11 airport security measures have already severely complicated travel, are skeptical.

    ``We're concerned about this and we are looking into it,'' said Ian Minicuci, operations manager of, an Internet Web community for people with disabilities. ``I and other people with disabilities have enough trouble flying before this added security. It's critical that some people have airport escorts.''

    At airports in the Bay Area and across the country this week, representatives of the new TSA have met with airport, law enforcement and other security officials. Largely, they have agreed to keep the status quo at security checkpoints for the next week or more.

    The only certain difference: The TSA will have federal supervisors stationed at security checkpoints who will be notified immediately of any problems. Officials hope that oversight prevents a repeat of the confusion that led to an hour delay in beginning an evacuation of the San Francisco airport last month when a man with explosives residue on his shoes slipped through security.

    ``Passengers should notice nothing,'' Alcivar said. ``The federal takeover should be invisible at first.''

    In coming days, that may be so, said Oakland Airport spokeswoman Cyndy Johnson. But ``customers' needs aren't going to change just because the government takes over,'' she said.

    wow that's an eye opener

    i am a para in a wheelchair.
    I'm going to be traveling to fla. in march and i'll be traveling alone to south america in june, i guess i better start asking questions now. [img]/forum/images/smilies/confused.gif[/img]


      Current FAA regulations for airport security for those with disabilities

      Here is a copy of the FAA regulations since 9/11 on this. Suggest your print this out and take it with you just in case:

      The following statement was issued on 10/29/01 by the Office of the Assistant General Counsel for Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings and its Aviation Consumer Protection Division:

      Recent steps have been taken to ensure new security requirements to preserve and respect the civil rights of disabled people.The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) and the Department of Transportation's implementing rules prohibit discriminatory treatment of persons with disabilities in air transportation. Since the terrorist hijackings and tragic events of September 11, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued directives to strengthen security measures at airline checkpoints and passenger screening locations.In securing our national air transportation system, where much of FAA's efforts have been directed to date, steps were also taken to ensure that the new security procedures preserve and respect the civil rights of passengers with disabilities.

      This Fact Sheet provides information about the accessibility requirements in air travel in light of strengthened security measures by providing a few examples of the types of accommodations and services that must be provided to passengers with disabilities.The examples listed below are not all-inclusive and are simply meant to provide answers to frequently asked questions since September 11 concerning the air travel of people with disabilities.

      Check-in: Air carriers must provide, meet and assist service (e.g., assistance to gate or aircraft) at drop-off points.The lack of curbside check-in, for certain airlines at some airports, has not changed the requirement for meet and assist service at drop-off points.

      Screener checkpoints:Individuals assisting passengers with disabilities are allowed beyond the screener checkpoints.These individuals may be required to present themselves at the airlines' check-in desk and receive a "pass," allowing them to go through the screener checkpoint without a ticket.

      Ticketed passengers with their own oxygen for use on the ground are allowed beyond the screener checkpoints with their oxygen canisters once the canisters have been thoroughly inspected.If there is a request for oxygen at the gate for a qualified passenger with a disability, commercial oxygen providers are allowed beyond the screener checkpoints with oxygen canisters once the canisters have been thoroughly inspected.Commercial oxygen providers may be required to present themselves at the airlines' check-in desk and receive a "pass" allowing them to go through the screener checkpoint without a ticket.The limit of one carry-on bag and one personal bag (e.g., purse or briefcase) for each traveler does not apply to medical supplies and/or assistive devices.

      Passengers with disabilities generally may carry medical equipment, medications, and assistive devices on board the aircraft.All persons allowed beyond the screener checkpoints may be searched.This will usually be done through the use of a hand-held metal detector, whenever possible. Passengers may also be patted down during security screenings, and this is even more likely if the passenger uses a wheelchair and is unable to stand up. Private screenings remain an option for persons in wheelchairs.

      Service animals, once inspected to ensure prohibited items are not concealed, are permitted on board an aircraft. Any backpack or sidepack that is carried on the animal will be manually inspected or put through the X-ray machines.The service animal's halter may also be removed for inspection. Assistive devices such as walking canes, once inspected to ensure prohibited items are not concealed, are permitted on board an aircraft. Assistive devices, such as augmentative communication devices and Braille'N Speaks, will go through the same sort of security screening process as used for personal computers. Syringes are permitted on board an aircraft once it is determined that the person has a documented medical need for the syringe. Personal wheelchairs and battery-powered scooters may still be used to reach departure gates after they are inspected to ensure that they do not present a security risk. Any backpack or sidepack that is carried on the wheelchair will be manually inspected or put through the X-ray machines.Personal wheelchairs will still be allowed to be stowed on board an aircraft. Air carriers must ensure that qualified individuals with a disability, including those with vision or hearing impairments, have timely access to information, such as new security measures, the carriers provide to other passengers. For example, on flights to Reagan Washington National Airport, persons are verbally warned to use the restrooms more than a half an hour before arrival since after that point in time passengers are required to remain in their seats. Alternative formats are necessary to ensure that all passengers, especially deaf persons, understand new security measures, such as the one at Reagan Washington National.

      We hope this information is helpful to you. Members of the public, who feel they have been the subject of discriminatory actions or treatment by air carriers, may file a complaint by sending an email, a letter, or a completed complaint form to the Aviation Consumer Protection Division (ACPD).

      ACPD's e-mail address is and its mailing address is:
      Aviation Consumer Protection Division, U.S. Department of Transportation, Room 4107, C-75, Washington, DC 20590.

      Complaint forms that consumers may download and/or print are available at

      Submit questions to: Marcie Roth, Director of Advocacy and Public Policy National Council on Independent Living 1916 Wilson Blvd., Suite 209 Arlington, VA 22201 (703) 525-3406 (V) (703) 525-4153 (TTY) (703) 525-3409 (F) (E-mail)


      Suzin, where will you be going in South America? We were there this last fall and flew into Santiago Chile and out of Rio de Janiero. South America is indeed a challenge in a wheelchair. Rare curb cuts, lots of steps, few elevators, but friendly people who were always willing to help (in our experience).