I have to fly this weekend, and I am already dreading it. I don't have a fear of flying, although I can't say that I've ever really enjoyed it either. I do, however, have a real dread of dealing with airport security.
I've learned that each airport security line operates differently. I am lucky to live in the metropolitan DC area, where airport personnel are quite experienced dealing with amputees. These employees tend to be professional and quick. This, unfortunately, has not been my experience at other airports.
I have witnessed verbal arguments between security screeners as they debated how to deal with my prosthetic. It has taken upwards of four people to swab my prosthetic for explosive residue because they were so inexperienced that none of them could figure out how to work the machine. I have been asked to remove the limb so that it could be put through the metal detector. Incidentally, this request is against procedure.
On one occasion, when we were traveling after Christmas, a screener told me that she didn't know what to do with the prosthetic. She then whispered, "If you don't have anything bad in it, just go." Although I was happy with expedited "search," I have to admit it didn't boost my confidence in the screening protocol at that airport.
I have resigned myself that the pat down and explosive swabs are a necessary evil. Through trial and error, I have developed an arsenal of strategies to help expedite the process.
Dressing for the airport requires forethought. For starters, I always wear a sports bra. The underwire of a bra often sets off the detector wand, thus requiring a very public patdown. I opt for a sports bra because it contains no metal, whereas the back clasps in other undergarments can trigger the alarm. Care is also taken when choosing a shirt, making sure it doesn't have metal components or accents.
I often wear a long skirt that is devoid of metal buttons or zippers. I find that wearing a skirt can expedite the security process in a few ways. It makes my prosthetic visible to the security screeners, minimizing the explanation for setting off the alarm. Making my prosthetic accessible to the screeners allows them to swab for explosives quickly, helping them perform their job and reducing my delay.
Despite the delay, I make an effort to be friendly and engaging with the screeners. I have learned that by holding my tongue as they fumble through the screening I get through the process quicker versus the delay a verbal confrontation often causes. A smile helps to expedite the process, and will often brighten the day of overwhelmed and undertrained airport employee.
When it is my turn to pass through security, I put a smile on my face. I show the screener my prosthetic, and I wait. I know it's coming, but I shutter when I hear "female pat down" bellowed from the screener. I dutifully take my place in the plexiglass room, and hope for competence.