By Katie O’Leary.
Going to the airport always triggers my anxiety and then increases my pain. I flew to visit my best friend in Colorado, Springs. My airline provided a wheelchair and I was then taken to security. This is when my heart practically explodes out of my chest. I dread going through or talking to TSA. Over a year ago, I had to be patted down by a team of TSA agents (despite telling them of my disability) and the agony of that pat down was unbearable.
It happened again.
But this time, I was prepared. The first officer asked, “Do you want to go to a private room?” I said no. I told them about my disorder and how the slightest touch can cause me to scream in pain. They told me “We can’t allow you to scream.” I’m not sure how they would accomplish muting my vocal chords, unless they had no problem using gags or duct tape instantly.
Finally, I was allowed to go through the scanner, those scanners that are supposed to see through every ounce of clothing, and it was all clear. Apparently, shirts with buttons and leggings that are SLIGHTLY baggy set it “off.”
So, remember, it is your own fault for being in pain if you wear buttoned shirts or leggings – they prevent a machine approved by Homeland Security to designed to see through clothing - and you will be humiliated and be in agony.
Traveling has never been harder these days. In fact, USA Today and many other sources has released a story that Delta Airlines “will be imposing stricter guidelines on comfort / emotional support animals on flights for lack of federal regulation.” Passengers must provide a veterinary health from of vaccination 48 hours before departure, notify the airline 48 hours in advance, a letter signed by a doctor or licensed mental-health professional stating the passenger’s need for the animal, and a signed letter stating the animal is trained to behave without a kennel.
The Americans with disabilities act and the Carrier Access Acts both allow disabled passengers to bring animals for medical or emotional therapy onto a flight. However, there has been abuse of such privileges. Passengers have brought untrained animals who have bitten or harmed other people, they bring exotic or wild animals who cannot always be trained or frighten other passengers (turkeys, snakes, spiders, possums, ducks, etc.).
I understand the need for regulation for the safety of passengers and for the need to keep and sustain order on flights. However, the flagrant abuse of the emotional therapy animal clause per the ADA is sickening. The result of this abuse and the regulations could harm the disability community at large, many of whom do not abuse or take advantage of flights and crew.
Which leads me to my next question, why were animals running up and down aisles or defecating / urinating on these planes with no interference from airline staff? After reading about these regulations, the blame has been dropped like an anvil on the disabled community, that we are all at fault and we must work harder to prove our diseases.
I cannot speak of course for all disabled or sick people, but I have to justify my disorder 2-5 times a day. I am asked if my illness is made up, if I am looking for attention, and I am not always taken seriously. The constant battle to prove to the outside world that I am not faking my illness is a daily struggle. I believe the people who abuse these airline privileges should be punished.
But did Delta airline staff step in and try to control these incidents? Regulation and documentation is probably the right step. But what about patients who live 30 miles from their doctor and they cannot drive themselves without help? What about the regional airport who has not been informed by Delta about the rules and refuses to let a disabled patient to board (airlines always have communication issues)?
The chronic pain community is tired of having to prove to the world that we need help, support, and for others to believe us. And now, because of the actions of those who want their animals to fly for a reduced cost – we pay the price. I hope Delta will work with the disabled community to find solutions if a patient/passenger struggles to fulfill those requirements due to disability. But for now, I think everyone should start shuffling and getting their paperwork together.
Katie O’Leary lives in Los Angeles, works in the entertainment industry and has CRPS. She is a frequent contributor to the National Pain Report. For earlier stories about Katie and by Katie, click here