Going through airport security can be daunting and time consuming for anyone, but it can be particularly stressful for those of us travelling with children in wheelchairs. So to make sure that kids with disabilities are not made to do anything out of the ordinary or made to feel uncomfortable during the screening process, it’s important to know one’s right ahead of time.
Nathan and Annie Forck had their own painful encounter with TSA screeners at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport earlier this month. They were on their way to Disney World with their 3-year-old daughter Lucy, who has Spinal bifida and is bound to a wheelchair, when security screeners decided that the toddler needed a pat down.
A frightened Lucy began crying and when her furious parents began filming the incident, officials told them it was illegal to do so, which it is not. In the end, the child wasn’t subjected to a pat down, but her parents put the video online.
The TSA has since apologized and offered an explanation for its behaviour, but nevertheless, travellers with children in wheelchairs should know their rights to help avoid confusing situations like these.
Flying with children with disabilities
Parents must inform screening officials of a child’s medical condition or disability and what the child can and cannot do. The CATSA website recommends carrying documentation to support any medical conditions, and the TSA website encourages parents to offer suggestions on how to minimize any confusion for the child in regards to the screening process.
Security officer should never remove children from wheelchairs/scooters, as only parents are allowed to do so and can refuse to altogether, and if the child is able to walk through a metal detector, he or she should.
Yet if the child is unable to do so, the TSA says that a security officer will “use alternate measures to screen your child while he/she remains in their mobility aid, that may include a visual and physical inspection of their equipment.” It’s important to note that officers in the U.S. are not required to pat down minors with disabilities. However, the CATSA site says that children who cannot go through a metal detector must receive a physical search, an external pat down conducted by someone of the same sex. For minors under 12, a witness of the same sex is needed and a parent or guardian must be present.
In both the US and Canada, officers will visually or physically inspect and test any seat cushions, pouches and packs attached to the chair.
In regards to pictures and filming, the TSA allows you to do so as long as it doesn’t interfere with the screening process. That being said, some laws, state statutes, or local ordinances may prohibit pictures or filming.
Be sure to call your airline carrier at least 72 hours ahead of time and inform them of any special needs. Doing so will allow for safe and happy travel onboard the aircraft as well.
Most importantly, know you have the right to be with your child throughout the entire travel process and speak up if anything makes you uncomfortable.