Jose Gutierrez, a blind U.S. Army veteran from Puerto Rico, didn’t worry about getting through airport security during a visit to Spokane last month.
He took advantage of a special program offered by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration to help people with disabilities get to their flights on time.
TSA staff will accompany people with special needs through the screening process. The service is available for children, the elderly and people with developmental disabilities or dementia. It’s also available for people who have prosthetics, medical devices, guide dogs, religious dress or medications necessary for travel.
Gutierrez made an appointment and received help on his departure from the Blind Veterans Association convention in Spokane in late August.
“Every time I travel I get the necessary attention,” the Korean War veteran said.
The 76-year-old retired auto technician has glaucoma, making travel more difficult. But the individualized help offered by TSA is something that anyone with special needs should consider, he said.
Family members and friends who are helping travelers can ask for assistance on their behalf, officials said.
People needing medications during their travel are allowed to take an amount that will get them to their destinations, including liquid medicine.
The TSA’s passenger support program launched in January. A staff of 2,600 specialized screeners handle security procedures for special-needs passengers.
Screeners have been trained to handle each situation appropriately for each condition or need, TSA officials said. Screenings can be done confidentially.
In Spokane, Larry Lowe, one of the passenger support specialists, said he has been honored by being able to help people with many different circumstances, including one veteran who had three amputations.
He said he can meet passengers at the curb outside the terminal and escort them through the screening process to their gate.
Lorie Dankers, public affairs manager for TSA, said any passenger can ask for a private screening. She urged travelers to call TSA if they are unsure about getting through security.
TSA asks people seeking special help not to call until 72 hours before departure so that they can be certain that they will be flying and of the time of departure.
“There’s really no concern too small,” Dankers said. “It’s whatever people want.”
According to TSA, “Our current policies and procedures focus on ensuring that all passengers, regardless of their personal situations and needs, are treated equally with the dignity, respect and courtesy they deserve.”