Do you have a sinking feeling and wonder “Why me?” when you’re singled out of the security line in an airport? Returning from a conference in Spain recently my son said he was pulled out for full security checks at several airports and asked “What is about me that makes them pick me out?” I had no idea.
But I know why I’m dragged out every time. I’m an amputee.
Six years ago I was a newbie in the amputee world and ignorant what that meant in airports. My initiation rites started in a city airport, just months after the below knee amputation of my left leg, when I went to meet a friend, returning to Australia from Europe, to drive her home. I thought it would be a surprise to greet her at the gate, rather than in the arrivals area, and went through the security check point to get there.
When I walked through the metal detector arch all the bells and whistles went off. The racket surprised me, possibly more than anyone else, until I realised it was probably my prosthetic leg setting off the alarms. Naively, I thought that all I had to do was to tell them I had a prosthetic leg and they’d wave me through.
No. There was a whole treat in store for me — starting with a full body scan and pat down. Then they asked me to take the shoe off my fake leg. I explained that I couldn’t because I wouldn’t be able to get it back on without a shoehorn. Then they told me I'd have to remove my leg instead, so they could scan it. I was wearing jeans and, as a below knee amputee, I did not want to strip off. I pointed out that I was standing in the main concourse and it went from bad to worse when they offered to take me away to a private room to strip. Somehow I managed to talk my way through and got out of the situation.
So I was prepared for the next time I went through airport security. I had my lines ready and, to show my willingness to co-operate with the essential security screening requirements in airports, I thought I’d make light of the invasive screening procedure and tip them off from the get-go.
I wasn’t flying anywhere. I was seeing my daughter off from a local airport and wanted to sit and chat with her until she boarded.
We unpacked the contents of our bags into plastic trays at the security point and rolled them along until I was the next in line to send my stuff through the screening tunnel. My daughter was standing behind me. The moment had come to tell the guy sitting on the other side of the conveyer belt that I was an amputee; but it came out a bit differently to how I’d rehearsed it.
“My leg’s going to explode when I go through the metal detector.”
I sensed my daughter behind me; emotional responses racing though her. I felt waves of shock, horror, shame, embarrassment and sheer disbelief emanating from her. I guessed she wished the floor would open under her and she could disappear. She rallied well.
“Mum means she has a prosthetic leg.”
A rush of reactions swept across the security officer’s face. Shock, horror and, perhaps, confusion, followed by relieved comprehension following my daughter’s clarification. I imagined his hand pulling back from the airport alert button which would have set sirens and lights flashing and sent a squadron of security guards in to haul me away.
I think my daughter is used to me by now. It’s only taken several decades for her to accept she had no choice but to ‘get’ my sense of humor; yet, at times, she still doesn’t think it’s appropriate. I knew I was in trouble even before we sat down with our coffees.
“Mum, I can’t believe what you said.” I tried my sheepish grin, to no avail. “You just cannot use the ‘E’’word in an airport! You’re lucky you weren’t hauled off.”
I promised to behave in future. But, despite my best intentions, on long haul flights and under challenging conditions, it is hard sometimes to be on my best behaviour going through the trials of airport security as an amputee.
Next week: Airport Alerts — Part Two: Domestic and International Transit. From bad to worse.