About a month ago on my trip to Florida I was having literal panic attacks during the flights thinking about what it would be like to travel with my son on our upcoming trip to the Virgin Islands. Even though he’s been on a plane twice before, this time he would be older (3 years old), heavier (34 lbs), still unable to walk (due to Spina Bifida), still eating a very limited diet (due to sensory and behavioral challenges) and barely verbal (due to speech delay) so lots of new challenges to face when maneuvering through the airport.
I was literally shaking and nauseous.
During one of those panic attacks after clearing the TSA screening and over-processing the imminent issues I foresaw having, I noticed the Homeland Security desk so I stopped by. The agent calmed me down and handed me this card for the TSA Cares program:
So I’m traveling with my son soon and on this trip I’ve found myself scanning the airport planning out what I will have to do to be successful and experiencing some serious anxiety because of it. After clearing the #TSA I stopped at the homeland security desk to ask how to handle bringing my son’s food from his limited diet with us and she gave me this number to call for the #TSAcares program. Call and let them know you’re traveling & they will meet you at the ticket counter and take you all the way through. I literally almost bust into tears from the genuine relief. Anyhoo back to this trip … I’ll let you know what our actual experience is like once it happens. 🚼♿#specialneeds #travel #momstuff #glamazinitravels #flickerbug 💙
The program consists of a help line set up to assist travelers with disabilities and medical conditions. You can call toll free 1-855-787-2227 prior to traveling to ask questions about the TSA screening and even get an Passenger Support Specialist assigned to you to help get through the process seamlessly. When you call a representative can provide “information about screening that is relevant to the passenger’s specific disability or medical condition, or the passenger may be referred to disability experts at TSA”.
I was on the verge of tears from anxiety then was on the verge of tears from sheer relief. I cannot express the weight that was lifted when the agent handed me that card and explained to me how the program works. The short version of this review was the program was more than we could have expected and calling it a God-send would be an understatement.
My experience was as follows:
2 weeks prior to my trip
I called the TSA cares hotline and expressed my concerns. The agent listened, answered my questions, asked a few of his own about my son’s condition, then said they were assigning us a Passenger Support Specialist on our trip both going and returning. Later I received a follow up email with general information about the TSA screening and what to expect. Participating in this program does not exempt you from TSA screening (if anything it makes you be scrutinized a bit more in my opinion).
The day before our trip
a representative called to tell me details about what to expect the next day. We were told to ask for a specific name (which has escaped me but I want to say it was James Nickelson?? and he was AMAZING) once we got to the part of the TSA line where you hand the agent your passport and boarding pass. Later I received a call from Tianna, the agent tasked with helping us during our return trip from the Virgin Islands in 3 weeks. She called to introduce herself, give me her phone number, make sure she had the correct number to reach me while I was in the Virgin Islands and let me know what to expect at the end of our trip. I was so impressed (and relieved).
The day of our trip
we went to the airport, checked in as usual, got our boarding passes, dropped off our checked bag and head to the TSA line (which was super long at the crack of dawn in St. Louis). Once we were at the head of the line I told the agent I had signed up for the TSA Cares program and gave the name of the agent I was told to ask for. We were taken out the line, they paged the Passenger Support Specialist, he came and got us and whisked us to the front of the line bypassing everyone else. He helped us get through the screening by letting the TSA agents know we had a person with a medical need, supplies and an inability to walk through the machine on his own. He helped get our bags on the table and in the bins and through the machines. They then took us to the side and searched my son’s food and liquids, swabbed my palms and generally did a thorough screening. Once done, our Passenger Support Specialist (PSS) helped gather our items and carry them to the departure gate. He chatted with us on the way, explaining that the program has always existed informally but recently was formally made into an official thing. He also let us know that next time our PSS can come and help us from the minute we step foot in the airport so no need to even stand in the line.
The day before our RETURN trip
Tianna called us again and let us know what to expect the next day when we were departing the Virgin Islands.
The day of our return trip
I called Tianna when I arrived at the airport and she came out to greet us. She was actually not our PSS for the day but waited with us until the agent arrived (I’ve also forgotten her name but she was amazing as well). The PSS helped us check in at the kiosks, helped us get through customs, was super patient with me when I realized I’d forgotten to remove my large liquids from my carry on and had to do some rearranging, helped us bypass lines and get our checked bags handed off, then helped us get through the TSA screening (which is much more involved in the VI btw). They screened us, poked us, prodded us … shoulda bought us dinner first lol … but it was still a blessing because we got to skip lines and made it through with all my son’s stuff which was my original anxiety-causing concern. Once through the TSA screening, our PSS walked us to our gate and that was that.
Overall I give the TSA Cares program a big fat A+. I had no expectations except breaking down bawling with the stress of it all and here they come not only with an acknowledgement that traveling is a amazing thing we all should get to do, but also that it’s HARD AS HAYLE when you have a person with medical needs, and then on top of that, a program specifically created to help people do it with ease.
I could’ve kissed the TSA … if they were a person … and not a organization … and I wasn’t married. You know what I mean. *mwah*