For Frequent & Not-so-Frequent Flyers
Through the advocacy work I am doing with the Accelerated Cure Project and the iConquerMS™ patient registry (have you joined yet?) for PCORnet, I have been making frequent trips by commercial airline to attend meetings. Until this began I would make maybe one flight per year for a leisure trip. Anyone who has flown in recent years knows the additional precautions that are taken when going through airport security. If you travel by air, whether often or infrequently, I thought it might be useful to share this with you because you also know about these challenges to get to the other side of the checkpoints.
I know to keep my medicines with me and not in my checked luggage. Because I am usually traveling on business, I also take along a laptop and sometimes my iPad. Between those two devices and my mobile phone, I have a mess of wires and chargers and plugs along with me, too. The meds and the cords take up a significant amount of space and almost always get a second look by the scanner – I can tell because the conveyor belt for the x-ray machine with my bags on it usually moves forward and backward a few extra times.
Retrieving my items from the x-ray conveyor belt for my goods always slows me down. I need to take off my shoes, take the laptop out of my bag, and make sure my pockets are empty. The empty pockets have tripped me up more than once, and somehow they can spot a paper clip or dinner mint before I even enter the machine to be scanned. You might imagine the look on the security man’s face when he pointed that I had something in my pocket and without hesitation I reached in and pulled out a Poise pad and put it in his hands to hold while I walked through their machine. I took it back out of his outstretched hands on the other side. What can I say? He asked for it.
Then on the other side of the scanners I have the challenge of putting myself back together. I have an ongoing concern that I will leave something valuable behind at the security station like my boarding pass or purse or husband, so I take my time gathering my goods, much to the dismay of the people behind me. Of course moving slowly is a fairly regular mode for me anyway and I’m used to the hostile stares, as if they will help me to hurry up.
I’ve gathered myself and my property together and now I need to find a place I can comfortably sit and put my shoes back on. Fortunately most of my shoes are the accessibly friendly velcro-strap slip-ons worn by people with walking problems, and while many people can easily stand and slip their feet back into their shoes, I still have to sit down to do mine.
Finally, after all of this, I am ready to head out to the gate where my departing flight may or may not be on time.
Every so often my boarding pass will have the coveted TSA Pre✓®, which means I can forgo all of the above, except for emptying my pockets and walking through the machine. My shoes remain on, the computer stays in my bag, I don’t have to take off my belt if I’m wearing one, and it is a very short process through special lines to clear security. How the TSA Pre✓® shows up on boarding passes is a secret and I can discern no pattern – sometimes flying with my husband as my companion, one of us will get this golden ticket and the other will be in the regular security line. We have yet to both come up approved at the same time. The airline agents can’t or won’t tell me the secret formula either.
Our son is a regular business flyer and recently asked me why I go through the airport security gauntlet when I could make it so much simpler by getting my Global Online Enrollment System (GOES) pass. He patiently explained that for a $100 fee I can get this pass which will buy my golden ticket for every flight for the next five years. I had heard of this known-traveler program but thought the cost was much more than $20 per year.
Even if I am only taking one flight per year for leisure, the cost is well worth it. Not only will I automatically be given TSA Pre✓® for every flight, I will also get to use the short lines to clear customs on returning to US soil the next time I might travel out of the country on a cruise or over the border into Canada. At least I can dream about that easy reentry even if I don’t leave the US in the next five years. I am convinced this is an excellent investment for hassle free air travel and I completed the online application for myself, and my husband also did his.
There is one final step to complete before we are officially known to all things airport security related, and that is an in person meeting with an official who will verify we match our identification cards, ask a few questions, and get a copy of our fingerprints. The in-person meeting is probably the hardest part of this because these offices aren’t located in just any town and you have to sign up for an appointment well in advance; our appointment is still several weeks away, but it could be much worse – in some parts of the country the wait can be several months. However, I think even a long wait for an appointment to eventually replace the long lines at the airport would be worth it.
I’m sharing this because any of us living with a chronic disease can use any extra edge we can gain, and leaving shoes on and going through the short lines at the airport might just be one for you. Check out the Frequent Traveler and GOES programs and see if it might help your travel.
Wishing you speedy travels,