Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tales From Security

I am now back in Saint Louis after flying home from Phoenix. Much to my dismay I landed in cold weather with snow on the ground. This was a stark contrast to the almost blistering heat in Phoenix (To the locals it wasn't hot at all, but try going to 95 degrees from 35!).

As I woke up yesterday I still was feeling the effects of being stung. I also was coming to grips with a nickname that I probably won't be able to shake within USAC and that nickname is, "bumblebee".

Anyway, I got to Sky Harbor airport and headed straight to my gate. I wasn't feeling all that coherent as I had taken so Benedryl so I was drowsy and hurting. This came into play as I went through security.

When I travel I tend to take a lot of stuff. Even more so when I flag because I had my suitcase, my computer case, and my flag bag. Because only two items are allowed I have to stuff the computer case in the suitcase until I get to the scanners and then I have to take it out. On top of this the shoes must come off as well as the belt and one needs to get all the liquids or gels out of the suitcase. Normally I am speedy in this process, but yesterday sluggish would be a word that would be too fast to describe my inability to get everything separated.

There was a woman with a child behind me that got somewhat irate with the amount of time it took me to get everything in the bins. She said something along the lines of, "If you are going to take this long nobody is going to make their flights." and with that line she just stepped in front of me. I was just about done at this point in time, but she now was the one that was going slow and blocking traffic because I couldn't pass her.

Seeing how she was upset with me I decided to state why I was going so slow. I said, "Yesterday I was stung by a bee and had a severe allergic reaction and am very tired. I also have Asperger Syndrome".

"Oh!" she said, "I know about that." as she pointed to her child who was maybe around seven years old. By this time her bags were going through the scanner and she directed her child to the metal detector scanner. She did this by telling her child, "Now we go through the scanner and listen to the nice man who will tell you when to do so." As soon as she said this the men operating the X-ray scanner said, "Look out, he isn't all that nice."

Confusion. That's the only way to describe what the child was going through. His mom said nice man, but he heard the joking comments from the other TSA agents. The mom instantly knew there was a problem because she said, "Come on, there's no need to upset a seven year old." and indeed the child was now upset. He stood at the archway of the metal detector very unsure of if he wanted to go to the other side and the agent who may or may not be nice.

I watched and feared that this child may be near a meltdown state, but he gathered himself up after a few words from his mother and he crossed the detector, but he made sure he didn't stay next to the man whose niceness was in question.

This story is a prime example of just one of the potential challenges people on the spectrum face when going to an airport. The TSA agents who joked probably had no idea that the child was on the spectrum and might take the comment literally. I think they thought that the child wouldn't even be able to hear the comments. This situation could have been averted, of course, but it also could have ended with much more drama than it did. The mother was right on top of the situation and reassured her child. Perhaps she knew that her child couldn't wait in the line for a long time and maybe that's why she got so irate with me.

On TouchPoint's Facebook page I ran a link to a story that I was going to write about, but never got around to doing so. This episode I witnessed yesterday though has made me remember it and I thought I would share it. The story is about Southwest Airlines offering mock flights for those who are on the spectrum. I won't go into full detail as you can read the story, but I think this is a great sign of what could be to come. For parents, to have a dry-run of the airport environment without the fear of having a meltdown and missing a flight is something that I hope more and more airlines offer. This is a great step and I hope more and more of society becomes aware of the spectrum and offers programs like this.


  1. I think it's awesome that by being honest with other people, you are able to see that they have their own stories and concerns. Perhaps this is one step to rising just a bit higher above social stress. I often wait on people whose children obviously have an issue, and it would be FAR better if they were able to simply confidently say, "he has Aspergers" or "she is autistic". The world is a very compassionate place as long as people are informed.

  2. AARON!!!!! Have you thought about the significance of your interaction with this woman??????

    She yelled at you and YOU INITIATED A CONVERSATION WITH HER!!!!!!

    By writing, you learn about your behaviours and by learning about them you are slowly changing them!!!

    WAY TO GO! Did you hand her one of your business cards so that she could benefit from your knowledge?

  3. I wasn't thinking clearly so no business cards were handed out, so this is another thing I can blame the bee on.

  4. This is a fascinating post. It's interesting to read about literal interpretations of innocent banter, that could result in a missed flight. Of course, with our 2 1-week vacations coming this summer, I am now terrified. And I am also terrified of bees.

  5. My husband is a TSA officer at Newark Liberty International Airport and he has had two different training sessions to recognize autistic behaviors. He was also involved in the mock flight program you mentioned.

    We're gettign there, Aaron!

  6. If I were you in that situation, I would have let others get ahead of me first. It's similar to a rule when you are at the grocery store. The rule at the grocery store is this- If you know you are buying lots of stuff AND there is someone with only an item or two behind you, you should let the person behind you go first. Similarly, at the airport, I would let somebody else pass me if I know I am taking a long time. I am taught about this social rule very young... and hence I don't have much issues at airports.