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Facing Airport Security with AFO Bracing

By Jori Reijonen

Shortly before my trip, I had an unusual dream.

I was trying to get ready to leave for the airport, and my husband was trying to hurry me. When I went to put on my Ankle Foot Orthosis (AFOs--custom-made orthotics for my feet with braces that go up to my knees), I found that instead of having easily fastened Velcro straps, they fastened with chains and a lock, looking much like handcuffs.

After some fumbling, I finally got them on and tried to stand up from the floor. My shoes, now roller skates, slid underneath me and I could not get my balance. “Well, this would help me get across the airport faster,” I thought in my dream, “if I could just figure out how to stand up in them. And what am I going to do at the security checkpoint?”

Traveling Nightmares
When I woke from this memorable dream, I knew immediately why I had it. This would be my first time flying since I was diagnosed with Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disorder (CMT); my first time flying since I had begun wearing the AFOs.

I had been wondering what to do at the security checkpoint at the airport when it was time to take off my shoes. Should I take off my shoes and AFOs? My balance has been affected, and I did not know whether I could take off the AFOs or put them back on again standing up without the aid of a chair. And how would I be able to stand, wait, and walk through the line without my shoes and AFOs?

I have significant foot problems, including, as the physician so kindly put it, “visible deformities,” so standing or walking barefoot quickly becomes a problem. I also considered simply not wearing my AFOs to make taking off my shoes easier.
This might appear to make sense, but I would be doing a lot of walking and standing during my travels, through airports and then through the hotel. I really needed to wear the AFOs to avoid fatigue, numbness, weakness, and tripping over my own feet (called “foot drop” by my physician: until diagnosis with CMT, I always thought I was just clumsy).

Surprisingly Smooth Checkpoint
While I was looking forward to my trip, anxiety regarding the security screening process had worked its way into my dreams. Some research helped to reduce my fears.

Through an online search, I found out that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the agency responsible for airport security screening in U.S. airports, has anticipated the needs of travelers with mobility issues. The TSA also has provisions for many other types of disabilities and health issues.

The TSA website contains detailed information for special needs travelers at http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/specialneeds/index.shtm. I would not be required to remove my AFOs and stand and walk through security without them. Instead, I would be handscreened by a same-sex screener upon my request. If I wished to be privately screened, that could be arranged.

My trip through the security checkpoint went surprisingly smoothly. I let the TSA staff know that I wear orthotic braces that help me to walk and cannot easily be removed. When it came to my turn, a TSA security officer led me to a small open booth next to the regular screening lane.

The female security officer was friendly and respectful. “I’m going to be giving you a little back rub now,” she said as she patted me down. “A little to the left,” I replied. The security officer also used a small handheld device to check me for explosive residue. She then told me that we were finished.

Altogether, it took about 5 minutes—a little longer than walking through the metal detector. The next time that I fly, I won’t have to worry about how to get through airport security. And, hopefully, before I travel, I’ll dream about sandy beaches and relaxation, rather than AFOs on roller skates.

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