More MS news articles for Nov 2001

Rolling on through Sea-Tac security: Wheelchair, early arrival help expedite check

Travel : Sunday, November 04, 2001
By Steve Johnston
Special to The Seattle Times

Even in the best of times, I like to be at the airport at least an hour before my flight. So on a recent trip, given increased security and stories of hours waiting in lines, I wanted to get to the airport a couple of hours early.

My three sons and I were going to Las Vegas to celebrate one son's 21st birthday. The flight from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport was scheduled to leave at 2:15 p.m. I figured we should be at the airport before noon just in case something unexpected happened like one of the security people didn't like my looks, or someone did something stupid.

I'm a worrywart when it comes to travel; my philosophy is be early and don't rush. If you have an hour to kill after checking in, read a book. Added to this worrywart side of my personality is the fact that I have multiple sclerosis and have to use a wheelchair.

I don't mean I use a wheelchair to get from Point A to Point B and then walk onto the airplane. I use a wheelchair to get everywhere. No chair, no travel.

So I imagined a Sea-Tac security guard running the metal detector over me and bells going off like a three-alarm fire. The next thing I'd know, I would be in a back room, stripped naked and having every nook and cranny examined for contraband.

But here is what happened.

We got to the airport two hours early as planned. My wife dropped us off at the upper level, we got our baggage unloaded and went inside to get in line.

Although we had purchased our tickets weeks before, had them in hand and had only carry-on luggage, we still had to check in at the counter. But that process went surprisingly fast, despite the long line behind the ropes. We showed photo identification and were on our way.

Here comes the part of the trip that I was most worried about. A few hundred feet from the ticket counter was a line of people waiting to go through security. It looked more like a line for Mariner playoff tickets. It was long and wrapped around several rope barriers.

At first we were going to join the unhappy-looking people at the end of the line, but one of my sons said we should check to see if there was a shorter line, so I was wheeled to another entrance.

Then something happened that makes using a wheelchair almost worth it.

One of the security people came out from behind the detectors and told me to wheel up to the front of the line. "How about the rest of us?" I asked, pointing at my sons. He said they could come, too.

The security guy took me to one side and ran a metal detector over me. He asked if I could stand, and I said not without help, so he had me lean forward and ran the detector down my back. Then he checked the two small packs of personal items strapped to the wheelchair.

That was it. No strip searches. No long delays. Nothing humiliating.

I can't say that everyone showing up in a wheelchair will get the same treatment. It's possible a security officer won't like the way you look wheelchair and all and will pull you out of line. But I found people more than willing to make my journey through the airport as quick and painless as possible.

Tips for disabled travelers

Steve Johnston is a retired Seattle Times reporter. He writes about disabilities for King County and can be reached at

Copyright © 2001 The Seattle Times Company