More MS news articles for Oct 2001

Tightened Security Affects Travelers with Disabilities

http://www.nationalmssociety.org/articles.asp?SMContentIndex=0&SMContentSet=0

October 13, 2001
iCan News Service

Alexandria Berger provides the latest disability-specific travel information for airports/airlines, Amtrak and cruise ships in a special The Imperfect Navigator.

Airports According to Penny Burke, marketing manager for Australia's Port Authority in Cairns, "Most countries aligned with the U.S. are using the new American FAA regulations for airport security as guidelines. Travelers with disabilities were usually whisked through by airport personnel, but this has changed. We've adopted or modified U.S. procedures, and all airports globally have instigated other security measures, which we will not reveal to the media for obvious reasons. We're also in the process, as is everyone, of adding canine support in customs with dog handlers. Worldwide, we are at a heightened security level."

Burke, along with colleagues at Boston's Logan International Airport, stress that the time to arrive at an airport varies depending on that airport's general traffic, the specific carrier and the training of the security staffs. However, passengers with disabilities currently traveling through Baltimore Washington International have been asked to arrive four hours prior to flight time, since not all shuttle vehicles have lift devices, and those flying out of Chicago's O'Hare are asked to be present for international flights three hours prior to take-off.

For people with disabilities, this is a good rule of thumb until things quiet down, although Logan International (where parking is extremely limited due to construction), Los Angeles (LAX), Atlanta Hartsfield and Dallas/Fort Worth are now suggesting the standard prior two hour arrival time. Sources for The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which administer JFK, LaGuardia and Newark airports remind travelers with disabilities that we will have the additional difficulty of mobility, making our transitions slower, especially when requiring airport service assistance. They note aside from intensive baggage checks, people with disabilities will be subjected to having the removable equipment on wheelchairs taken apart and scanned, carry-on medications checked and possibly undergo a body search. I've already experienced this when traveling to the Middle East and Spain.

To go with the flow, clearly double-tag all equipment as well as luggage. Answer all questions and expect to be grilled about your disability if you behave suspiciously. Keep all travel documents with you and don't put them in a backpack behind or underneath your wheelchair. If you're afraid you'll lose them, purchase a plastic pouch or use a heavy duty Zip-Loc bag, attaching a chain to wear around your neck for easy access.

You can expect similar stringent regulations at London's Heathrow, Charles de Gaulle in Paris, airports in Israel, Egypt, Rome, Munich, Frankfurt, Tokyo and Narita, Japan, Zurich and other foreign hubs. Once you've passed through airport security, some airlines have their own security force, which checks carry-on luggage and you again. Be prepared and don't groan.

If you have to travel by air, there is no way around this. I suggest that removable arm rests be placed in check-in luggage, if you can function without them until you reach your destination. While some of the world's airports may allow syringes, under no circumstances would I carry them without a physician's letter. Even though these assessments will be made by security personnel in each airport, the head of security at one large airport with whom I spoke yesterday, choosing to remain anonymous for safety reasons, stated, "We don't put anything past these people. Someone can look disabled and be faking. Someone can be carrying vials of biological warfare. We're checking everything."

Under the circumstances, carry back-up supplies in your checked baggage, and if possible, use airport wheelchairs, checking your own equipment through to your destination. I began doing this last year, after losing arm rests, having had one declared a pipe bomb, delaying the takeoff of my U.S. Airways flight. Policies regarding the use of battery operated wheelchairs continue to come under each airline.

All Computers and TDD/TTY equipment will be scanned or swiped with a wand-like device. This is not new. However, once on the aircraft, do not place this type of equipment in the overhead bins, where an aircraft's magnetic fields are located. They can wipe out critical data, or change settings in your equipment. The less you carry the better. If you can check this equipment through, do it.

American, French, British and Australian authorities have announced all airport locker facilities have been sealed, and with limited drop-off stopping, this presents our biggest problem. Since curbside check-in has been discontinued too, difficulty in getting a porter for help will increase.

Washington Dulles International Airport is notorious for not having any porters at its departure terminals, and the steep incline down into the area of check-in can be dangerous for wheelchair users. If you can't avoid using this airport, plan to have two people accompany you, one to remain with the car, and one to assist you in getting to the check-in counter.

Additionally, identification in the form of a photo ID is required. A social security or voter registration card is not acceptable. For those without driver's licenses, a passport, or photo ID made by a federal, government or state agency is acceptable. The Departments of Motor Vehicles in U.S. cities will also make an identification card for a nominal charge.

Port Authorities suggest before leaving for the airport, call the airline for flight verification. International carriers are still not allowed to fly into JFK or Logan, and many domestic scheduled flights are being canceled.

Amtrak Another option that is fast becoming the preferred mode of domestic transportation is to take the train. Amtrak reports it's business as usual, now transporting mail, as well. They have added 200 more seats per trip, and will continue adding capacity to handle extra passengers on the east and west coast. With good services for people with disabilities, personally, this would be my choice, should time not be a factor.

Passengers will have to go through similar security, but once on the train, you can sit back and watch the scenery.

Cruise Ships Because most cruise ships involve fly/cruise packages, delays are rampant, but prices may fall like a rock, making these vacations a good deal. If you're ok with potential cancellations or possible recall of your ship, should world events necessitate such a return, then go for it.

The newer cruise ships have excellent facilities and accessibility for people with disabilities. However, I strongly advise speaking with a cruise agent before booking to verify your required services will be available. I also don't advise taking internationally oriented cruises at this time, since several foreign ports-of-call could be changed as the world situation unfolds.

Royal Caribbean, which also owns Celebrity Cruises, reminds potential travelers, "In order to maintain an effective and meaningful security environment, (we) have established strict and highly confidential security procedures, that cannot for obvious reasons be discussed in detail."

Further, they note, "Expect increased security inspections of luggage and carry-on articles, use of canine inspections and similar screening procedures as those at airports. U.S. citizens are required to have appropriate photo ID, passport or birth certificate, as must anyone who boards the ship."

They suggest the traveler with a disability consider arriving in the cruise departure city a day before, to guarantee a lower stress level with plenty of time the next day to arrive at the terminal building. Since the port of New York is closed indefinitely, many ships have been rerouted to Boston, Philadelphia and Baltimore.

Alexandria Berger is a widely published travel writer who is writing an exclusive weekly version of her "The Imperfect Navigator" column for iCan. Contact her at imperfectnav@icanonline.net Related iCan stories Airport resource list Resources for stranded travelers More The Imperfect Navigator columns Ask Pam: Tips and resources for travelers iCan guide to terrorist attacks' impact

Resources on the Web Amtrak Amtrak requests that people with disabilities and those needing assistance call reservations instead of booking through their Web site Office of Amtrak Access 2 W., 60 Massachusetts Ave., N.E. Washington, D.C. 20002 (800) 872-7245 TDD/TTY (800)523-6590 To check out services, routes and fares: http://www.amtrak.com/plan/accessibility.html .

For specific cruise lines (800) 327-6700 http://www.cruisecritic.com/tips

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