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TSA as holiday elf? TSA launches help line for disabled travelers

December 23, 2011 | 12:35 pm

LAX

Just in time for the onslaught of Christmas travelers, the Transportation Security Administration has unveiled a help line designed to assist travelers with disabilities and special medical needs. If recent headlines are any indication, some travelers might say it should have come a little sooner.

The help line, TSA Cares, provides specific information on security and screening procedures at the airport.

“TSA Cares provides passengers with disabilities and medical needs another resource to use before they fly, so they know what to expect when going through the screening process,” said TSA Administrator John Pistole in a statement. “This additional level of personal communication helps ensure that even those who do not travel often are aware of our screening policies before they arrive at the airport.”

In November, the Transportation Security Administration instituted enhanced safety inspections that allow travelers who are asked to submit to a full-body scan to instead undergo a pat-down, which includes TSA agents using their hands to check areas such as the groin and around the bra.

The inspections drew the ire of some passengers, who have lodged thousands of complaints with the agency.

The agency has faced an especially strong barrage of criticism in recent weeks, with several elderly women accusing agents of partially strip-searching them. One had a defibrillator, another had a colostomy bag.

One lawmaker, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), even introduced a bill, called the STRIP Act, that would prevent TSA agents from wearing law enforcement uniforms and police-like badges unless they receive law enforcement training.

"Congress has sat idly by as the TSA strip searches 85-year-old grandmothers in New York, pats down 3-year-olds in Chattanooga, and checks colostomy bags for explosives in Orlando. Enough is enough!" she said at the time. "The least we can do is end this impersonation, which is an insult to real cops."

Into this atmosphere comes TSA Cares. (The toll-free number is [855] 787-2227.)

The agency said in its statement that, if passengers call 72 hours in advance of their trip, TSA Cares will coordinate checkpoint support at the airport.

There would seem to be plenty of potential for checkpoint support. The American Automobile Assn. forecasts that about 91.9 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more during the holiday travel season, a 1.4% increase from last year. This year’s expected travel volume represents about 30% of the total U.S. population.

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-- Stephen Ceasar

Photo: A line of passengers moves through security at Terminal 4 at LAX on Nov. 9. Credit: Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times

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