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Security screening a headache for special-needs fliers

How many times have you heard someone with metal inside their body — like a plate or pins that help mend broken bones — laugh about setting off alarms at the airport?

It's no joke to Randall Wingert. The 73-year-old retiree from Sun City Center has an implanted cardioverter-defribillator (ICD) that delivers a life-saving jolt if his heart muscles beat out of rhythm.

The device also is a sure bet to make metal detectors at Tampa International Airport squeal. So before walking through the portal, Wingert tells the security officer about his ICD. Then the waiting game begins.

"Every time I go to Tampa International, it seems there is confusion and unnecessary delays," he writes in an e-mail.

"I'm taken out of line, told to wait until they find another agent to let me pass into the next area, where I must always do a complete check, taking my belt off, my shoes off and then a body search with hand-held electro-meter" or a pat-down from an officer. The process often takes 15 to 20 minutes.

There's no way travelers with hardware inside them can bypass screening, even with a manufacturer's medical device ID card, says Sari Koshetz, a spokeswoman for the Transportation Security Administration. It would be too easy for bad guys to forge a copy.

Travelers should ask for a supervisor. Anyone concerned that the magnet inside a hand-held metal detector could affect their implanted device should request a pat-down search, she says.

"We apologize if there is a wait because everyone's working with other passengers," Koshetz says. "But we can't have dedicated people to do this. It's not a good use of taxpayer dollars."

A new screening system might help speed things up. The TSA's "self-select" lanes — scheduled to start in Tampa by Thanksgiving — include lines for families and travelers with special needs.

The stroller and wheelchair lines will move slowly. But they're staffed with extra officers to help people like Wingert navigate screening more smoothly.

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.

Security screening a headache for special-needs fliers 09/16/08 [Last modified: Friday, September 19, 2008 5:32pm]
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