TSA = Try Smiling Anyway

TSAAh, isn’t it fun to fly?  My favorite part is the security check in…not. It’s just about all I can do to get my shoes off and remove my quart-size bag of cosmetics, hand santizer and other various liquids in their liliputian containers from my purse, while we are herded through the security chute like cattle. All that is missing is the cowboy with the electric prod. On a recent business trip, I had a laptop in my carry-on. I knew enough to take it out of the bag and put it in a plastic bin. What I didn’t realize is that nothing else is allowed to go in the bin with the laptop. I made the mistake of putting my shoes in with my laptop, and I was summarily chastised by the grumpy TSA Lady. “Nothing else can go with the laptop! It has to be by itself!”

So I bit my tongue along with a few choice words, forced a big smile and apologized, explaining that I didn’t realize it needed to go solo.  After all, these folks are here for our safety, right? And they surely must have to deal every day with thousands of passengers like me who are ignorant of the latest regulations. I also then informed her (as I’ve been instructed to do by past TSA agents) that I would need an individual wanding because I have an artificial leg that would be setting off the alarm. Well, all of a sudden, cranky TSA Lady became Glinda the Good Witch. To her, I was no longer Faceless Businesswoman Traveler; I was a Human Being with frailties and a soul. She actually smiled as she directed me into the plexiglas holding pen to be scanned, frisked and swabbed for incendiary materials.

Here’s what chaps my hide. Actually two things: 1. Why should she only be nice to me because she feels sorry that I”m “disabled” (I use the quotation marks because I don’t consider myself disabled)?  And 2. Why should she feel sorry for me at all? I’ll get to #2 in a moment.

The able-bodied are just as deserving of common courtesy as anyone else! Come on all you perfectly healthy people with four limbs, no metal plates or artificial anything (breast implants and rhinoplasty don’t count). Stand up for your rights! Demand service with a smile! It shouldn’t take a wheelchair, prosthesis or guide dog to be treated with respect.

But seriously, on to subject #2 – pity for the disabled. We need to change attitudes that many feel for those who are differently abled. A friend of mine just returned from a trip to Morocco. She happens to be missing her right leg and walks with crutches and no prosthesis, so her situation is more noticeable. She said that the people of Morocco were so kind and accepting. Instead of staring, strangers would offer her a blessing and move on. That’s how it should be. Give positive support. Don’t be patronizing. Offer help only if you mean it. And if someone says “no, thanks,” then just smile and keep on going. If they need your assistance, they will say “yes.”

Sometimes, we accept help. When I was a young girl, my family took a brief vacation to London, England. I had recently had surgery on my leg (when I still had it), and was stuck in a heavy, plaster, full-length cast. (No fiberglass casts in those days). We were walking to a restaurant, and my leg was hurting so my Dad was carrying me, and he was obviously getting tired. A very tall man — a complete stranger — asked my Dad if he needed a hand. Before Dad really had time to react, the stranger scooped me up, asked where we were going, and we all walked (well, I got carried) to the restaurant. He wouldn’t accept any money or anything but our thanks. I didn’t even find out his name, but his act of support and kindness has stayed with me all these decades.

So what’s the moral of today’s tale? Be nice to everyone – regardless of ability or disability. As author and paralympian Josh Sundquist recently wrote, “The thing that makes you different from other people might be the very thing that can make a difference for other people.”

And if you meet someone with physical or intellectual challenges, don’t treat them any differently than you would anyone else–unless, of course, you are grouchy and work for the TSA.

Please post a comment with your favorite TSA story.


  1. Gina Hayes says:

    I totally agree with you Donna. In my situation, with two special needs sons, I automatically attribute rudeness with prejudice. Just this morning I took my son, Robby, out to breakfast. A song he really liked started playing and he quietly sang along and bobbed his head. There were two women at a table close by that began to laugh. They didn’t laugh because they thought he was cute, they were laughing at him. When they noticed I disapproved, just by the look on my face, although, like you I had to BITE my tongue. They proceeded to talk about me and laugh. I had to Try Smiling Anyway and focus on the fact that we had a great waitress, good prompt service and tastey food, and NOT on those two women.

    In summary, I had originally assumed they were laughing at Robby because of his disablility, but then they had just as much fun laughing at me. They weren’t employees, but it would be nice to be treated with respect any where in public.

    Your friend said she was treated with dignity and positivity in Morraco. I think our, American, celebrity culture really adds a lot to our shallowness.

  2. dkillo says:

    I’m glad you were able to keep a positive attitude, but I’m sorry you had to endure that experience at all. Those two ignorant women missed out on the chance to find out how wonderful you and Robby are. Their loss.

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