Airport Security: The Continuing Saga

If you’re just joining us, this is a story that started back in 2016 with a rather stressful airport security experience in Toronto–the mother of all bad airport security experiences, you might say. So stressful that it kept me and Oliver out of the air for 18 months.

It’s been a long road back: a big milestone was Autism Aviators, back in May, which was a huge help for Oliver and me, taking us through a realistic airport experience from start to finish in a positive light. It helped reset our stress, and removed some of the triggering power of simply being at the airport.

Next came our June trip by air to Ontario: it started off wonderfully, with an easy, breezy security experience in Charlottetown and a comfortable flight up to Toronto.

The flight back from Toronto didn’t go so well: it wasn’t quite the mother of all bad airport security experiences, but it came close, and while some of this could likely be blamed on a return to the scene of the crime, it demonstrated that the “accessible” line at Pearson Airport is anything but, at least where those with autism are concerned, as the staff were, compared to Charlottetown’s, dreadful morons. Things all came to a head when the agent asked me who takes care of Ethan, and Oliver replied that we both did; this wasn’t an acceptable answer for the agent, and he didn’t handle it well. Things went downhill from there, Oliver got very anxious and lost control, and agents at the next lane started to talk about Oliver. With Ethan’s help, and with complete and total focus on Oliver for about 20 minutes, things calmed down to the point where we could continue. “The daughter of 2016,” said Oliver just now.

I was touch and go on whether we could make this trip to Europe: Oliver really wanted to go; I really wanted to go. But I wasn’t sure I had it in me to help Oliver through another experience like that.

We talked about it, though, and decided to do our best. I boiled the trip down to two security experiences, one in Halifax and one, on the return, at Schiphol in Amsterdam: all our other intra-European travel is by train. But I would be lying if I said I haven’t had some anxiety in the days and weeks leading up to today, as has Oliver.

Oliver’s psychiatrist suggested we consider Lorazepam as a short-acting anxiety-mitigating med; I was anxious about this, in part because Lorazepam, for some people, has the opposite effect, causing anxiety rather than reducing it. So he tried it out on Sunday night. And it had no noticeable effect at all.

We headed to Halifax today with plenty of white space in our schedule, so there was no need to rush. Just before heading to check-in at 7:00 p.m., Oliver took 1 mg of Lorazepam. The line ended up being rather long, and over the next 30 minutes he eased into a mellow that rendered him slightly more relaxed and a lot more sleepy. He wasn’t catatonic, though, and was happy and conversational and even a bump at check-in (I reserved us seats, but for the return flight, not for tonight) didn’t phase him.

When it came time to go through security, we asked to go through the “family line,” and the friendly CATSA triage agent happily ushered us to a line with no wait where we were greeted by another friendly CATSA agent who ushered us into an empty checkpoint where we were greeted by a third friendly CATSA agent who gently walked us through our carry-on disgorging.

Oliver then simply walked through the security gate.

And then I walked through the security gate, and it was set off; a “random selection” said the agent. Oliver remained unphased, and took a seat to wait. A jig and a jag with the sensor wand and I was released. We gathered up our luggage and headed to the departure gate. Calm as can be.

Why was this time so smooth when Toronto was a debacle?

Certainly the Lorazepam helped, but I’d credit it with a nudge toward mellow, not with saving the day. The attitude and helpfulness and palpable lack of anxiety demonstrated by the CATSA staff was a huge help. Autism Aviators was a huge help. Oliver working really, really hard to keep calm was a huge help. It was a good idea to leave lots of time and to arrive plenty early. It was a good idea to spend our pre-check-in waiting time outside of the melee of the airport proper. It was a good idea to visit security before check-in, just to get the lay of the land.

Whatever combination of work, pharma, planning and luck were at play today, I’ll take it: it wasn’t until we had cleared security that I realized how worried I had been about Oliver and this trip. For months. It’s nice to have that weight off my shoulders, especially as we start our summer vacation.

(As I do with all blogs posts that concern the intimate ins-and-outs of living with autism, I asked Oliver to read this with an eye to accuracy and privacy, and he gave his okay for me to post, with hopes that others will find his experiences a helpful guide for their own travels).


Kevin's picture
Kevin on August 22, 2018 - 06:50 Permalink

That is an excellent vacation shirt, Oliver.

John Boylan's picture
John Boylan on August 22, 2018 - 08:35 Permalink

Nice one, guys, hope it's a great trip!

Susan White's picture
Susan White on August 22, 2018 - 11:53 Permalink

I'm very happy for you that things went so well. Have a great vacation!

vbj's picture
vbj on August 22, 2018 - 22:16 Permalink

Looking forward to reading all about your trip.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on August 23, 2018 - 07:51 Permalink

Oliver got thrown for a loop when we arrived in Frankfurt and found that we had to clear security again there; exhaustion, jetlag, and a new-to-him scanner system caused more stress than he could handle, and he had a brief outburst of anxiety. He calmed down, however, and the delightful Ruben gave him a physical search. It took him a while to fully calm down; fortunately there was a “silent chair” area in Terminal 1, concourse A (opposite gate 58, if you’re looking), and this helped a lot.