Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

July 11 2016

How A Little Known TSA Program Can Make A Big Difference For Special Needs Attendees

Jeanna Hofmeister


It’s always nice to know someone. My grown kids frequently say “oh, my mom will know someone,” when they’re connecting me to their friends or colleagues looking to tap into the community or business world. I used to laugh it off, because after a few decades in marketing for the hospitality industry, you compile quite a list of someones you know.  But knowing someone became personal a couple of weeks back as I was arranging a trip for my 85-year-old mother. 

Worries Over Waiting In Long Lines

My mom is as sharp as they come, but she’s become reticent to travel, especially by plane, as her physical health has declined. When she finally agreed to a two-week trip back to her childhood home in Northern Idaho, she expressed some serious concerns about airport security and her inability to wait in an hours-long line to get through the screening process. That’s when knowing someone became a lot more important.

TSA Cares

I hopped on the phone to my good friend, Todd Woodard, the head of marketing and public affairs at Spokane International Airport  (the nearest airport to my home in Idaho) to ask about wait times at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. I told him about my mom’s dilemma, and I’m still surprised about what he shared and why more people don’t know about it. “Did you know there’s a program called TSA Cares?” he asked. “They help people with situations like yours.  Let me send you a contact.” Within a few minutes he sent me the information, and I reached out.  I was stunned a few hours later to receive a reply from the TSA saying they’d get back to me.

The very next day, I received a call from Roy Murray, a TSA officer at Phoenix Sky Harbor. After a brief conversation to share dates and her travel details, he assured me that he would personally take care of my mom and help her navigate through security. Relief! I was even more surprised when he called me the morning of her flight to Spokane to confirm our plans and let me know he’d be waiting for her at check-in.

A Change In Plans

Did I mention my mother is 85? After giving her detailed instructions about her pre-arranged wheelchair through Southwest Airlines, asking that she have a Skycap handle her bags, and giving her Roy’s cell phone so she could let him know she’d arrived at the airport, my grand plan and all the pre-arranged details didn’t exactly work out. She did indeed get her wheel chair, but a very motivated Skycap checked her bags and somehow managed to whisk her through security before she even thought to call Roy. (Who knew that could happen?) Nevertheless, he still tracked her down at the gate as she waited to board, just to make sure she’d made it through the security process smoothly.

It’s The Real Deal

As much as the TSA gets a public black eye for delays at airports across the US, I can say, as a frequent traveler, I’ve encountered professionals who were friendly, kind and helpful - particularly at my home airport in Spokane where the security process, thankfully, often takes less than 10 minutes. My experience with TSA Cares reinforced the reality that travelers with disabilities can and will get an extra level of service if only they know how and who to ask. That’s good news for those of us with aging parents and even better news for meeting and convention planners looking for ways to make travel simpler for thousands of attendees with special needs.


  1. 2 Kari Messenger 12 Jul
    This was a great article and very useful information. I am actually going to add this service to my client's website today. Thank you!! 
  2. 1 Joan Eisenstodt 14 Jul
    With due respect to the writer, this is ... BS! I have had major issues at many airports and have been promised help from TSA Cares which .. doesn't. At LAS this year, I was turned away from TSA Precheck bec I was in an airline contracted wheelchair pushed by an airline-contracted service provider. Why? TSA Precheck at LAS (right next to First Class) did not have a reader for other employees! I raised a stink and a supervisor was called. He took me to another line where I had to remove shoes, etc.

    At DCA and more airports than I can name, Pre-check is not prepared for wheelchairs. One is automatically taken to the 'wheelchair' check not pre-check and one has to do the usual disrobing, etc. 

    I used to have a great contact w/ TSA in PR who, when I had problems at an airport, would, upon tweeting, get on it. No more. 

    Oh and the airlines? I'm still waiting for AA to resolve my issues from a June 25 trip out of DCA where they didn't follow their own policies for people with disabilities traveling alone.

    Color me cynical and your mother lucky.

Please log in to post comments.