TSA officers championed special athletes, made screening stress-free for thousands of travelers

Thursday, June 23, 2022
Group photo

For over 5,000 participants and family members who boarded flights to and from the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games in Orlando, Florida, accessing TSA’s security checkpoint was memorable for all the right reasons.

As a government agency that champions inclusiveness and diversity, officers welcomed and celebrated the athletes and their accomplishments, making the security screening portion of their experience just as memorable as the games and the competition on the field.

At airports nationwide, including Manchester-Boston Regional Airport (MHT) and Orlando International Airport (MCO), TSA personnel and their stakeholders collaborated to anticipate every need of Special Olympic athletes ahead of time and were all-hands-on-deck to help move them through screening both efficiently and safely.

Baggage cart photo
Manchester-Boston Regional Airport TSA Officer Kristina Aliu makes sure the athlete’s bags reach screening on time to make the flight. (Photo courtesy of TSA MHT)

At MHT, where 90 athletes and their coaches boarded a Southwest Airlines plane, airport maintenance workers and airlines ticket counter and gate agents joined TSA team members to move the group and their 140 large pieces of checked luggage through security. Gentle and understanding passenger support produced smiles on the faces of athletes who were anxious to get their journey underway.

The spirited fellowship and good cheer rubbed off on everyone.

“Assisting these Special Olympic athletes through the screening process gave me such a warm feeling,” said MHT Transportation Security Manager Mark Lilley. “The joy and appreciation I witnessed was amazing. They are all gold medalists in my mind.”

At the conclusion of the games, MCO’s airport customer experience team assisted guests when they arrived. TSA dedicated lanes at two checkpoints and assigned supervisors to assist with managing large group departures throughout the day.

The dedicate lanes were a big hit with the athletes and coaches.

“[A dedicated lane was] one of the best ideas of the whole trip, especially with their autistic athletes,” said Michigan Team Coach Ann Pamluski. “Having an area away from the loud crowd was really helpful. I am really happy with the calm demeanor of the people we have dealt with. I want to thank Supervisor [Julio] Arias for being so calm with my autistic athlete whose wallet was stolen and had no ID. His demeanor and reassurance helped calm her down.”

For their part, Team MCO was happy to help.

“Thank you for allowing me and my team to be part of one of the most remarkable days at TSA, where we got the chance to experience one-on-one patience and kindness with every encounter,” said MCO Supervisory TSA Officer Blanca Santa. “Thank you, thank you, and thank you.”

By Karen Robicheaux, TSA Strategic Communications and Public Affairs