Flying on Crutches

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I flew out to Southern California today. I got a ticket on United since I wasn’t flying with a bike. I pretty much only fly on Southwest when I can now. Even though they raised their bike charge from $50 to $75, it is the cheapest game in town. Frontier used to be even better, a bike counting as just a checked piece of luggage, but they went to the dark side recently and now even charge for carry-ons.

Anyway, when Trudi dropped me off at the Madison airport, I was a little apprehensive about getting around the airports and planes on crutches. So far, that hasn’t been a problem. I got the super fast TSA pre-approved line at security and sailed through. Sailed through until they flagged my bag. I didn’t check a bag because it is $25. The guy said he saw something metal in my bag. I told him that it was probably my bicycle pedals. (I brought my pedals along just in case I feel up to a little jaunt.) He told me no, it looked like a L. Then I remembered I brought a 8mm pedal wrench along. I told him it was inside my cycling shoes. So, he opened my bag and found the pedal wrench.

He then proceeded to put the wrench up against a ruler mounted on the machine and it measured 8 inches. He told me that it was illegal to fly with a tool that was longer than 7 inches and said I had two choices. Go back to check-in and put the tool in my checked bag or surrender it to the TSA. I told him that I didn’t check a bag and that I wasn’t up to going back down to ticketing and checking the tool. I have other pedal wrenches, but this seemed ridiculous. It was a pedal wrench. I had way more dangerous things in my carry-on. I had a small pair of scissors that I would choose as a weapon over the pedal wrench it that is what it came down to. Even my crutches, in my opinion, would be considered more dangerous than the pedal wrench.

Anyway, he asked me again if I wanted to surrender the tool. I asked if there was any other option. He said I could talk to a supervisor. I didn’t really see the point, but I asked him if there was a chance that the supervisor would let me keep the wrench. He shrugged. So, the TSA guy goes and gets his supervisor. Actually, two guys show up. He remeasured the pedal wrench and tells me that it is too long. I ask him if there is any exceptions to the seizure rules. Then, out of the blue, he asks if there is a medical reason that I would have to have it. I think about it for a second, and bing, a brilliant idea comes to me.

I tell him that I have a prescription for physical therapy and that it is for low impact resistance, such as swimming and riding a stationary bike. And that I brought my pedals along to use for that. He asks me for the prescription. The two TSA guys read over it for a little and finally say that there isn’t anything that specifically mentions riding a bike. I said that the doctor just told me that verbally, but it did say low impact exercise, which cycling is.

The supervisor didn’t say anything for a little while and finally said, something like, “I can give this back to you if you assure me that you’re not going to do something dangerous with it on the flight.” I thought that was a weird statement/question, but I told him that I would stick it on the bottom of my bag and it wouldn’t see the light of day until I landed. He then handed the pedal wrench back.

I was really surprised that is how it worked out. I thought I needed to thank the guy for using common sense and making a fair decision. So, I put my arm out and thanked him for just that, using common sense. Rarely in this day and age of “terrorism” and flying, will someone in authority, bend the rules, even if those rules seem ridiculous.

So, the flying has been good so far. Getting off the plane in Denver, my little jet had landed and I had to walk down stairs to get to the runway. Man, the stairs are too narrow for crutches. So, I just held them in one hand and hopped, one-legged down to the tarmac. That is the extent of the trouble I’ve had so far. I hope that is all.

At the Madison airport.  I have my walking stick toe strapped to my crutches.

At the Madison airport. I have my walking stick toe strapped to my crutches.

I've used this every time I've crashed and broke something below my waist. I got this walking stick/cane in England, nearly 30 years ago, after crashing in the British Milk race.

I’ve used this every time I’ve crashed and broke something below my waist. I got this walking stick/cane in England, nearly 30 years ago, after crashing in the British Milk race.

The first TSA agent just about to take my pedal wrench.

The first TSA agent just about to take my pedal wrench.

The pedal wrench.  I still have it in my possession.  I'm wondering if I should check my bag on the way home.

The pedal wrench. I still have it in my possession. I’m wondering if I should check my bag on the way home.

21 thoughts on “Flying on Crutches

  1. Wildcat

    I took a full bike bottle through security once. I couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t just let me chug the water right then and there, but when I asked if I could do that they looked at me like I was about to turn myself into a bomb by doing so. They took that bottle – and it was a nice one too! Note to self: Take bike bottles through security empty THEN fill them up on the other side.

  2. Wildcat

    One time I took my wife to a Reba concert – I forgot I was wearing my pocket knife. We were running late and when the security guy said I would have to take it back to the car or surrender it my wife got so pissed off at me because this would have made her miss the beginning of the concert. BTW, we were late because I was out on a bike ride before. Anyway, my wife was so pissed at me – and while she was letting me have it I guess the security guy felt sorry for me or something because he handed it back to me and said “here, pretend I never said anything” and let us go through.

  3. Mike

    I got stopped at security and “donated” a couple of C02 cartrides at O’Hare courtesy of TSA. I was going to SanDiego for work and thought I’d bring my pedals, spare tube, C02, etc for a nice ride along the coast. They didn’t take my pedal wrench or question the pedals but the C02 they had issue with. They said something along the lines of “too many kids playing with air soft guns and C02 cartridges at the terminals made the C02 be one of the banned items.” Coming back home through San Diego they stopped me for my pedals, but not the pedal wrench…

  4. Jason

    I’ve chugged water bottles multiple times to save a bottle before security (even just bottled water bottles) and once at SLC the TSA guy even suggested it because the SLC airport had water bottle filling stations after security.

  5. Go Blackhawks

    I’ve donated a 10MM wrench to O’hare. Also, a carabiner to Charles de Gaule. Security there though I could use it similar to “brass knuckles”. I carried on trying to rationalize w/ someone who marginally knew English, and me little to no French. Security was called, and I eventually calmed down. I’ve even had to plea for my bike computer. I’ve learned to just pack and check anything when flying w/ cycling gear.

  6. Touriste-Routier

    Mail your wrench home. $5 – $6 for priority mail is much less than checking a bag.

  7. Brady

    I see this as a turning point in your recovery, Steve, for if you can recover from the TSA, you can recover from anything. Cheers!

  8. cl

    Touriste just beat me to it, but he’s right, mail it or ship it home. I shipped my bike home from NYC and found my allen wrenches in my room after I dropped the bike box at FedEx. I knew I’d never get them past TSA, and I was on a tight schedule and didn’t want to check the bag. So I put them in a mailer and shipped UPS ground. Easy peasy, and cheap.

  9. carlosflanders

    Had a 5 mm allen key taken off me in Manchester airport. Might have been 3-4 inches long.

  10. Robert

    Why do they confiscate allen keys, are they afraid the passengers are going to disassemble the plane?

  11. Dark Cloud

    Lucky you. As an airline pilot in uniform I had a pedal wrench confiscated. Not much common sense in the TSA ranks.

  12. Sal Ruibal

    I used to bitch about TSA but its like banging your head against the wall. Hurts you and the wall doesn’t give a shit. I figure TSA has to be that way because if they screwed up just one time and someone created an incident or worse, say, let a terrorist get in the country and kill a bunch of people, their professional lives are over. Maybe their life, period. Be nice, be polite, try to remember all of the rules. I had a good “incident” at TSA at Reagan National DC. I put my beloved Wright Bros. Shinola watch in the little dog food bowl at TSA and proceeded through the door-frame thingie. Was walking down the concourse and looked at my watch. Uh, no watch. I went back to the TSA (had to take a shuttle bus) and I figured the odds of seeing that watch again was nil. As soon as I got there, a TSA guy said, “Oh, you look like the watch guy” and handed over the watch. Nice.

  13. Scrot

    Lost a full size Park pedal wrench at Cedar Rapids airport. Seems like at a small regional airport they might have a box of confiscated stuff or some way to claim when you come home.

    I didn’t get it at first but then realized, yeah the wrench has some heft to it and a nice grippy rubber handle. Of course I was running late. I still reach for it once in a great while at the work bench.

  14. chris

    Looks like you could maybe run it through some of the handle holes in your crutches, and make it look like part of the handle, on your way back home.

  15. Jeff M

    Steve- maybe you should take a dremel or hacksaw and cut off an inch or so off the end of the handle of the pedal wrench before you fly back home.

  16. channel_zero

    The reality is it’s security theater and everyone involved knows this.

    In one way, I feel bad for the on-the-floor workers because they are seeing 10ths of pennies of the money the prime contractor gets for providing the service to the government.


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