I was diagnosed with a light version of sleep apnea (sleep hypopnea) six years ago. I flew shortly after I was diagnosed and received my CPAP (machine), so I had reason to look up the regulations about flying with medical equipment.*  As my machine doesn’t use compressed air or require needles or any thing, my life is fairly simple. I pack the machine up in the carry bag that came with it, likely tuck a few books in the extra spaces, my glasses case and a rosary and I’m good. Because it’s medical equipment, it doesn’t count against my carry-on limit, so I’ll also have my purse and a laptop bag. I’m usually fine and, until this morning, I’ve never had a problem with any airline staff about this. The one time someone questioned me about the ‘extra’ bag all I had to say was “Medical equipment” and that was the end of it. Until this morning.

This morning I checked in for my flight on Relatively Major Airline, paid my charge for the bag I checked, left my bag with the staff, collected my boarding pass, and then chatted with my airport ride for a few minutes. As we were talking an airline representative came over and politely requested that I try and consolidate my bags so I would only have two. I replied that I had medical equipment, my laptop case, and my purse and that they were required to let me carry medical equipment on. Airline Representative agreed and said that I was, as part of my two carry-on bags. I replied that no, federal regulations permitted medical equipment in addition to the usual carry-on bags. I added that I had print outs of these regulations if she was interested. Airline Representative then left to check with her station manager and did not return. I boarded with all three bags, facing no opposition in security or at the gate (which was staffed by the same representative).

After this interaction I realized several things and wondered about a few others. First, what would have happened if I didn’t know my rights? Would someone else who carries medical equipment have even tried to carry it on in addition to the usual bags? Would someone who had in the past but wasn’t willing to make a minor issue out of it have merely agreed? (I could have, my purse would have fit into the bag with my medical equipment.) Then I wondered what would have been different if I’d been wearing my collar. Let me be clear, at no time was anyone rude, but I wonder if the airline representative would have pushed back against someone who was clearly clergy. Once on board the plane, I wondered if they hadn’t made an issue of it because they realized I was right or because the flight was incredibly light and it wasn’t worth the issue I seemed willing to make it. (On this they were both right and wrong. I was willing to make some fuss about it, but not so much as to miss my flight.)

What I’m left with is my response to my airport raid, who, after Airline Representative left asked me if I could fit my purse into another bag. When I replied that I probably could, but was willing to make some noise about this he seemed quietly surprised. What I didn’t tell him is that as someone who lives with chronic illnesses I get an unique chance to speak about my rights and perspective, a chance that other people sometimes need me to take. I didn’t say that as someone who looks healthy, I am no less entitled to claim these rights as someone who is in a wheelchair. I didn’t say that I speak up because other people need to hear my voice, this voice, speaking with this experience and knowledge. Someday we’ll get there.

The answer I will never know is what will happen to the next person who walks in with an ‘extra’ bag of medical equipment. I’m not responsible for that answer. I’m responsible for my actions. I wouldn’t change anything about that encounter.

*Another couple of google searches brought me back to this link.  The pertinent information is the third bullet under “Screener Checkpoints.”  There are other sites that talk about this exemption, but this one is nice and put out by the government.  The best search term I found was ‘CPAP carry on.’