Woman 'stuck' in Oregon

At 84, Margaret Fairchild wanted to spend a few months visiting her sister in Sams Valley, only to discover that getting a flight here was a lot easier than returning to her Seattle home.

Fairchild, who uses a walker and suffers from a few short-term memory problems, lost her photo identification on March 28. A month later, after getting some bad information and running head-on into bureaucracy at various agencies, she finally discovered she could board a plane without identification.

"She's a prisoner in Oregon," Fairchild's sister, 76-year-old Greeta Hoppes of Sams Valley, said Monday as the family looked for solutions. "How do you get out of this place?"

Later in the day, she had her answer, thanks to the advice of a federal Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman, who said the agency has contingencies for such dilemmas.

"For crying out loud, why didn't they tell us that before?" Hoppes said when given the news.

The bureaucratic entanglement for Fairchild began after she lost her identification card. Hoppes said she called the Medford airport, but was told that identification was required.

Four trips to Oregon Driver and Motor Vehicle Services proved fruitless. Hoppes said her sister was unable to get identification even though she produced a birth certificate and other documents. The family was at wits' end.

"She came to visit, but she didn't plan on staying forever," said Hoppes.

David House, spokesman for Oregon DMV, said there was a simple reason why Fairchild didn't get a photo identification in Oregon. "If she's not a resident, we cannot issue her any kind of identification," he said.

Selena Davis, spokeswoman with the Washington Department of Licensing, said a resident in her state who lost an identification would have to appear in person at one of the department's offices — the closest to Medford is in Vancouver, Wash.

Hoppes said they were running out of options. She and her husband are too old for the nine-hour drive to Seattle, and didn't want to send her sister on a bus unattended.

Then Tina Burke, a spokeswoman for the TSA, came to the rescue. Contacted by the Mail Tribune, she said contrary to what the family had been told, Fairchild could board a plane without identification.

"That's not a problem," she said. "She wouldn't be prevented from flying at all."

Burke said passengers who don't have government-issued identification are subjected to additional screening, which can be a little uncomfortable for some. "It is the pat-down," she said.

Screeners are required to offer the search in a private room, or the passenger can request it.

Burke said people lose their identification all the time while they are traveling. She said Fairchild could even call TSA once she knows the date and time of her flight and the agency would make special arrangements to get her through the airport lines.

Jen Boyer, a spokeswoman for Horizon Air, said photo identification isn't necessary, but her airline would work with TSA on the additional screening necessary to get a passenger on a flight.

Hoppes said her sister, who has a daughter in Washington, will be returning to assisted living in Seattle.

"She's anxious to get back to her boyfriend."

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.

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