How to Deal with the TSA when Traveling
Going on a trip can be exciting, especially when you’re going to a new destination or just visiting friends and family. However, it is also notorious for being a tedious affair, especially for those that wear a prosthesis. But the thought of preparing everything you need to ensure a hassle-free trip doesn’t have to put a damper on your travel spirits. So, we put together this handy travel guide for you, especially when you are going to be dealing with airport security.
The standards of airport security, as well as the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), are understandably strict. In fact, through the years, they have only become even more stringent. And going through a screening process without sufficient preparation will be even more difficult not only for you but also for all your travel companions. We can’t go around it, so you have to prepare to ensure that your trip is as seamless and as enjoyable as possible. If you’re traveling with prosthetics, wheelchair or scooter, read on as we break down everything you need to know before stepping through the security checkpoint.
Contact TSA Cares
Hopefully, you’re reading this at least a few days before your flight because, for this tip, you need to get in touch with TSA Cares at least 72 hours in advance. TSA Cares is the TSA’s dedicated helpline that assists travelers with medical conditions. If you are traveling with a prosthetic arm or leg, they will provide you with guidance on what you can expect during the TSA’s screening process. Aside from getting the necessary information from them, you can also take advantage of the call by raising your questions and concerns with a representative.
If the representative deems it necessary, they will refer you to a passenger support specialist, who is amply trained to help individuals with specific needs. The specialists can also assist you throughout the safety screening process to ensure that someone can take care of your needs.
If you want to request for a passenger support specialist, call TSA Cares at 855-2227 and 787-2227. They are open on Mondays through Fridays, from 8:00 AM until 11:00 PM Eastern Standard Time (EST). Meanwhile, on weekends and holidays, you can speak to a representative or a specialist from 9:00 AM until 8:00 PM.
Also, don’t forget to download and fill up a Notification Card. You will need to hand this card over to the TSA officer who will be conducting your safety screening. The Notification Card will inform the officer of your health condition, disability, or medical device discreetly, which helps you ensure your privacy. Should you wish for a private screening, remember that you can request for it.
Traveling with a prosthesis
While traveling with a prosthesis may seem like a recipe for airport security disaster, it’s not always the case. If you’ve done your research and you took the necessary steps to prepare for it, the odds are most likely in your favor.
Fill out your Notification Card and have it ready when it’s your turn for the safety screening process. While having a filled-up card will not exempt you from the screening, having that extra layer of privacy will help, especially when there are a lot of people within earshot.
Before the screening process begins, you should inform the TSA officer about your prosthesis, your ability level (whether you can stand or walk without any difficulty), as well as any assistance you might need, such as a chair or a private screening.
You will most likely be screened with an imaging technology machine, a metal detector, or an old-fashioned but thorough pat-down. Always remember that it’s possible for you to be screened without having to remove your prosthesis.
Regardless of the chosen screening method, your prosthesis will always need to undergo additional screening. The TSA officer may ask to see and touch your prosthesis but will not request or require you to remove it. However, the added steps to procure an explosive trace sampling calls for the need to lift a part of your clothing so the officer can have better access to your prosthesis. But before they begin, the officer will always explain the procedure to you. If you feel like you need to add another layer of privacy during the process, you have the option to request a disposable paper drape any time.
Removing any clothing, even the belt that holds your prosthesis to your body is not required during the explosive trace sampling. But if the officer detects any trace of sensitive material from your prosthesis, you will need to undergo additional screenings. Voluntarily removing your prosthesis will allow the TSA officer to screen under an X-ray machine, which could speed up the process.
If you opt for a private screening, remember that you can ask to be accompanied by an assistant, friend, or family member who can assist you, but only after they have been successfully screened themselves. If you are not comfortable with a private screening, you have the right to refuse it, but you will still need to complete a security screening to proceed beyond the security checkpoint.
Traveling with a wheelchair or scooter
If you feel that you may need to bring your wheelchair or scooter during your travels, there are several things you need to know in advance. This section will explore the guidelines.
If you only need to use a wheelchair to navigate the airport, you may request one from your airline. The airline will also most likely provide you with an attendant while you are within the airport premises. Take note that the TSA does not offer this service so you will need to get in touch with your airline’s representative before setting foot in the airport.
If you choose to bring your own wheelchair, you will also have to undergo additional airport security screening. The process isn’t vastly different from the one for prostheses. Depending on your ability to stand or walk, it is possible to complete the security screening without leaving your wheelchair. For this to happen, you must communicate your needs to the TSA before the screening process begins.
During a wheelchair or scooter screening, you can expect the following to happen:
- If you cannot stand or walk, you will undergo a thorough pat-down while seated. The officer in charge of the pat-down will be of the same gender.
- If you can stand but cannot walk, you may be asked to stand near your wheelchair or scooter. Then you will be screened with a thorough pat-down by an officer of the same gender.
- If you can stand and walk, you may be tested using a metal detector or other imaging technology. A pat-down will also be done to resolve any alarms from the metal detector, as well as other questionable items picked up by the imaging machine.
Once your wheelchair or scooter is thoroughly inspected, don’t be surprised if they inspect the seat cushions and pouches as well. If a pouch or seat cushion is removable, they may be detached and screened under an x-ray machine. Should you feel the need to sit during the process, remember that you can request for a chair.
Packing the TSA-approved way
Now that we have prostheses and wheelchairs covered, we’ll go through the TSA’s packing requirements to ensure a speedy screening process.
For those who need to carry medical liquids and other accessories, such as freezer packs, IV bags, pumps, and syringes, inform the TSA officer before the screening process begins. These medical supplies will need to undergo additional screening. You are allowed to bring unlimited amounts of medication in pill or another solid form as long as the items go through extra screening steps. While TSA does not have any guidelines on labeling medicines, other states require it. So, it’s best to err on the side of caution and label your bottles and pouches.
You may bring other items in the form of liquids or gels that are necessary for your prosthesis-wearing comfort, but these items will be checked. If it can’t be screened under an x-ray, the officer will ask to open the container and transfer the contents into another empty container, or they may also request to dispose of a small quantity. However, if you do not want your liquid medication to be screened by X-ray or opened, you may inform the TSA officer. They will take additional steps to clear the liquid without using X-rays.
Screening children with medical needs
If you’re traveling with a child that has medical needs, inform the TSA officer right away. This is important especially if the child might get upset easily by the process. If they need to be carried through a metal detector, remember that it’s possible as long as you inform the officer. The TSA is prepared for these situations as they have modified screening procedures for children under 12, which avoids unnecessary stress on the child.
While we made sure to cover the basics in this article, you may still have some unanswered questions. So, call the TSA hotline as soon as you can so you can relax and stop stressing about preparing for the trip.