The bustling holiday season is around the corner, and, for many airline passengers, it brings tidings of discomfort along with the joy.
Their dilemma: How to get through airport security without setting off alarms or having needed medications confiscated. To help, the Transportation Security Administration last year created a consumer hotline specifically for medical issues. It averages about 700 inquiries a week.
Here are some of the most common questions the agency’s hotline receives.
Q: If I have an internal medical device, be it a pacemaker or a knee replacement, do I have to go through a body scanner or metal detector?
A: No. Any passenger may request a pat-down instead, but it will be thorough.
Those who go through a scanner must be able to stand still with arms raised for five to seven seconds without the support of a person or device. If you are instructed to go through a metal detector, you can request a body scanner instead.
Q: What if I have a pacemaker and want to avoid going through an X-ray machine?
A: Some travelers have been instructed by their doctors to avoid X-ray machines, as they could affect the pacemaker’s magnetic calibration. The TSA recommends you show your Pacemaker Identification Card to an officer and ask for a pat-down.
Q: What if I have an implant and want to avoid alarms?
A: Before entering a body scanner or metal detector, tell security officers where the implant is located. The officers will offer — or you can request — a private screening. If your implant does set off alarms, you most likely will be given a pat-down but you won’t be required to remove or lift your clothing.
Q: What if I would prefer not to tell security officers about my condition in front of other passengers?
A: Before coming to the airport, fill out a notification card and hand it to officers at the checkpoint.
Q: What if I want to take prescription medicines or medical supplies through security?
A: All medications and supplies must be screened, normally by an X-ray machine. However, you can request a visual inspection; place medications and supplies in a separate pouch and hand it to a security officer as you approach a metal detector. You then will be asked to display and repack the medications, which do not need to be labeled.
Q: What if I have a hidden disability and need assistance or move slower than others?
A: Advise a security officer. You can request a private screening, and you can be accompanied by a companion. You also can request to sit down during the screening process.
Q: What if I have diabetes?
A: Your medications and supplies can be taken through security as long as they are screened. Insulin pumps and other supplies must be accompanied by insulin.
Q: What if I need supplemental oxygen?
A: This and other respiratory devices must be screened. Inform a security officer if your oxygen supply cannot be safely disconnected. Also check with your airline to see what its policy is, as airlines are not required to provide medical oxygen.
Q: What if I have a service animal?
A: You likely will be moved to the front of the line because security officers may need to spend more time with you. The TSA recommends bringing cards or other documentation to assure you need the animal for your disability.
Q: Do TSA officers receive special training to deal with medical conditions?
Q: Can I call someone to ask more about how to deal with my specific condition?
A: Yes. The TSA has two ways to assist travelers. Call TSA Cares, toll free at 855-787-2227, 72 hours ahead of travel. The TSA also operates a Contact Center for security questions in general at 866-289-9673.