Tips for flying the (medically) friendly skies

Summer is a great time to take a relaxing getaway…although sometimes getting to your vacation destination is anything but relaxing, especially if you’re sick, disabled, or have special medical needs. In the past decade, so many new security measures have been introduced for travelers, especially for those traveling by plane. This past Sunday, a 95-year-old woman—a cancer patient—reportedly had to remove her adult diaper in order to get through TSA screening at the airport. Such security measures are often unanticipated by travelers, and the resulting extra, sometimes time-consuming screening procedures can make travelers feel annoyed, inconvenienced…and can even make them miss their flights. The below tips can help you better understand the policies and procedures you need to be aware of in order to bring your medical necessities on an airplane.

Understand what you can’t bring on your flight

The TSA offers this comprehensive list of items that are prohibited on flights. Luckily, the majority of this list doesn’t deal with medical products; the list is mostly made up of weaponry, chemicals (such as chlorine for pools or liquid bleach), flammable products (like gasoline and other fuels), and explosive materials. Note that the TSA prohibits spillable batteries in carry-on and checked luggage unless those batteries are in wheelchairs. They also prohibit aerosol products (except in toiletry and personal care products, in limited quantities) as well as gel shoe inserts. Shoes constructed with gel heels are allowed, although they must be removed and screened. You can’t bring razor blades in the form of box cutters and utility knives in carry-on baggage, but you can bring disposable razors and their cartridges.

Understand what you can bring—and the restrictions that come along with them

TSA says that their “checkpoint security screening procedures for persons with disabilities and medical conditions have not changed as a result of the current threat situation. All disability-related equipment, aids, and devices continue to be allowed through security checkpoints once cleared through screening.” They have also said that they are “continuing to permit prescription liquid medications and other liquids needed by persons with disabilities and medical conditions.” The key is knowing how to pack these items so that you can undergo quicker and more hassle-free screening procedures.

For carry-on baggage, use the 3-1-1 strategy to pack your liquids, gels, and aerosols. This means that your containers must each be 3.4 oz. or smaller; they must fit into one quart-size, clear plastic, zip-top bag; and you can only bring one of these bags in your carry-on (you will need to remove it from your carry-on luggage and place it in the security bin to have it screened). If you want to bring along products that are larger than 3.4 oz. each, you can pack them in your checked luggage.

There are certain medical and health-related products that are exceptions to the 3-1-1 rule. Prescription and over-the-counter medications (including eye drops, saline solution, and petroleum jelly); breast milk, baby formula and baby food if an infant or small child is traveling; life-support and life-sustaining liquids such as bone marrow, transplant organs, or blood products; medical or cosmetic augmentation devices such as mastectomy products and prosthetic breasts; and liquids like water, juice, or liquid nutrition products for use by a passenger with a disability or medical condition are all allowed in reasonable quantities that exceed 3.4 oz. You can bring frozen items along if they are frozen solid when presented for screening; if the frozen item is slushy, partially melted, or contains any liquid at the bottom of the container, then it must meet 3-1-1 requirements. These medical and health-related items do not need to be in the zip-top bag, but they must be declared for inspection at the checkpoint. Note that TSA officials may need to open these items to conduct additional screening on them.

TSA also allows a multitude of disability-related items to pass through security checkpoints.  These items include but are not limited to wheelchairs (and tools for their disassembly), scooters, crutches, canes, walkers, support braces and appliances, service animals, ostomy supplies, exterior medical devices, orthopedic shoes, baby monitors, CPAP machines and respirators, hearing aids, CO2 personal oxygen concentrators, personal supplemental oxygen, Braille note takers, and diabetes supplies and medications.

Casts and prosthetic devices are also allowed through security checkpoints. Some airports now employ CastScope technology, which allows TSA officials to verify that a cast or prosthetic does not contain a concealed threat; this technology, which uses backscatter X-rays, also helps to maintain the passenger’s dignity. CastScope sometimes requires multiple scans, but luckily each scan only takes approximately three seconds.

Screening tips for hassle-free travel

Know your rights regarding screenings and physical searches.  If you are asked to undergo a personal search, at any point in the process you have the option of remaining in the public area or asking to go to a private area for your personal search (if you refuse both options, you will not be allowed to fly). You should also be given the opportunity to have a private screening prior to the beginning of a pat-down inspection if the pat-down will require the lifting of clothing or the exposure of a medical device. If you need a travel companion to assist you during the screening, that is allowed, but that person will need to be re-screened after helping you. If you are in a wheelchair, you are allowed to request that you remain in the wheelchair if you are not able to stand or walk through the metal detector. You can also request a pat-down inspection instead of going through the metal detector, and you don’t need to disclose a reason why you’re requesting this. You may also ask the security officer to change their gloves prior to a pat-down, a physical inspection of your property, or anytime they’re handling your footwear.

If you are wearing an adult diaper, it may be best to use the restroom before entering the screening area (so as to avoid any potential issues like what the 95-year-old woman encountered earlier this week).

If you have limited space in your carry-on bag and particularly in your 3-1-1 zip-top bag, you don’t have to waste that space on food or drinks (unless they’re medically necessary). Once you are through the screening and security area, you are welcome to purchase food, beverages, and other items in the secure boarding area and bring them onto your flight. Are there items you’ll need on your trip, but won’t need until you arrive (such as sunscreen)? You can wait to purchase them until you’ve landed; that way you’re not taking up valuable 3-1-1 space with them.

 

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