For those traveling with disabilities or illness, important TSA travel tips will help everyone get prepared for their trip before leaving for the airport.
TSA Travel Tips
The first thing to know is that even if you are ill or disabled, that does not exempt you from having to go through security at an airport. All travelers are screened at airports, but the experience is different for those using non-emergency medical transport.
The following are some of the situations that likely will arise. The Transportation and Safety Administration has a complete rundown of various common issues on their website.
TSA Disability Notification Card
A good first step is to fill out a TSA Disability Notification Card that can be given to officers at the security gate. The card offers a quick overview that, coupled with other medical documentation, helps agents understand quickly your disability or condition.
Having a flight nurse, such as those who work with Flying Angels, gives you a partner in navigating the process. They can speak to officers about any concerns you have on security procedures, including alternative ways to handle the screening process.
Passengers with disabilities or illnesses can be checked through security in private rooms. Most, however, are not. Most security checks do not require those flying via medical transport to remove their shoes. However, the shoes will be checked both visually and physically. They may also be subject to explosives trace detection testing.
Other screening processes will include:
- Screening through advanced imaging technology if you can stand with your arms above your head for five to seven seconds without support or going through the walk-through metal detector if you can walk without support.
- All mobility aids such as walkers, crutches and canes – as well as medical devices – must undergo X-ray screening.
- Wheelchairs and scooters will also get screened by TSA officers, including seat cushions, non-removable pouches and fanny packs. Items will be tested for traces of explosives. Removable items will undergo X-ray screening.
If you cannot stand or walk through the detector, then a TSA agent will perform a pat-down while you are seated. For those who can stand for brief periods of time, you can stand near the wheelchair for a pat-down. If you go through the detector or the advanced imaging machine and an alarm is sounded, you also will undergo a pat-down.
One way to ease the process is to get approved for TSA Precheck, which means you will not be required to remove laptops, 3-1-1 liquids, belts or light jackets while going through security screening. You will, however, get screened via technology and possibly a pat-down. Other security measures may include swabbing your hands, any mobility aids you are using and medical equipment to search for explosive trace material.
Domestic vs. International
Generally speaking, domestic airlines are bit less demanding for those flying using non-emergency medical transport. Many also offer special assistants that you can call ahead of time and let them know your flight schedule.
American Airlines, for example, offers special assistance coordinators and a disability team that will work with you on wheelchair assistance, getting in and out of the plane, traveling with special medical equipment such as a portable oxygen concentrator, and arranging adjacent seating for you and your flight nurse.
International destinations often require more thorough medical checks, and international carriers typically have more stringent rules about getting clearance to fly with disabilities or illness. They may also require paperwork on medications and devices. This page from Air New Zealand offers a good idea of the types of rules you might encounter.
Flying with a disability or medical condition requires knowing these important TSA travel tips, pre-planning and preparation. With the right partner such as a flight coordinator and flight nurse, the experience can go much smoother.