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Navigating Airport Security

TSA checking in African student using crutches
TSA checking in African student using crutches

All passengers must undergo a security screening process – be patient and cooperative, but know your rights. Also allow more time for additional screening if needed.

Before you can head to your departing gate, you must usually pass through security screening. In the U.S. this is controlled by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screening procedures, including the use of Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) and “pat downs.” Some people with disabilities are ineligible for screening using AIT including if you:

  • Use wheelchairs and scooters and cannot stand
  • Cannot stand with your arms raised at shoulder level for the 5-7 second duration of the scan
  • Unable to stand without the use of a cane, crutch, walker, etc.
  • Use service animals
  • Use or carry oxygen

Additonally, if you have people accompanying and providing assistance to you or have special equipment that cannot go through the x-ray machine or body scanner, then you can notify the screeners and request a physical/visual inspection of the equipment, alternative screening technique, and/or a pat-down for yourself, your assistant, and/or the equipment.

Here’s your rights in the screening process:

  • If any person requests a private screening, that screening must be accommodated.
  • If it is requested in a timely manner, airport personnel must complete the screening in time for the passenger to board his/her plane.

Assistive Devices or Animals

If your wheelchair, cane, adaptive technology, or other assistive device can be passed through the security screener without setting it off, it need not be subject to further screening. However, if it does set it off or looks like it could contain a prohibited device or substance, then it will be subject to further screening. Once it has passed inspection, these are permitted in the passenger cabin.

Augmentative communication devices and Braille note takers will go through the same sort of security screening process as that used for personal computers. A slate and stylus are permitted on board the aircraft after inspection; however, it may be necessary to advise the security screener of the purpose of the slate and stylus and that it facilitates the passenger’s communications.

Service animals, once inspected to ensure prohibited items are not concealed, are permitted on board an aircraft. Any equipment (including, but not limited to, harness, backpack, leash or collar) that is carried on the animal will be manually inspected. If necessary, remind the security screeners that the service animal’s belongings should not be removed during the manual inspection.

Syringes are permitted on board an aircraft once it is determined that the person has a documented medical need for the syringe. To show a documented medical need, you must have in your possession medication that requires the use of a needle or syringe. The medication must have a professionally printed label identifying the medication or a manufacturer’s name or a pharmaceutical label.

Airport personnel in some countries may not be familiar with diabetes-related supplies and equipment such as insulin pumps, which can cause delays at security checkpoints. Carry documentation of all medical equipment, such as insulin pumps, meters, test kits and test strips, to present to airport security during the screening process. An insulin pump may be too sensitive to go through the body scanner which can cause the pump to work incorrectly, so you can request a physical pat-down. 

When Austin Bates volunteered abroad in Peru, he found issues with getting through security in their resistence to doing pat-downs or hand inspection of his pump.

“Sometimes it would take a half hour of talking with the airport security and debating for me to not have the pump go through the screening machine….I think if you’re in a different country and they just don’t understand, you just have to keep being persistent with them, and just let them know how important this is to you. You can’t have ‘no’ be the answer. After a while they would be like ‘all right.”‘

The limit of one carry-on bag and one personal bag (purse or briefcase) does not apply to medical supplies and/or assistive devices (including service animals and their equipment). Passengers with disabilities generally may carry medical equipment, medications, and assistive devices on board the aircraft. In the European Union, this is limited to two pieces of equipment for free and people transporting power wheelchairs, service dogs or needing oxygen must let the air carrier know 48 hours in advance. Carry personal supplies such as medications (in original containers with prescription), eyeglasses, hearing aid equipment, or other such essentials in your carry-on bag.

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