Are you confused by TSA rules and regulations? Don’t worry, you’re not alone.
Whether you’re traveling with medications or other medical devices, Kate Kuhlman explains how to get through security more efficiently, and with your dignity intact.
Google the phrase, “TSA pat down,” and chances are you’ll find several tales of outrage and stories of humiliation at the hands of TSA agents.
These stories have come from breast cancer patients, a man wearing a colostomy bag, and those with pacemakers and other implants.
All because there was no uniform way for travelers to notify them of medical conditions, and the TSA hasn’t been trained to handle all forms of medical conditions.
There is some good news: In the 11th hour before the 2010 holiday travel season, the TSA approved a wallet-sized card that travelers can use to notify agents of any conditions or devices that would require special attention.
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Before the cards were introduced, some physicians and patient advocacy groups were distributing their own. However, concerns over forgery prompted the TSA to come up with an official card.
These card, which can be downloaded as a PDF here, fits in a wallet and says, “I have the following health condition, disability or medical device that may affect my screening” with a blank space to be filled in by the passenger. The cards do not exempt a passenger from screening.
The cards make it easier for physical screening, but what about liquids, medications, or medical instruments a passenger might need to carry?
According to the TSA, medications (including liquids and gels) are not subject to the 3-1-1 rule and are allowed through security. However, if the liquid or gel medications exceed the 3 ounce limit, the TSA requires that the medications be declared and screened in its own bin going through the X-ray machine. If you are traveling with medications, the TSA asks that you declare them to the screening agent.
The TSA requires that medications be in the original containers, with the original labeling. For prescription medications, this means the pharmacy bottle and labeling. Over-the-counter medications must be in the bottle with the manufacturer’s label. Do not travel with medications in any other container. TSA agents must be able to easily identify the items inside.
With insulin, pumps, test strips, blood glucose meters, syringes, diabetes creates quite a burden on sufferers and their luggage. When going through security the rules for carrying insulin and syringes are simple: labels and packaging.
First, if you are carrying any kind of medical equipment, the screening agent must be notified. If you are carrying insulin on the plane, then the vials or preloaded syringes must be labeled clearly with the original pharmacy label. If you carry vials and need syringes, you may carry as many unused syringes as needed, but if you are carrying empty syringes you MUST have insulin with you.
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For patients with insulin pumps, this is where the medical card might come in handy. You should request a private screening and, if it becomes necessary, inform the agent that you have a pump that cannot be removed because it is surgically implanted. Again if you have a pump, it must be accompanied by insulin.
Passengers with casts, braces or prostheses will be asked to submit to a CastScope X-ray. The machine produces an image of any casts, braces, etc. to identify potential threats that may be hidden inside the cast.
The X-ray uses the controversial backscatter technology, which means that a narrow, low-energy X-ray beam is sent over a surface (i.e. encased body part) and this beam reflects, or backscatters, which is detected to produce an image.
Though opinions vary, TSA claims that the beam only penetrates one-quarter of an inch (compared to completely though the body as with medical-grade X-rays) and produces the radiation equivalent of 2 minutes in the plane cabin at altitude (approximately 10 microRem).
The device will not damage prosthetics with advanced, integrated circuitry. And because the machine does not produce magnetic fields, no implanted device will be affected.
Other Items Allowed Through Security
There is a laundry list of medically relevant devices and aides that are allowed through security, such as:
- Mobility aids (wheelchairs, scooters, canes, walkers, crutches);
- Prostheses, body braces;
- Communication devices (Braille note takers, slate and stylus);
- Service, hearing and guide dogs;
- Life support and sustaining liquids (bone marrow, blood products, and transplant organs);
- Augmentations (mastectomy products, prosthetic breasts, bra or shells containing gels, saline solution or other liquids);
- Gels or frozen liquids used to cool medically or disability related items used by a traveler;
- All prescription and over the counter medications whether liquid, gel or aerosol;
- Liquids for passengers with conditions, such as water, juice, or liquid/gel nutrition.
- The airline’s carry-on limit does not apply to medical supplies or equipment;
- A physician’s note/letter is helpful in explaining conditions to screeners;
- Medical conditions, disabilities and equipment can be declared verbally or in writing, or by a companion, family member, interpreter or caregiver;
- Prescription liquids over 3 ounces must be declared to TSA agents and submitted for inspection separately from the rest of your luggage;
- Medications must be labeled with the original pharmacy label or manufacturer label;
- If you require a companion to take you to your gate, speak to the airline rep about obtaining a gate pass.
If you are still concerned that you might have trouble getting through security or need assistance, call both the airport and airline ahead of your departure to alert them that you will need special attention. If you experience any problems at the security check point, you can ask for a screening supervisor. Since regulations can change, visit the TSA Web site at www.TSA.gov for the most up-to-date information.
By Kate Kuhlman for PeterGreenberg.com.
Related links on PeterGreenberg.com:
- Travel Doctor Mark Wise On Avoiding Common Travel Ailments
- Travel Tip: New Medical Technology For Travelers
- Video: Getting Through Airport Security More Quickly
- The TSA’s Security Theater And What To Do About It