Prosthesis checked. Bags packed. Medical bag in tow. Ride to the airport booked. And now you are at the airport and begins the tedious affair of going through security with a prosthesis. If you have not read our first blog, Going Somewhere? Travel Tips for Amputees Part 1: Before the Trip, we highly recommend you read that first. In this blog, we will concentrate on getting you through the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) as smoothly as possible.
Depending on your situation and what you have requested with the airline prior to you arriving at the airport, you have two options to go through TSA. They are below:
- Wheelchair Assistance – This is probably the most efficient and fastest way to go through TSA. When you get wheelchair assistance, the porter will take you directly to the express line reserved for airport staff, pilots, flight crew, pre-screened travelers, families with small children, and travelers who require assistance. That in itself cuts time as the line is often shorter and TSA allows you and the porter to cut through the long line if necessary.
- By yourself – If you chose to go by yourself (not on a wheelchair and without assistance), you can still go to the express line. If the TSA at the start of the line stops or asks you, show them your prosthesis (this is when wearing shorts score points!). They are usually pretty good at spotting you before you get to the line, but if they are distracted by other travelers, they will miss you. Just casually show them and they don’t usually make a fuss. In my experience, if the first TSA doesn’t see me, usually another one would and wave me over to the express line.
The Express Line
Prepare for easy access to everything. This may sound weird to you, but it is true. As much as you want to pack everything including the kitchen sink in your carry on and medical bag, you have to make sure that you can quickly unpack it, if needed, and put it back together. As much as we have every right to be on the express line, we also have to be aware of everyone else’s time on the same express line.
Way To Improve Express Line Speed
Pack your carry on and medical bag to the TSA standards. Don’t try to pass off something you know is not going to be worth arguing with TSA over and getting looks from people waiting in the long line and/or those behind you. Below are tips that could “express” this security check for you:
Remember To Remove
- Remove your laptop, iPad or tablet and battery pack from your carry on and put it in the bin provided.
- Remove the ziplock bag of allowed liquids and put that in the bin as well. Do not try to bring bottled water or liquids in containers that are larger than the allowance. Try not to bring anything that you know is not allowed.
- Take another bin and put your carry on bag and the medical bag in that bin. Do not stack items on top of each other in the bin. Cooperate and make sure that the X-ray machines can clearly see through your bags.
Pat downs and TSA requirements
- Let the TSA agent that pre-checks your boarding pass know whether or not you can go through the metal detector or X-ray machine, with or without a wheelchair. I often tell them that I can’t remove my shoes and would require a pat down.
- Almost always, you will require a pat down since your prosthesis will likely set the alarm off. The agent will explain the procedure before they begin. You can ask for a private screening area where they can do the pat down. They will take all your bags and ask you to come along. While using wheelchair assistance, they will wheel you to the area in your chair and wait for you outside.
- If you don’t mind doing a pat-down at the x-ray machine area, you can ask to sit in a chair. If you chose to stay in your wheelchair, you can continue to sit in it. Agents will pass the wand around you and the wheelchair without a problem.
- The TSA is required to test for traces of explosives (that’s the wand with a piece of paper). They will run that over your hands, belt, parts of clothing, your shoes and prosthesis. The TSA agent may ask you to lift a portion of your clothing to have better access to your prosthesis. You are not required to remove it. Even removing any clothing or belt that hold your prosthesis is not required during the explosive trace sampling. Again, the TSA agent will explain the process before they begin. If you need more privacy, request for a private screening. If the TSA agent detects traces of sensitive materials from your sample, you will be required to undergo additional screening.
- Once you are done, collect all your items from the bin, and head on out to your gate. In a larger airport, do not be surprised if you are met with a different wheelchair assistance attendant; on the opposite side of security. You might also be greeted with a golf cart that brings passengers to the gates. They do that so that they can efficiently and quickly move people through the airport. Your wheelchair assistant agent will let you know ahead of time.
Contacting TSA Cares
Hopefully, what’s been described above didn’t scare you and you are reading this days prior to your trip. TSA Cares is a dedicated helpline that assists travelers with medical conditions. Contact TSA Cares at least 72 hours before your trip. They can provide you with more guidance on what to expect during the security screening process. Including an opportunity to ask a representative on the phone questions and concerns before your trip.
If the representative finds it necessary, they will refer you to a passenger support specialist. They are trained in helping individuals with their specific needs. The specialists can also assist you throughout the safety screening process. They ensure that someone can take care of your needs.
If you want to request a passenger support specialist, call TSA Cares at 1-855-2227 or you can send them an email. They are open Monday to Friday, from 8:00 AM to 11:00 PM Eastern Standard Time (EST).
Weekends and holidays, from 9:00 AM until 8:00 PM EST.
You can also download and fill out the TSA Notification Card that you can hand to the TSA agent who will be doing the screening. The notification card will let the officer know of your medical condition and medical devices more discreetly for privacy.
Make sure you check out TSA’s Passenger Support website for more and up-to-date details before you travel.
Hope you enjoyed our second installment of Going Somewhere? Travel Tips for Amputees
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