Editor’s Note: This is the third part in a series on accessible air travel. Part I offered tips for booking your flight, Part II provided advice and options for getting to the airport, and Part III offered tips for checking in. Today, our resident accessible travel expert Mark will share his tips on getting through security.
We all have heard stories about the challenges of airport security for people with disabilities (and, let’s be honest, for able-bodied people as well). But as a frequent traveler, I can assure you that it is not as bad as you have heard!
If this is your first trip post-injury or illness, you may not know what to expect. I’ll walk you through the process and give you my tips for making it as easy as possible.
Before You Go…
- Check out the TSA’s website for people with disabilities or medical conditions. They have sections dedicated to specific conditions and functional limitations, from using a wheelchair or prosthesis to being unable to remove shoes or wait in lines. This is a great resource for specific questions this post may not answer.
- You may want to consider using the TSA’s Notification Card. You do no – I repeat, do NOT – need to provide any medical documentation to a security officer. But if you would like to discreetly share your needs with security, this is one way to do it. You can download it here.
Once You’re There…
- Once you get to the security checkpoint there is a special line for disabled passengers. The agents usually direct you towards it, and it is really helpful as you do not need to try to weave your way through the long and winding lines.
- It begins by you placing your carry on luggage on to the belt. Try to be sure that an agent sees you, especially if you can’t walk through the scanner as they will send an agent to meet you to perform the “pat-down.”
- The agent will then lead you to a special area and explain the instructions for the inspection. It really is an easy and painless process as the agents have been specially trained on how to deal with our needs. They might ask if I can take my shoes off and I politely tell them no, as they have a way to check them that does not require me taking them off and then struggling to put them back on again. They will also offer you the chance to have a private screening if you would prefer.
- If you have any necessary medical liquids that are more than what is traditionally allowed, now is the time to tell them. They are allowed through the checkpoint, but they will need to be screened.
- If you have a service dog, s/he will need to be screened, too. The TSA offers step-by-step instructions for that process here.
- This is the time to be upfront about any medical devices (catheters, leg bags, ostomies), or sensitive areas that you have. They are typically very polite and respectful, but do have an important job to do. They will check all of the areas with their hands, usually inspect my chair, test my shoes and hands, and then send me on my way.
- This process, from start to finish, can take 15 to 20 minutes, though it’s often quicker. That being said, make sure you have budgeted enough time to get to your gate.
If you follow the rules, and are upfront about any special issues or concerns, it should be a relatively quick process. Because I travel so much, I have helped to educate and train many TSA employees – and you can, too! They really do want it to be an easy experience for us, and the more comfortable we can make them about dealing with individuals with disabilities, the better it will be for everyone. And, if something does go wrong, or you are not feeling comfortable about the process, the best thing to do is to politely ask for a supervisor and be patient until one arrives. Above all, remember to be your own advocate!
Now that you’re through security, there’s just one thing left to do: board the plane and head to your destination. Tomorrow, I’ll give you the low down on boarding the plane.
We want to hear from you! Do you have any tips for getting through security with a disability? Any stories to share?