Airport Security Screening Tips for Senior Travelers

Vacation season is here! Are you traveling by plane this summer?  Here is some information to ensure that security screening goes smoothly for older adults with disabilities and medical conditions.

All airline passengers experience the inconveniences of post-911 increased screening at airports. We arrive early at the airport in case the line is long. We make sure liquids are in bottles smaller than 3.4 ounces. We empty our pockets and load up the bins with our metal items and carry-on luggage while we go through a scanner or manual screening. We take off our shoes and jackets (unless we are lucky enough to be older than 75, in which case we are exempt—a happy perk of old age that went into effect last year).

But what about people traveling with a hip replacement or other metal item they can’t remove? What about those who use portable oxygen? What if a traveler’s health challenges make it impossible to stand in a long line? A poll in the June 2012 Caring Right at Home e-newsletter found that almost half of respondents had planned a summer trip at a distance from their home. These readers or their loved ones may have experienced extra challenges presented by disabilities or medical conditions as they passed through airport security. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) reminds us that planning ahead can make for a less stressful time while moving through that checkpoint.

The first step is to find out what difficulties you may encounter and to learn about special accommodations that are available to ease the process at the particular airports through which you will be traveling. Many airports have lanes specifically for use by passengers with physical or cognitive disabilities and medical conditions. While passengers still may need to wait in line if they use these lanes, the lines and wait times are often much shorter. If an airport does not have these special lanes, passengers who have difficulty standing can request to move to the front of the line and can be accompanied by their traveling companions.

The TSA offers specific tips and resources to help the screening process go smoothly and to help travelers minimize delay:

For passengers with mobility impairments. Passengers should notify a security officer of their level of ability to walk or stand before screening begins. Passengers can be screened using walk-through metal detectors only if they can walk without the support of another person. A passenger can request to be screened while seated if he or she cannot walk or stand during screening. If a passenger cannot or chooses not to be screened by imaging technology or a walk-through metal detector, the passenger will be screened using a patdown procedure instead. Walkers, canes, crutches and other mobility aids must undergo X-ray screening or be inspected by an officer. Read more.  

For passengers who use wheelchairs and scooters. Passengers who can neither stand nor walk will be screened by a thorough patdown while they remain seated. Passengers who can stand but cannot walk will be asked to stand near their wheelchair or scooter and will be screened using a thorough patdown. Passengers in wheelchairs or scooters who can walk may be able to be screened using a metal detector or imaging technology. Read more.

For passengers with metal implants. Passengers with artificial knee or hip joints and other metal implants should inform a TSA officer before screening begins. Many passengers with metal implants that regularly set off a metal detector alarm prefer to be screened by imaging technology in order to reduce the likelihood of a patdown being necessary. If a passenger cannot or chooses not to be screened by imaging technology or the passenger alarms a walk-through metal detector, the passenger will be screened using a thorough patdown procedure. Read more.

For passengers with internal medical devices. Passengers with a pacemaker or defibrillator should inform the security officer before the screening process begins. These passengers should not be screened by a metal detector. Passengers with concerns should contact their physician. Read more.

For passengers travelling with medically necessary liquids. It is recommended that passengers limit the amount carried on to what is reasonably necessary for their flight. Passengers should inform an officer if a liquid or gel is medically necessary and separate it from other belongings before screening begins. Liquids, gels and aerosols are screened by X-ray, and medically necessary items in excess of 3.4 ounces will receive additional screening. Read more.  

For passengers traveling with external medical devices. Passengers who have medical devices attached to their bodies, such as spinal stimulators, neurostimulators, ports or feeding tubes, should inform the officer conducting the screening of the device and where it is located before the screening process begins. The type of screening will depend on the type of device and the passenger’s abilities. Passengers should consult with the manufacturer of the device to determine whether it can pass through a metal detector or be subject to imaging technology screening. Read more.  

For passengers with portable oxygen. Passengers should be aware that not all airlines allow the use of portable oxygen concentrators, so they need to check with their carriers if they plan to use one. Passengers also should check with the manufacturer to determine whether the oxygen concentrator has been approved for in-flight use. Screening procedure depends on the type of equipment and whether the passenger can be disconnected from their concentrator. Read more.

For passengers with casts, braces and support appliances. Regardless of whether a passenger is screened by a metal detector, imaging technology or a thorough patdown, casts, braces and support appliances are subject to additional screening. An officer will need to see the device, which may require the lifting of clothing without exposing any sensitive areas. TSA also will use technology to test the device for traces of explosive material. Read more.  

For passengers with visual impairment. Canes and other devices like Braille notetakers must undergo X-ray screening, unless they cannot fit through the X-ray. If an item cannot fit through the X-ray, or the passenger cannot be separated from the item, it will be inspected by an officer. Read more.

For passengers who are deaf or hearing impaired. It is recommended that passengers who are deaf or hearing impaired notify a security officer of any assistance needed or technology used, such as hearing aids or cochlear implants, before screening begins. It also is helpful if the passenger informs the officer of the best way to communicate during the screening process. Read more.

Two Helpful Resources

TSA Notification Card. Passengers with disabilities and medical conditions are not required to provide medical documentation to an officer. However, many passengers find it helpful to have medical documentation as a way to discreetly communicate information about their needs to an officer. TSA has created a Notification Card that passengers can use for discreet communication. You can download the card here.

Call the TSA Cares helpline. TSA Cares is a toll-free helpline available to assist travelers who have disabilities and medical conditions. Passengers can talk to a representative at 1-855-787-2227 for information about screening that is relevant to the passenger’s specific disability or medical condition. TSA recommends that passengers or their caregivers call at least 72 hours ahead of travel. The line is operated Monday through Friday 8 a.m. – 11 p.m. (ET) and weekends and holidays 9 a.m. – 8 p.m. (ET). If the representative cannot answer your question, you may be referred to a TSA disabilities expert.

Learn More

Access a full list of disabilities screening procedures and more traveler information on the Transportation Security Administration website.

Photo:  Department of Homeland Security


Right at Home, Inc. is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned providers of in home care services.