Recent reports allege that security officials at a Florida airport forced a 95-year-old woman with cancer to remove her adult diaper as part of a security pat-down.
While this is an extreme example, some medical equipment and assistive devices– such as pacemakers, wheelchairs and oxygen tanks – can hinder airport security screening procedures.
In response to the incident involving the adult diaper, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials released this statement: "While every person and item must be screened before entering the secure boarding area, the TSA works with passengers to resolve security alarms in a respectful and sensitive manner."
How can caregivers ensure their elderly relatives are treated with dignity, yet expedite the process of getting an elderly loved one through airport security safely? AgingCare.com asked Sarah Horowitz, spokesperson for the TSA's Office of Public Affairs, to weigh in on how certain assistive devices may affect airport security:
Wheelchairs, Walkers and Mobility Devices
TSA officials have found all types of strange items (including weapons) stashed in wheelchairs and other mobility devices. As a result, the TSA requires that all people – including those who use a scooter, wheelchair, walker, cane or other mobility device – be screened in some way. To expedite the process, let the airport security officer know your loved one's level of ability: Can he/she walk or stand? Does he/she have limited arm movement? Any bags or satchels that are attached to mobility devices must be removed and put on the X-ray belt for inspection.
Elders do not have to remove hearing aids or the exterior component of a cochlear implant at security checkpoints, according to the TSA, though a security officer may ask to see them.
Artificial Hips and Other Surgical Implants
Surgically implanted devices such as artificial hips or aneurysm clips may set off metal detectors at the airport. Although this can't be avoided, the TSA recommends that elderly passengers or their caregivers advise security officers of the location of any implanted devices. Airport security personnel may opt for an alternative screening method rather than sending the person through the metal detector.
If your elderly parent has an implanted device, your doctor can provide a medical card to present at the airport (this will card will not prevent your parent from being screened, but it's an easy way to communicate information about medical conditions.)
Pacemakers and Defibrillators
Passengers with pacemakers and defibrillators should not go through the metal detector, according to the TSA. "Passengers will be screened using advanced imaging technology or other alternative screening method at the checkpoint," says Ms. Horowitz.
Notify security personnel if your loved one has diabetes and is carrying supplies such as vials, syringes, jet injectors, epipens, infusers or insulin pumps. Insulin in any form or dispenser must be clearly identified.
Oxygen and Respiratory
Medical oxygen and other respiratory devices like nebulizers and respirators must be screened before being permitted through the security checkpoint. If the equipment can be disconnected, make sure you are trained to safely do so. If the equipment can't be disconnected, tell the security officer, who will arrange for an alternate inspection process while your loved one remains connected to the oxygen source.
Prescription medications and pills do not have to be in the original bottles, but the TSA says it is helpful. Regardless of how the pills are packaged, they need to be screened. Liquid medications should be labeled, and those in quantities larger than 3.4 ounces each need to be separated from other carry-on items and declared to the security officer as medically necessary.
If a personal search is required, your elderly parent may choose to remain in the public area or go to a private area for screening. A caregiver can accompany the elder. Afterward, the caregiver will have to be re-screened.
When traveling with elders, the most important rule of thumb is to allow extra time to get through security, especially if they use any type of assistive device.