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Good to Know: Tips for travelers with health equipment to ease TSA screening

People with medical implants or other devices can take steps to smooth screening woes by planning ahead.

Susie Leonard Weller, of the Spokane Ostomy Support

Susie Leonard Weller, of the Spokane Ostomy Support Group, said she alerts airport security about her device and carries documentation about it to ease her travels. Photo Credit: TNS/Kathy Plonka

Getting through airport security can be stressful enough. Add a colostomy bag or artificial joints, and you might get closer scrutiny.

But people with implants or devices can take steps to smooth screening woes by planning ahead.

Susie Leonard Weller, a frequent traveler who lives in Liberty Lake, Washington, doesn’t want to see people with such concerns avoid air travel.

For nearly 12 years, Weller has worn a colostomy pouch after colon cancer treatment and is co-facilitator of the Spokane Ostomy Support Group. The United Ostomy Associations of America works closely with the Transportation Security Administration and other advocacy groups around security training and traveler tips.

“We have common goals supporting TSA screeners to do their job keeping people safe but also helping people with special medical needs that it’s done in a respectful way,” Weller said.

Her tips include using TSA’s PreCheck program if possible and a plan to inform TSA officers about any medical device or joint replacement at the start of screening.

Weller has gone on trips all over the United States and the world, from Denmark to Australia.

“Sometimes I just breeze through screening and nothing happens; other times, a little alarm goes off, so I’m asked to step aside,” Weller said. “Sometimes they just ask for my hands, and they’ll screen them. Sometimes they will ask me to put my hand near my pouch.

“Rather than them putting their hands on me, I do kind of my own pat-down over my clothes in that more sensitive private area, and then they screen my hands.”

Additionally, people who have medical concerns can request a private screening and have a traveling companion be in the area, she said. TSA lists that information on its medical-conditions website.

When traveling, Weller said she brings an information card that lists her condition as a discreet way to tell TSA officers about her ostomy pouch, which will show on TSA imaging technology.

On its agency website, (tsa.gov) the agency offers a medical-condition notification card to download and print for travel; the agency’s website also suggests other medical documentation.

About 700,000 people in the United States live with a permanent ostomy, a surgery that creates an artificial opening for the elimination of bodily waste, which is collected in bags or pouches. Typically, a pouch is held externally to the abdominal area with an adhesive skin barrier below the waist.

“TSA officers shouldn’t ask you to show your pouch,” Weller added. “You may be asked to rub over your pouch outside your clothing, so they can test your hand to rule out explosive residue. I think it’s true for other people with medical needs that TSA wants to support them getting through security.”

She said it helps to know her rights and how TSA officers are trained for dealing with medical issues. If people have concerns, they can ask about a review by videotape of a security checkpoint, she said.

“I’ve been traveling for nearly 12 years, and I’ve never had anyone treat me with disrespect,” Weller said.

Weller’s husband has a hip replacement, a fact he often announces at the start of screening, she said. “Most are [made] out of titanium now, but if people have old ones that are metal, that might set off the alarm.

“You want to let people know that earlier on in the screening process, so they can do a pat-down or do some other kind of screening. That’s when having documentation of any medical issues is really helpful,” she said.

TRAVEL TIPS

Know what to expect: The Transportation Security Administration has a webpage on screening procedures for people with disabilities and medical conditions. Travelers can be screened with scanners or by pat-down. Officers might swab hands, mobility aids, equipment and other external medical devices using explosives trace detection technology. People can bring a TSA medical condition notification card from its website, or the agency suggests other medical documentation.

Request passenger support: Travelers with disabilities or medical conditions causing concerns for airport screening can contact TSA Cares, 855-787-2227, at least 72 hours before travel, or email TSA-ContactCenter@tsa.dhs.gov. TSA representatives can provide information and sometimes coordinate assistance from someone at the airport if available. The helpline is offered 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends and holidays.

Consider TSA Precheck: You might find shorter lines and wait times by enrolling for a fee in this program. It costs $85 for five years. You don’t have to remove shoes or light jackets, and it eases some other steps.

Arrive earlier: Allow extra time to go through checkpoints, or if you have an ostomy bag, to empty it before entering security.

More info: United Ostomy Associations of America offers tips for travel among people who have an ostomy pouch or other medical conditions. Check information on it at ostomy.org.

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