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Newsletters: Easing Your Trip through Airport Security
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Easing Your Trip through Airport Security

Representatives from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) joined the Oley Foundation for our annual conference in Redondo Beach, California, in June. Jeremy Buzzell, the Acting Manager of TSA’s Disability Branch in the Office of Civil Rights and Liberties, Ombudsman and Traveler Engagement, met conference attendees during roundtable sessions and while handing out materials at a booth. We asked him to provide us with more information based on his experience at the conference.

Q: How did TSA become familiar with the Oley Foundation and the people it serves?

A: TSA works with a coalition of more than fifty organizations representing individuals with disabilities and medical conditions. These organizations provide TSA with valuable feedback about the concerns of the people they serve. The Oley Foundation has been an active member of this coalition for years. The Disability Branch was grateful for the invitation to attend this year’s conference because, even though we interact with representatives of Oley on a regular basis, we learn a lot from hearing about the individual passenger experience.

Q: What did you learn from the attendees you met?

A:We had many very positive conversations with attendees who understand the role that TSA plays in protecting travelers. We also were asked many questions and heard many concerns about TSA’s screening procedures for passengers with medically necessary liquids, medical equipment, and medical devices such as ports and feeding tubes. It gave us a lot of insight regarding the challenges that passengers face when traveling with homePEN supplies.

Q: Based on what you learned, what advice do you have for passengers who are preparing to travel by air?

A: First, we want to encourage everyone who requires homePEN to contact TSA Cares before they fly. TSA Cares is a dedicated, toll-free helpline for passengers with disabilities and medical conditions and their loved ones. Passengers who call TSA Cares can get the latest information on screening for passengers with disabilities and medical conditions. But, more importantly, we often can work with the airport to provide advance notice or get assistance for the passenger at the checkpoint. Calling TSA Cares does not exempt a passenger from screening, but it can help prepare the airport for your arrival and will facilitate a positive screening experience.

It is very helpful if passengers call at least seventy-two hours before they fly (or earlier if they are flying on a weekend) in case we need to work with the airport. Travelers may call the TSA Cares helpline toll free at (855) 787-2227, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. EST, and weekends and holidays, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST.

Second, it is very important for passengers to get to the airport early. Aside from normal wait times, screening of medically necessary liquids and medical devices can take extra time. The screening experience is less stressful for everyone if there is enough time to get through it without worrying about whether a flight will be missed.

The screening also will go more smoothly if passengers are prepared to communicate openly and clearly. It is very helpful if they inform TSA personnel up front that they have medically necessary liquids, or medical equipment, or a device like a port or feeding tube and where it is located. Let TSA personnel know of any areas that are painful or dangerous to touch, as well as any information they need to safely handle your equipment or liquids.

Lastly, pack your carry-on property with screening in mind. Separate all of your medically necessary liquids and equipment from your other belongings so they can be quickly and easily identified and accessed for screening.

Q: What should passengers who use homePEN expect at the TSA checkpoint?

A: Every passenger’s screening experience will differ based on the kinds of devices, and amounts and kinds of liquids that a passenger may have. Similarly, how a passenger’s screening is conducted can sometimes depend on the configuration of the checkpoint and the technology being used. Lastly, TSA actively employs random and unpredictable screening in order to thwart terrorists who try to game the system.

In general, however, medically necessary liquids are allowed through a checkpoint in any amount once they have been screened. Supplies that are associated with medically necessary liquids and gels, such as IV bags, pumps, and syringes, are allowed through the checkpoint once they have been screened by x-ray or a hand inspection.

Liquids are screened by x-ray, and those in excess of 3.4 ounces will receive additional screening. Accessories required to keep liquids cool, such as freezer packs or frozen gel packs, are treated as liquids unless they are frozen solid at the checkpoint. If these accessories are partially frozen or slushy, they are subject to the same screening as other liquids.

A passenger could be asked to open the liquid for screening. A Transportation Security Officer (TSO) will not touch the liquid during this process, however. If the passenger does not want a liquid, gel, or aerosol x-rayed or opened, he or she should inform a TSO before screening begins. If the liquid cannot be opened or x-rayed for screening, additional screening of the passenger and his or her property may be required; this may include a pat down.

If a passenger cannot or chooses not to be screened by advanced imaging technology (AIT) or a walk-through metal detector, the passenger will be screened using a thorough pat-down procedure. A pat-down procedure is also used to resolve any alarms of a metal detector or anomalies identified by AIT. If a pat down is required in order to complete screening:

  • The pat down will be conducted by a TSO of the same gender. Sometimes passengers must wait for a TSO of the same gender to become available.
  • The passenger can request a private screening at any time and a private screening should be offered when the TSO must pat down sensitive areas. During a private screening, another TSA employee will also be present and the passenger may be accompanied by a companion of his or her choosing.
  • A passenger may ask for a chair if he or she needs to sit down.
  • The passenger should inform TSOs of any difficulty raising his or her arms; remaining in the position required for a pat down; or any areas of the body that are painful when touched.
  • A passenger should not be asked to remove or lift any article of clothing to reveal a sensitive body area.

If a passenger has a port, feeding tube, or other similar device, it may receive additional screening. This may include, but is not limited to, an inspection of the device if it is not in a sensitive area, and a pat down of the device followed by testing for traces of explosives. If explosive material is detected, the passenger will have to undergo additional screening. For more information about the technology used to test for explosive material, please visit www.tsa.gov/about-tsa/technology.

Q: What should a passenger do if he or she has a difficult time during screening?

A: It is best to try to resolve any problems right at the checkpoint. So, the first thing a passenger should do is ask to speak with a supervisor while still at the checkpoint. The supervisor should help to explain any procedures or resolve any issues. If the supervisor cannot do so, many airports also have Customer Service Managers that passengers can ask to speak with either during or after their screening. If an issue cannot be resolved at the checkpoint, a passenger can file a complaint with the Disability Branch by sending an e-mail to TSA.ODPO@tsa.dhs.govIt is extremely helpful if the passenger sends it as soon as possible after the event and includes as much detail as possible in the description of what happened.

Our thanks to the TSA and Jeremy Buzzell for sharing these tips. We’d like to share a few other thoughts on air travel that we gleaned from roundtable participants:

On documentation: We usually recommend that homePEN consumers travel with documentation from their health care provider(s). Note that while this may be helpful in communicating with TSA personnel, it will not exempt you from screening. See the “Travel Tips” section on www.oley.org for sample documentation and other advice on traveling with home parenteral and/or enteral nutrition.

On TSA Cares: If you’ve called TSA Cares, you should be contacted by someone from the airport before you get to the airport, or the people at the TSA checkpoint will be watching for you. On pat downs: If a medical device is in a sensitive area or should not be touched by a TSO, you may be asked to do a “self pat down,” after which your hands will be tested for explosive materials.

“When I travel, I make sure the agents use clean gloves when handling my supplies. I make sure I clearly explain what I am carrying with me and why I need it. I offer letters of medical necessity to validate my claims. Most people won’t know and understand HPEN. They won’t know what I need if I don’t take the time to explain it. Additionally, they will be much more willing to accommodate and help me out when I take the time to explain and when I respect them.
“Regardless of what the agents want to do, I realize it is important to be patient and respectful. These people ultimately get to decide if I am allowed to take my flight or not. I understand they are trying to protect all of us traveling and are just trying to do their job.”

—Tim Weaver, HPEN consumer

LifelineLetter, July/August 2012

This website is an educational resource. It is not intended to provide medical advice or recommend a course of treatment. You should discuss all issues, ideas, suggestions, etc. with your clinician prior to use. Clinicians in a relevant field have reviewed the medical information; however, the Oley Foundation does not guarantee the accuracy of the information presented, and is not liable if information is incorrect or incomplete. If you have questions please contact Oley staff.


Updated in 2015 with a generous grant from Shire, Inc. 


This website was updated in 2015 with a generous grant from Shire, Inc. This website is an educational resource. It is not intended to provide medical advice or recommend a course of treatment. You should discuss all issues, ideas, suggestions, etc. with your clinician prior to use. Clinicians in a relevant field have reviewed the medical information; however, the Oley Foundation does not guarantee the accuracy of the information presented, and is not liable if information is incorrect or incomplete. If you have questions please contact Oley staff.
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