Updated: Jan 21, 2024
Traveling by airplane can be a daunting experience, especially when you need to bring a medical device. For those planning a trip to the United States, understanding the regulations and preparing adequately can make the journey smoother and more comfortable. This article provides a detailed guide on how to travel with a medical device to the U.S. by air, covering pre-flight preparations, security procedures, in-flight management, and tips for a hassle-free journey.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) sets the guidelines for traveling with medical devices on airplanes. Familiarizing yourself with these regulations is the first step in preparing for your flight. Generally, TSA allows passengers to bring medically necessary devices, equipment, and supplies through the security checkpoint, provided they undergo screening. These items include, but are not limited to, CPAP machines, portable oxygen concentrators, insulin pumps, and nebulizers.
It's important to know that these devices will be subject to X-ray screening, and you may be asked to turn on the device to demonstrate its functionality. If you're concerned about the X-ray process affecting your device, notify the TSA officer, who may offer alternative screening methods.
Before your trip, contact your airline to inform them about your medical device. Most airlines require advance notice for certain types of medical equipment, especially if they require onboard power or storage considerations. This step is crucial for ensuring that your device complies with airline policies and that any necessary accommodations are made.
Provide the airline with details about your device, including its size, weight, and power requirements. If you need to use the device during the flight, ask about the availability of in-seat power outlets or the airline's policy on battery-powered devices. It's also a good idea to inquire about any documentation you might need, such as a letter from your healthcare provider or a medical certificate.
When packing your medical device, consider carrying it in your carry-on luggage to ensure it stays with you throughout the journey. Make sure the device is easily accessible for inspection at security checkpoints and for use during the flight. Pack all necessary accessories, such as batteries, power cords, and adapters.
If your device uses batteries, bring enough to last the entire flight, plus extra for delays or layovers. For devices that require liquid medication, such as nebulizers, familiarize yourself with the TSA's liquid medication guidelines. These guidelines allow you to bring medically necessary liquids in quantities larger than the standard 3.4 ounces, but you must declare them to TSA officers at the checkpoint.
At the security checkpoint, inform the TSA officers about your medical device and any special considerations it may require. You have the right to request a private screening if you feel more comfortable discussing your medical situation in a private setting.
If your device cannot be disconnected or if disconnecting it poses a health risk, notify the officers, and they will provide alternative screening methods. Be prepared to explain how the device works and what it does, as this can help speed up the screening process.
Once on board, follow any specific instructions provided by the airline regarding the use of your medical device. If you need to use the device during the flight, set it up in a way that does not obstruct access to the aisle or emergency exits.
For devices that emit noise or light, consider how this might affect other passengers and take steps to minimize any disturbance. If your device requires in-seat power, ensure that it's compatible with the aircraft's power system and that you have the appropriate adapters.
Upon arrival in the U.S., you may need to declare your medical device at customs. Have any relevant documentation ready, such as a prescription or a letter from your healthcare provider. Be prepared to explain the purpose of the device and how it's used, especially if it's not immediately apparent.
Individuals who travel with an external medical device, e.g. a port or feeding tube, should inform the security staff about this when they arrive at the checkpoint. They will then help you to get properly screened, and apply a second screening to the medical device while you are passing through the checkpoint.
If you are wearing an internal medical device, e.g. a pacemaker, you should inform the security officer about this before your screening. He or she can then ensure that you will be screened properly, so you can proceed to the boarding area without any delays.
Travelers with medical conditions or disabilities who have to use one or more medical devices should not view the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) checkpoint as a hindrance to traveling. The truth is that it's fine to travel with a breast pump or a CPAP machine. And if you need to travel with an ostomy pouch or an insulin pump, there is no reason not to fly.
All travelers have to be screened at the checkpoint. Travelers with a medical condition or a disability, or his or her traveling partner, are free to discuss the best possible way to address any concerns they might have about the screening process with a TSA officer. Travelers can provide this officer with medical documentation such as a TSA notification card that discretely describes the condition they are suffering from. They may also ask for an accommodation to the security screening procedure.
If a traveler with a medical condition, medical device or disability gets approval to use TSA Pre✓®, they do not have to remove laptops, shoes, belts, 3-1-1 liquids, or light jackets before getting screened. It is, however, compulsory for everyone to be screened at the checkpoint, either by a pat-down or by using technology. TSA officers are also allowed to swab a traveler's equipment, mobility aids, hands and all external medical devices in order to test for explosives. This will involve the use of explosives trace detection technology.
It should be noted that liquid medications are allowed to pass through the checkpoint, but they will be screened. If the total weight is more than 3.4 ounces, these liquids will have to pass through a second screening process. You should also declare them once you get to the checkpoint. Related items, e.g. syringes, will be allowed through the checkpoint, but they will also have to be screened.
The TSA has a number of resources for individuals with disabilities or who travel with medical conditions and/or medical devices to make sure they will be able to pass through security screening with dignity, in the shortest possible time, and without any hassles.
The list includes the TSA Contact Center, TSA Cares Helpline, information shared on the www.tsa.gov website, Passenger Support Specialists, and interactive Facebook Messenger and Twitter accounts.
This is a call center individuals can contact with their questions, either by email at TSA-ContactCenter@tsa.dhs.gov or via a toll-free telephone line at 1-866-289-9673. There is also an automated service, which is available around the clock, from Monday to Sunday.
A toll-free helpline at 1-855-787-2227, provides a service where travelers with medical conditions or disabilities or their family members can get answers to questions they might have about screening procedures and policies, and what they should expect at the security checkpoint 72 hours before embarking on a trip. Injured service members and veterans, including those involved with the Wounded Warrior Program, are welcome to contact TSA Cares to assist with facilitating the screening process. By contacting this helpline with their questions, travelers can take a lot of the anxiety out of the equation and arrive at the airport knowing exactly what to expect from the screening process.
These are thoroughly trained TSA officials at airports who have received in-depth training in screening and engaging with travelers who have medical conditions or disabilities, or who are traveling with one or more medical devices. Individuals who have concerns about the airport's security screening process, or who need accommodations to the screening procedure, are allowed to request on-the-spot assistance from a Passenger Support Specialist or to ask for a Supervisory TSA Officer.
There are sections dedicated to providing information on traveling with medical conditions, disabilities and medical devices on the official TSA website. These sections contain a wide variety of useful information. Look for the drop-down menu that allows website visitors to choose detailed information on the particular situation they have questions about. Examples include traveling with aphasia, dementia, Alzheimer's, or a brain injury; medications; intellectual disability or autism, low vision or blindness; hard of hearing or deafness; use of internal or external medical devices, or implants; mobility disabilities, devices and aids; support appliances, braces, casts, or prostheses; recent use of radioactive materials or medications; use of service animals, including dogs; respiratory equipment.
TSA also runs a very useful interactive Twitter account with the username @AskTSA. This provides a platform where anyone can post questions about the screening process for medical conditions and medical devices, from passing through a checkpoint if you wear an ostomy pouch beneath your clothing to traveling with a temporary medical condition such as a cast on a broken leg or arm. Travelers who have questions about any aspect of the screening process can get live assistance from a TSA employee every day of the year via this Twitter account. Another option is to use Facebook Messenger to send your comments or questions to the TSA.
Traveling with a medical device to the United States by airplane requires careful planning and communication. By understanding the regulations, preparing your device, and coordinating with TSA and your airline, you can ensure a smoother and more comfortable journey. Remember to pack all necessary accessories and documentation, and be proactive in managing your device throughout your trip. With these preparations in place, you can focus on enjoying your travel experience, knowing that your medical needs are taken care of.