TSA Airport Security Screenings For Wheelchair Users

March 14, 2016 | 8:00 am | By Pants Up Easy

Going through airport security is a hassle for pretty much everyone, and it always has been. Even before 9/11, it was seen as such a pain that it was regular fodder for stand-up comics. But for those in a wheelchair, there can be a whole different set of headaches when trying to board a plane. 

So what should you expect from your own foray into airport security? Here’s what you need to know:

Disclaimer: Not everyone will be as familiar with the process as you are

We’re about to share a lot of information that should be common knowledge in the travel industry – but that doesn’t mean there won’t be clueless people you run into along the way. If you come across airport staff, TSA personnel or any other professional at the airport that doesn’t appear to know the right course of action, don’t just accept it. Ask to speak to a supervisor. If you know something isn’t right, speak up.

You shouldn’t have to leave your wheelchair

This should go without saying, but no one should expect you to leave your wheelchair to get through security. Of course, that prohibits you from going through the X-ray scanner or metal detector. Therefore, you’ll have to wait for a patdown.

Gender is an important factor

You’ll be patted down by someone who is the same gender as you are. However, in order to ensure this happens, you may have to wait for a TSA officer of that gender to become available.

You can make it private if you prefer

At any time during the process, you have the right to request that the patdown be moved to a private area. In fact, if the patdown process will involve sensitive areas, then the TSA officer should offer a private screening (but remember, don’t assume they’ll know this). Another TSA agent will be present in the private area, and you can opt to have a companion come with you as well.

Your wheelchair will be inspected separately

Just because you got patted down doesn’t mean your wheelchair is automatically clean. The TSA will inspect the chair and scan it for explosive materials. Anything that can be removed will undergo x-ray screening, and the TSA will look closely at the rest, including seat cushions, pouches and other accessories.

Discuss any problem areas with TSA beforehand

For instance, do you have any areas that are sensitive or painful when touched? Inform the agent before the patdown begins. Additionally, they should be made aware of any difficulties raising your arms or if you’ll have trouble staying in the same position during the patdown.

If you don’t pass, be prepared for additional screening

The vast majority of air travelers make it through security quickly and without issue. However, if the explosive material scan finds anything on your person or the wheelchair, you’re going to be subject to additional (and more intense) screening.

You can always contact the TSA with concerns

They can be reached by phone on the TSA Cares Help Line: (855) 787-2227; or via the agency website. Additionally, if you’d like more information on airport screening and the security process, check out their lengthy Frequently Asked Questions section.

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