With all the recent fanfare over the latest TSA restrictions, I was a little nervous to get through airport security with Carter (and his wheelchair) this holiday season. Thankfully, I need not have been. Our family of four, including one 12 year old wheelchair user, did not encounter any delays or strange happenings dealing with TSA on our roundtrip flight from Denver to Salt Lake City during Christmas break.
Perhaps that is because we are fairly well versed in flying with wheels and have had lots of practice. So, for those of you traveling with a wheelchair for the first few times, here are my tips.
- Most airports have designated lines for passengers requiring special assistance. Bonus: these lines are usually much shorter! Make sure to keep your whole family together in this special line.
- Even in the designated line, able bodied family members will need to comply with all TSA rules as far as removal of shoes, laptops, liquids, scanners or pat downs.
- If the chair has an under storage basket, make sure it is empty. If you have back pack or bag of medical supplies that usually stays on the chair, take it off and let them put it through x-ray. Notify them if you have medically necessary liquids. It makes the whole process faster.
- The wheelchair user is removed to a line and escorted by a same gender TSA agent to a screening area. You can request a private screening. We have never felt the need. This is the one area I hate. Although we can see our son at all times, his back is always turned to us while we are making our way through the security process. It is anxiety producing on all of this. If your wheelchair user is a minor, prepare them by letting them know you will always be able to see them, even when they can’t see you. This is where it really pays to be traveling with three people. One adult rushes through the line as quickly as possible while the other two family members go collect all the things at the end of the x-ray.
- TSA should wait until the parent is standing there before conducting the pat-down. You can make this easier by letting them know if your child has any medical equipment implanted or sensitive spots they need to avoid. In all our flights we have never had an agent touch a ‘private area’. They do ask him to lean forward in his chair so they can feel the back padding.
- They will swab down the metal parts of the chair and the persons hands testing for explosives with what looks like a small piece of tissue.
Provided you have no issues, you are usually on your merry way. I have found the best way to deal with the extra security when traveling with a wheelchair is to plan extra time and to be as patient and understanding as possible. Believe it or not, the hallow tubing in a wheelchair provides a wonderful place to hide things and for that reason TSA does need to be extra careful when allowing them through security. They are just doing their jobs J
Look for the continuation of this series next week.
Part 2: Easiest Airlines for Wheelchair Travel