From time to time, headlines in the news highlight stories of people who run into trouble while traveling with medical supplies and liquids. These stories can be scary for anyone who is considering flying with these items, but don’t let your fear of the TSA screening process stop you from traveling. While there are no guarantees that everything will go perfectly, ample preparation ahead of time will greatly reduce your risk of difficulty with the screening process. Here are a few things to keep in mind when preparing to travel.
1. You can and SHOULD call the TSA Cares hotline before your trip. The purpose of TSA Cares is “to assist travelers with disabilities and medical conditions.” According to the TSA’s website, it is recommended that passengers call the hotline 72 hours prior to traveling. Representatives at TSA Cares are able to give advice specific to each individual’s particular needs that will aid in the security screening process, and give the traveler a better idea of what to expect when they arrive at the security checkpoint. Moreover, the TSA Cares program can provide a TSA agent to escort the traveler through the airport and assist in the screening process. The hotline’s toll-free number is 1-855-787-2227 and the email address is [email protected] The hotline’s hours of operation are Monday-Friday from 8am-11pm EST and weekends and holidays from 9am-8pm EST.
2. Use the TSA’s Disability Notification Card. This card can be printed from this link and handed to a TSA agent upon arriving at the security checkpoint to make screeners aware that you will need some type of additional consideration during the screening process. The card will not get you out of any part of the screening process, but it will discreetly alert them to your needs and hopefully help the process to go more smoothly.
3. You CAN carry more medical liquids through security than would be allowed through the 3-1-1 rule. Medical liquids such as formula, breast milk, baby food, and liquid medications are allowed through security checkpoints. The TSA website warns, however, that travelers carrying medical liquids MUST declare medical liquids at the beginning of the screening process due to the additional screening measures required. If you or your child require a specialized ready-to-feed formula that cannot be purchased at a retail store in the event that checked baggage were to get lost, it is a good idea to carry enough formula on board for 2 days. That would hopefully allow enough time once you’ve reached your destination to make emergency arrangements with your supply company or find someone local to the area you are visiting that could spare enough extra to hold you over until your baggage arrives. Any necessary medications should ALWAYS be brought in carry-on luggage.
4. For longer trips, ship supplies and formula to your destination ahead of time if possible. This will prevent you from having to pack all of your needed supplies in your checked luggage.
5. Check with your airline about waived baggage fees for medical supplies. Most airlines that charge fees for checked baggage will allow one bag of medical supplies to be checked without paying the usual baggage fee. You may still want to pack one or two days’ worth of supplies in a separate checked bag as well, just in case the medical supply bag arrives late.
6. Pack your liquids last. If they are the last thing you put in your carry-on bag, they will be easily accessible when it’s time to go through security. Put everything in zippered plastic bags so that when you get to the security checkpoint, it will be easy to pull them out without having to dig through your whole carry-on bag.
7. Print all of the TSA policies that pertain to what you’re carrying with you. While the TSA works to ensure proper training for all its agents, there is always a chance that you will encounter an agent who does not have experience with or a thorough understanding of the policies pertaining to medical liquids and supplies. Print any policies from their website that may apply to your situation and keep them in a zippered plastic bag inside the same bag with your medical liquids where they are easily accessible. If anything comes into question, you can quickly identify the policy that pertains to that item. It is also not a bad idea to have a letter from a physician listing the medical liquids, supplies and equipment that you will be traveling with that may affect the security screening process.
8. Don’t send your liquids through the x-ray machine in a closed carry-on bag. If you have your cans or bottles of liquid formula and medications in zippered plastic bags, it’s easy to pull them out and put them in one of the plastic tubs provided at security. (The plastic bag will also keep them from getting dirty since people put their shoes in those tubs, too.) If you have a soft cooler with medical liquids and ice packs in it, unzip and open it before putting it through the x-ray machine and set it into one of the provided plastic tubs. Before any of your medical liquids go through the x-ray machine, make sure that the TSA agents who are doing the x-ray screening see what you have and hear you say that you are sending medical liquids through the machine so they know what’s coming before it pops up on their viewing screen. Most other medical supplies, such as syringes, pump bags, extension tubes, and medical tape can go through the x-ray machine.
9. It’s okay to ask your TSA screener to put on a clean pair of gloves before handling your medical supplies. Ask nicely, and insist if you need to. Explain that because of the individual’s medical conditions, you are doing everything you can to avoid contact with germs and cross-contamination. It may be a good idea to remind them to put on fresh gloves after coming into contact with your medications as well.
10. When you travel with medical liquids, you WILL be asked to open them, or they may be opened for you. The TSA’s website states, “Liquids, gels, and aerosols are screened by X-ray and medically necessary items in excess of 3.4 ounces will receive additional screening. A passenger could be asked to open the liquid or gel for additional screening. TSA will not touch the liquid or gel during this process. If the passenger does not want a liquid, gel, or aerosol X-rayed or opened for additional screening, he or she should inform the officer before screening begins. Additional screening of the passenger and his or her property may be required, which may include a patdown.” If you are carrying ready-to-feed liquid formula in cans or tetra paks, know ahead of time that you will most likely have to open them and bring something to pour the formula into, such as a spare feeding pump bag or empty baby bottles with tight-fitting lids. Even an empty plastic water bottle will do. To avoid concerns over opened formula spoiling, travel with a small soft cooler and ice packs. Opened formula is good for 24 hours when it is kept refrigerated. Medications will need to be opened and tested as well. Even though the TSA doesn’t require it, it’s a very good idea to put bottles of liquid medications in zippered plastic bags in case of spills. It’s also a good idea to make sure the lids are on tight after they’ve been tested and before you put them back in your carry-on.
11. Frozen items do not count as liquids as long as they are frozen solid. The TSA website states that “Frozen items are permitted as long as they are solid and in a ‘frozen state’ when presented for screening.” This includes ice packs used to keep formula and medications cold. However, if they are at all thawed or slushy, they will be subject to the rules and regulations for liquids. For individuals who use a blenderized diet or breast milk for tube feeds, this would also mean that pre-blended formula or breast milk that has been frozen solid would be permitted without being subject to the additional screening for liquids as long as it is not partially thawed.
12. Allow extra time in case you run into delays at security. Of course this is advised for all travelers, but going through the security screening process with larger-than-usual quantities of medical liquids and individuals with special needs means can take extra time. Find out the recommended arrival time for the airport you will be departing from and add an extra half hour or hour to it, just in case. You may end up sitting at the gate for a longer time than you’d like, but that is much better than missing your flight. If you have allowed ample time before your flight, you will not have the added stress during the security screening process of wondering if you’ll miss your flight or not.
13. Be polite. Patience and a positive attitude can go a long way in helping the screening process go smoothly.