Every person, animal and item that goes onto an airplane must be screened before boarding begins. This also holds true for wheelchairs, walkers and other mobility devices. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security officers have found all kinds of strange and potentially dangerous items secreted in wheelchairs and on the passengers who use them, including loaded guns and packages of cocaine. This means that you and your mobility device will need to be screened in some way before you will be allowed to board your airplane.
Wheelchairs, Scooters and Airport Security Screening
If you use a scooter or wheelchair and cannot stand for several seconds or walk to and through the advanced imaging technology portal, you will be screened while you are using your mobility device. This will involve a visual and physical (pat-down) inspection as well as an explosives trace screening. The pat-down inspection is necessary because neither a metal detector nor a whole body imaging device can be used on a passenger who is seated in a scooter or wheelchair. You can always ask for a private pat-down inspection; you certainly do not have to go through this process in public if it makes you feel uncomfortable.
You also have the right to expect a screening officer of your gender. The TSA will provide a same-gender screening officer, but you should assume that it may take some time for your screening officer to arrive at the security checkpoint and plan your airport arrival time accordingly.
If you do not wish to discuss your medical condition in front of a large group of people, you can print out a TSA Disability Notification Card at home, fill it out, and hand it to the screening officer when you reach the airport security checkpoint. You are not required to provide a Disability Notification Card.
You will need to place baskets, saddlebags, wheelchair assembly tools, purses and other carry-on items on the X-ray machine belt. If this is difficult for you to do, ask your security screening officer to help you.
Walkers and Airport Security Screening
Your walker must be X-rayed if it it small enough to fit through the X-ray machine. You should collapse or fold your walker before the X-ray process begins. Any baskets or bags that normally hang from your walker must go through the X-ray machine, too. Security screeners will inspect your walker if is too large to be X-rayed.
If you need help standing or walking through the screening portal without your walker, tell your security screener and ask for assistance. You should also tell the security screener if you will need your mobility device right after it is inspected so that it can be returned to you as quickly as possible.
Bringing Canes and Crutches Through Airport Security
Canes and crutches must also go through the X-ray machine. You should collapse your cane before it is X-rayed. You can ask for help standing or walking through the screening portal.
White collapsible canes do not need to be X-rayed.
What to Do if Problems Occur During Your Security Screening
If problems arise during your screening, ask to speak with a TSA supervisor. The supervisor will provide guidance to the on-duty screening officers to ensure that proper procedures are followed. You can also email the TSA at TSA-ContactCenter@dhs.gov. If you have difficulties going through the screening process because you are on a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) watch list, you can contact the One-Stop Travelers' Redress Program at the DHS website to resolve this issue and get a redress control number for future use.
The Bottom Line
TSA screening officers have been trained to help airline passengers go through the security screening process with as much dignity as possible. They are supposed to help you stand, walk and place items on the X-ray belt if you ask for help. If you request or must go through a pat-down screening, they will conduct this inspection away from public view if you ask them to. You can ask for a security screening officer of your gender if you must undergo a pat-down. Unless extremely unusual circumstances dictate otherwise, the TSA will honor your request.