Every person, animal and item that goes onto an airplane must be screened before boarding begins. This 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 even if you use a scooter or wheelchair, you and your mobility device will need to be screened in some way.
Wheelchairs, Scooters and Airport Security Screening
If you use a scooter or wheelchair and cannot stand up and walk through the metal detector, 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 passengers who are 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 request a screening officer of your gender.
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 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.
(Tip: Allow extra time for the screening process, as you may have to wait for a screening officer of your gender to become available to do your pat-down inspection.)
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 it 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 metal detector 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 metal detector.
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. 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.
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 ask for 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 unusual circumstances dictate otherwise, the TSA will honor your request.