Tips on Airport Travel, Screening, and TSA Meet and Assist Services for Passengers with Disabilities

TSA Cares Logo
TSA Cares Logo

The following is information on TSA Meet and Assist services for airline passengers with disabilities, plus safety information on airport scanners, and safe use by persons with programmable shunts for hydrocephalus, and other medical implants such as deep brain stimulators (DBS) for Parkinson’s Disease. I also have information below on TSA Meet and Assist services for persons with cognitive disabilities, and updated information on the Air Carrier Access Act.

The link below contains safety information on on the affects of magnetic fields, metal detectors, and x-rays on deep brain stimulators (DBS). SEE pages 40, 42, and 43.

Guide to Deep Brain Stimulators for Parkinson’s Disease

Unfortunately, there is no universal guide to magnetic field safety information for programmable shunt for hydrocephalus. Some of the shunts today are unaffected by magnetic fields, and some still are. I refer you to a blog I have written on mHealth tools for hydrocephalus, where in there, I discuss EMF or metal detector mobile apps that can be used to screen your surroundings for magnetic field strength. Beyond that, I would ask your neurosurgeon for information on your shunt from its manufacturer.

mHealth Tools & Accommodations for Living with Hydrocephalus

Airport scanners had earlier worried me as I live with a programmable CNS shunt for hydrocephalus, and I have been over-exposed to radiation from CT brain scans. With my Codman Certas CNS shunt valve, I do not go thru the metal detectors at airports or anywhere (even though some state magnetic field is safe for my shunt). I recommend that if you have any type of programmable CNS shunt, that you do not go thru metal detectors.

I’ve since updated this blog with newer information on the safety of airport scanners.

When I wrote this blog in 2012, I could not get any information on whether I could go thru the metal detectors & low frequency body scanners at the airports with my Codman programmable Certas brain shunt. Neither Codman or TSA could tell me if it was safe to go thru the scanners when I telephoned them. All Codman would say is my Certas shunt was safe up to 80 guasse. TSA did not know of the field strength of airport metal detectors and scanners. I have provided updated information on the safety of airport scanners and the Air Carrier Access Act in this May 2015 update.

Shunt Illustration for Hydrocephalus
Shunt Illustration for Hydrocephalus

The Air Carrier Access Act, Title 14 CFR Part 382, explains protections and discrimination of persons with a disability. It also provides information for filing a complaint if you feel you have been mistreated, which is more likely to happen if you live with a disability that is not so obvious, such as hydrocephalus. You may file a complaint via the 2nd link below.

Last July 2014, I was faced with a horrible incident by Delta Airlines that might be protected by the Air Carrier Access Act. I  was traveling to Northern Michigan when my plane was rerouted to Cincinnati, Ohio, when the Detroit airport was temporily closed due to a rain storm. At 1:30 a.m. I was dropped off at the Detroit airport without any overnight provisions or instructions, and was forced to sleep on a seat in the airport. I had to track down airport security to ask them what to do and where to sleep. I felt Delta’s failure to help arrange for overnight accommodations, and lack of information when I arrived late at the Detroit airport, was a violation of TSA’s Meet and Assist provisions of the Air Carrier Access Act. In their view, the only accommodation they need provide me was a “wheelchair.” They offered no assistance for an individual with a cognitive disability. I still may explore a complaint as I need to know what accommodations are available to me in the event I am not feeling well, and suffer cognitive and memory challenges while traveling. Please let me know if you’ve had any experiences with Air Carrier Access Act complaints regarding cognitive disabilities.

Air Carrier Access Act, U.S. Department of Transportation:

http://www.dot.gov/airconsumer/passengers-disabilities

File a Complaint:

http://www.dot.gov/airconsumer/file-consumer-complaint

As of 2015, I feel more confident going through either x-ray or the newer millimeter wave scanner at airports in the interest of time during travel. Yes, there is some very slight x-ray or magnetic field exposure. But for the occasional flight, I find it safe to pass through. If for any reason you feel uncomfortable with any of the scanners, you may request a “pat down screening,” which takes an additional 15 minutes, which involves a TSA employee of your sex to use the backs of their hands in a pat down. I find these completely non-threatening. Some programmable shunts & pacemakers may still be affected by airport metal detectors. So a pat down screening can be a safe alternative. You may also request to go in a private area – though I did not opt for this. The pat down bypasses having to undergo the metal detectors and whole body scanners. When I travelled in 2014, I opted to go thru the scanners in the interest of time. Ultimately, you should do what you are comfortable with. I just want to report that I do NOT see any adverse effect of airport scanners on programmable shunts according to the April 2014 study I have included below.

A passenger undergoes a standard wholle body scan during check-in.
A passenger undergoes a standard wholle body scan during check-in.

UPDATED INFORMATION ON AIRPORT SCANNERS:

If you have a programmable brain shunt, pacemaker, or other medical implant, I am told that you can safely go thru either the whole body x-ray scanner, or Millimeter Wave scanner at airports. This April 2014 study below lists information and radiation exposure levels from airport scanners.

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1687850714000168

The effective dose estimates from a single scan x-ray range from 0.015 μSv to 0.88 μSv. To put these numbers into perspective, air travel can expose a passenger to 0.04 μSv per minute from cosmic radiation (Zanotti-Fregonara & Hindie, 2011). To look at this from another perspective, a passenger would have to pass through a backscatter scanner 1000–2000 times to equal the dose from a medical chest X-ray (Mahesh, 2010) which is also equivalent to the dose from 3 to 9 min of daily living (Mehta & Smith-Bindman, 2011).

Alternately, more airports are using the Millimeter-wave system scanner. These units do not expose passengers to ionizing radiation. They use a form of electromagnetic radiation called millimeter-waves that lie in the spectral region between radio waves and infrared to obtain images. The millimeter-wave scanners possess a unique property to pass transparently through lightweight materials such as clothing (Moulder, 2012).

Although millimeter-wave scanners are becoming the primary full-body scanners used at airport security checks, there is still an alarmingly small amount of information about its potential health effects. The millimeter-wave safety standards are dose rate (power density) standards expressed in mW/m2. The power density for a millimeter –wave scan is between 0.00001 and 0.0006 mW/cm2 (Moulder, 2012). These scanners are believed to be less harmful to passengers because they emit nonionizing radiation and presumably do not have the potential for cancer causing DNA damage.

TSA MEET & ASSIST:

If you suffer from a cognitive or intellectual disability, such as hydrocephalus, autism, or dimentia, and would like to use the special TSA assistance services during check-in, all you need do is inform an attendant at the airline check-in counter.

They will call a TSA representative over for you, and you can be escorted either by wheel chair, or by walking with you, thru security and to boading your plane. If you suffer from a cognitive disability, having someone accompany you thru these security procedures, screening or pat down, and all the way thru to your gate to boarding your plane, can be INVALUABLE. Below, is information on travel for passengers with disabilities.

TSA Information for Passengers with Disabilities:

http://www.tsa.gov/traveler-information/travelers-disabilities-and-medical-conditions

You can obtain a TSA Notification Card on their site that you can fill in and print and bring with you. But it is not necessary. On their web site, you will also find a number of links for different types of implants and disabilities, including, cognitive disability which is grouped with autism. Never before has there been much assistance for people with brain injury & disorders. So this is a welcome advancement.

By law, TSA & airline staff are not permitted to question you about a disability or medical implant. What you choose to share is up to you. But, I think it’s a good idea to be forthright as it helps all involved.

Assistance with Cognitive or Intellectual Disabilities:

http://www.tsa.gov/traveler-information/autism-or-intellectual-disabilities

Brain health and mental health is the biggest challenge of the 21st Century.
Brain health will become the biggest challenge of the 21st Century.

If you also suffer from sensory processing disorder, where you are sensitive to sound, lights, scents, or motion, you will no doubt want to take additional steps to insure you do not get overwhelmed by airport noise and commotion. I recommend musician’s earplugs from when you first arrive at the airport until the plane lands at its final destination. Adequate hydration, and drinks like ginger ale, are also helpful for complaints associated with sensory processing disorder. Remember to bring any necessary carry on items and clothing, plus medication you may need on your flight.

TSA Meet & Assist also gives you pre-boarding privileges on all airlines.

With airlines such as Jet Blue and Southwest, it allows you to bypass having to obtain a good seat ahead of time. It is nice to know this is available when you’re not feeling well. These services are available for individuals with medical implants & disabilities, and are based on the “honor” system, meaning, you don’t need to show proof of disability or implant. But don’t abuse it. Be honest!

The TSA or Transportation Safety Authority revamped many of its travel & security policies over the last couple of years for travelers with medical implants and/or disabilities, particularly cognitive disabilities from any number of disorders from TBI and hydrocephalus to autism. Below, I’ve listed links for traveling with cognitive disabilities and other disabilities for many of the major airlines.

American Airlines:

http://www.aa.com/i18n/travelInformation/specialAssistance/cogDevDisabilities.jsp

Southwest Airlines:

https://www.southwest.com/html/customer-service/unique-travel-needs/customers-with-disabilities-pol.html

Jet Blue:

https://www.jetblue.com/travel/special-needs/cognitive-disabilities/

Delta Airlines:

http://www.delta.com/content/www/en_US/traveling-with-us/special-travel-needs/disabilities.html

Alaska Airlines:

http://www.alaskaair.com/content/travel-info/accessible-services/specialservices-developmental.aspx

Flyer Talk Forum:

http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/disability-travel/1347886-airport-advice-travelers-disabilities.html

These services have been in the makes for quite a few years since 911 and were introduced in 2011 as “TSA Cares.” They can help make an otherwise terribly flying experience more bearable, particularly if you live with an affected medical implant, brain disorder, and/or cognitive disability. I hope you find this information helpful.

Stephen Dolle, Neuroscientist & Drum Circle Facilitator
Stephen Dolle, Neuroscientist & Drum Circle Facilitator

If you would like to know more about my efforts with cognitive disabilities, sensory processing disorders (SPDs), drum circles for brain health, mHealth app monitoring, and hydrocephalus, please visit my web site below. Please contact me per the information below. Feel free to CLICK and SAVE my contact JPEG card.

Stephen Dolle
Neuroscientist, mHealth Inventor & Drum Circle Facilitator
Tel. (949) 642-4592  contact[at]dollecommunications[dot]com
Hydrocephalus Survivor w/ 12 Shunt Revisions
DolleCommunications.com

Contact Stephen Dolle
Contact Stephen Dolle
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6 thoughts on “Tips on Airport Travel, Screening, and TSA Meet and Assist Services for Passengers with Disabilities

  1. Every travel agency and hotels provides meet and assist services of their guest on Arrival / Departure Hall…and also arrange on request to feel you comfortable after landing in a known country.

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