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Flying with Special Medical Considerations

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by Rhoda Venture

Student groups that fly face unique challenges. Specifically, they must navigate the constantly changing rules and regulations of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). TSA guidelines exist for the safety and security of all air travelers.  This includes those flying with special medical considerations.

Inevitably there will be a student on the trip who requires special medical attention. Whether s/he needs medication, equipment, is autistic or is hearing/vision impaired, be aware of the TSA’s procedures. A little research can go a long way in making the travel process easier.


Clearly label any medications (liquid or solid) since they may be screened or tested for explosives. Let the TSA officer know that they are medically necessary. Separate them from other items to be screened before beginning. Let the agent know about any items associated with the medicine (freezer packs, syringes, pumps, etc.). Declare any liquids that exceed the 3-1-1 rule at the checkpoint for inspection.

Autism/Spectrum Disorders

The screening process can be traumatic for students with autism or spectrum disorders. Inform the TSA officer of this situation as soon as possible. Students with these special needs can be screened with their traveling companions or chaperones. Share any medical documentation with the officer to determine how best to proceed.

External Medical Devices

Report any devices attached to a student’s body (feeding tube, insulin pump, etc.) to the TSA officer upon arrival. Share any documentation for the device and disconnect if possible before screening. If the device cannot be disconnected safely, follow manufacturer guidelines for exposure to X-rays, metal detectors or advanced imaging.


Wheelchairs and scooters require some pre-airport effort. Let the airline know in advance if your traveler has a power wheelchair.  Tell them the make, model and type of battery. Consider how s/he will transfer into the plane seat and snap a photo of the equipment in the event damage may occur.

Security presents a different challenge. Passengers with mobility issues can be screened through the advanced imaging technology, metal detector, or a pat-down. TSA officers will screen seat cushions and any non-removable pouches or fanny packs.

As the student boards the plane (pre-boarding should be available), s/he will need to be transferred to an aisle-sized wheelchair. The student’s personal chair will be returned upon landing, most likely at baggage claim.

Vision and Hearing Impaired

Students with vision or hearing impairments can ask for assistance with screening. Be aware that canes, Braille note-takers and other aids must go through an X-ray. Students with hearing aids or cochlear implants are NOT required to remove them. However, they may be required to undergo additional screenings such as pat down or inspection. Let the TSA officer know of these conditions so they can help.

Traveling with students is always an adventure. Students flying with special medical considerations make it even more so. It doesn’t have to be overwhelming, though. A little research and planning can make for smooth sailing – even through the endless security lines!

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