If you have a disability, it should never hinder your ability to travel and explore new destinations.

If you have any questions about the TSA’s screening policing, procedures, and what to expect at the security checkpoint, or think you might need assistance during screening, you can fill out this form from TSA Cares Assistance or call (855) 787-2227.

Otherwise, keep reading for some general guidelines for how you can best navigate airport security if you have a disability.

Come Prepared

Before you head to the airport, it would be a good idea to look into and understand the specific security procedures in place for individuals with disabilities, so you know what to expect and ensure a smoother screening experiences.

In short:

  • All travelers must undergo screening, regardless of any disability.
  • You can and should consult the TSA officer about the best way to make you as comfortable as possible during the screening process.
  • If you are unable to go through the metal detector or body scanner, you will be screened through a patdown that will be performed by an officer of the same gender.
  • You are entitled to ask for a private screening.
  • Your mobility aid, equipment and other external medical devices may be swabbed to test for explosives.

Additionally, it can also be a good idea to contact the airline you are flying with ahead of time to tell them about your disability and request assistance.

This can be helpful is you use a mobility aid, service animal, or have any other specific requirements that you are unsure of how to handle.

Arrive Early

We recommend arriving to the airport 2 hours before a domestic flight and 3 hours before an international flight for several reasons:

  1. It will provide you with extra time for requesting assistance or accommodations from the airport or airline.
  2. It will give you enough time to speak with security personnel about your disability, and any medical equipment or assistive devices you may have.
  3. It will take out a lot of the potential stress or anxiety caused by time constraints.

Use a TSA Notification Card

While you can verbally state your medical condition or disability, the TSA have implemented something called a TSA Notification Card that you should take advantage of if you prefer some discretion.

A TSA Notification Card is a small card that you can print off, fill in, and display to a TSA officer when you go through airport security.

Simply visit this page, print the PDF, and state the disability or medical condition you have under “I have the following health condition, disability or medical device that may affect my screening.”

Pack Your Carry-on Bag Efficiently

Packing your carry-on bag thoughtfully and efficiently can streamline the screening process.

We recommend:

  • Separating items such as electronics, liquids, and medications, so they are easily accessible because these have to be taken out and screened separately.
  • While not always necessary, as it depends on state laws, clearly labeling your medication can help speed-up the screening process.
  • Note that liquid medication does not fall under the 3-1-1 rule, so you can carry it in larger amounts.

Ask for a Ride to Your Gate

Depending on the airport, courtesy carts may be available to take you to your gate if you don’t use a wheelchair.

For example, American Airlines provide this service at Dallas-Fort Worth, while Delta Air Lines provide courtesy carts at Los Angeles and Atlanta, to name a couple.

Your attendant will not only take you to your gate, but will also assist you onto the plane during the boarding process.

Related: Should You Tip Airport Wheelchair Attendants?

Know Your Rights

General Rights

  • You have the right to expect that your personal belongings and luggage to be handled with care and kept secure during the screening process.
  • If an item needs to be inspected, it should be done in your presence.
  • Your patdown should be performed by someone of the same gender.
  • You can request a patdown to be performed in private.

If you think that your rights were violated during the security screening process, you can file a complaint by filling out an online form to explain the incident that occurred.

Air-Travel Specific Rights

Under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), all flights that originate or land in the USA are required to provide accommodations to people with disabilities.

As the ACAA is enforced by the U.S. Department of Transportation, you can file a complaint with the DOT by calling 202-366-4000 or through the Federal Relay.

Ella Dunham, a Freelance Travel Journalist and Marketing Manager, boasts an impressive career spanning eight years in the travel and tourism sectors.

Honored as one of "30 Under 30" by TTG Media (the world’s very first weekly travel trade newspaper), a "Tour Operator Travel Guru" and "Legend Award" winner, Ella is also a Fellow of the Institute of Travel, a Member of the Association of Women Travel Executives, has completed over 250 travel modules, and hosts travel-focused segments on national radio shows where she provides insights on travel regulations and destinations.

Ella has visited over 40 countries (with 10 more planned this year).