Flying with the Greatest of Ease

Carry-On Baggage Tips

Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

The imposition of stricter security measures for commercial airline passengers following the Aug. 10, 2006, arrests of individuals engaged in a terrorist plot to bomb U.S.-bound planes from Britain has left many travelers wondering how to manage their health conditions while traveling. The following tips may help those who are concerned about health issues when traveling by air:

  1. Remember that prescription medications are allowed in carry-on bags, with some restrictions. Prescriptions must be in their original pharmacy container labeled with the name of the passenger. Be sure that the name is the same as on your ticket. Don't combine your medications into one bottle; take each type of medication in its own labeled bottle. Place all medications in a plastic bag for ease during security screening.

  2. Nonprescription medications are also allowed, but remember to take these in their original containers, too. Take small packages containing the amount of medication you might reasonably expect to need while traveling—family-size bottles containing 500 tablets may be even considered suspicious.

  3. Liquids, gels, and aerosol preparations are allowed as long as these are in 3-ounce or smaller containers. Larger containers that are partially full are not permitted. All liquids, gels, and aerosols must be placed in a single, quart-size, zip-top, clear plastic bag. Each traveler can use only one plastic bag. These bags must be removed from carry-on baggage and placed in a bin or on the conveyor belt for x-ray screening.

  4. If you have diabetes, you may bring your insulin on board. Inspection will be smoother if you remember to have a copy of your prescription with you. You are also allowed to take treatments for low blood sugar, including gels to treat low blood sugar. Again, any medically necessary products of more than 3 ounces must be kept separate and declared to the security officer at the time of passenger screening.

  5. Infant formula and breast milk are allowed in carry-on luggage if you are traveling with an infant. Canned, jarred, or processed baby food is permitted in your carry-on baggage. Liquids including water, juice, or liquid nutrition or gels for passengers with a disability or medical condition are permitted "in the absence of suspicious activity." You (or your child) will not be required to taste these items at the security checkpoint, but like all carry-on items, these must be screened.

  6. Inhalers to treat asthma or breathing problems are also allowed on board after they have been screened at the security checkpoint.

  7. Items used to augment the body for medical or cosmetic reasons, such as mastectomy products, prosthetic breasts, bras or shells containing gels, saline solution, or other liquids, are also allowed.

  8. Contact your airline if you need special assistance with transportation or other medical needs prior to boarding. Airlines are still responsible for offering assistance to passengers with extra needs. The TSA security officer's job is limited to assistance with security screening. Ask the airline for a gate pass so that your companion or caretaker can accompany you to the gate if necessary.

  9. If you need special help during the security screening, speak up. Explain the situation to the security officer, including telling the officer your level of ability (for example, if you are not able to walk through the metal detector or unable to hold your arms upright). Security officers can examine motility aids such as wheelchairs while you are still seated in them if necessary, and they can help you with shoe removal and putting your shoes back on.

  10. Finally, remain patient and calm. The enhanced security requirements are stressful for everyone, and keeping your frustration in check can make everyone's experience easier.

Reference: U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Web site, Accessed 2/1/2008.

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