A Q&A with the TSA: Getting Through Airport Screenings with Ease
It’s vacation time! If you’re flying, are you anxious about getting to your gate at the airport? Going through a TSA screening before a flight can induce anxiety in even the most seasoned traveler. You may be thinking:
“What can I bring?”
“Why is the line so long? Are they searching everybody a little more today?
“Why do I have to take off my shoes?"
“What if I get picked for a private screening?”
And if you’re wearing anything that’s not typical — like absorbent protection — anxiety levels can soar even higher. What if the agent asks me what I’m wearing in front of everybody, or says something about “diapers” so that everyone in line can hear?
To find out what travelers with incontinence can do to ease their fears, we spoke to TSA press secretary Ross Feinstein for information and advice.
“We screen more than 1.8 million people every day,” he shared. “We deal with a lot of passengers at around 450 airports, so we see a lot of different issues. All of our employees receive sensitivity training so there shouldn’t be any problems for these passengers with medical conditions.”
Feinstein explained that while incontinence protection might stand out on the TSA’s imaging system, it’s not because of wetness. “Our Advanced Imaging Technology Units are looking for any anomaly on the individual,” Feinstein said. “It’s not specifically screening for liquids, though protection may be detected.”
So how can you minimize the questions and maximize discretion when you have to go through a TSA screening?
Use the TSA Notification Card. The TSA has a notification card on their website that you can use to communicate that you have a health condition that might affect your screening. It’s a great option if you’re uncomfortable talking about your condition publicly. It can be printed, filled out and handed to the agent at the checkpoint.
Request a Passenger Support Specialist. The “TSA Cares” program provides Passenger Support Specialists (PSS) who work to resolve traveler-screening concerns at airports across the country. These agents receive specialized training in how to ensure that customers are comfortable with the screening process. They’re also familiar with most medical conditions and are authorized to handle special needs. While you can ask for a PSS agent on the spot, Feinstein recommends that you request their support 72 hours in advance by calling 255.787.2227, Monday through Friday from 9am to 9pm EST.
Request a private screening. Feinstein told us that “any passenger can request a private screening and they can always bring a friend or family member with them.” This extra bit of privacy may alleviate your fear of being “outed” for wearing absorbent undergarments in front of other passengers.
Sign up for the TSA Precheck Program. If you meet the program eligibility requirements, you can sign up for TSA Precheck, which allows low-risk passengers to go through expedited, more efficient security screening. According to Feinstein, “It’s $85 for five years and the vast majority of these people are screened through a walk-through metal detector” which won’t detect absorbent protection. (Please note that a TSA Precheck certification doesn’t guarantee this type of screening.)
Report any problems. If you have a negative experience with any TSA checkpoint or agent, Feinstein recommends that you report it. “If they’re uncomfortable reporting their complaint at the airport, they can report it at www.tsa.gov and it will be transmitted to the leadership team at that airport. Each and every complaint is addressed.”
As you plan your flights, consider the TSA screening process as you would any other aspect of traveling. It’s simply a part of the process that we all go through. And if it helps you feel more comfortable to ask for help, TSA’s Feinstein claims that their agents will be there to give it to you.
What about you? How has your experience been getting through airport screenings?