Travel Tips for Airline Passengers with Special Needs - Heightened Airport Security

Travelers with special needs will find these advisory tips quite helpful in preparing to travel by plane. Travel recommendations for advance preparation, medical documentation, carry-ons, early arrival, airport security, communicating with airlines, and more.

By Oley Foundation

Security checks can vary dramatically from one airport to another. With the proper documentation from their physician and airport security or airline, some consumers have been able to breeze through security checks; no questions were asked about their syringes and their pumps were able to avoid the scan. At the other extreme, some consumers have had their carry-on luggage fully inspected and their flight delayed due to questions about their supplies and the feasibility of having the consumer infuse on board. Bearing this in mind, here are some tips they’ve shared to make travel smoother:

1. Call your airline at least 48 hours prior to boarding (if possible) to ask about the special supplies you want to carry on the plane (the specific content and how much room they will require), and any services that can offer you: i.e. assistance with security checks, porters to help with heavy baggage, special seating etc. (see the Special Needs Travel -Airlines section below).

2. Call airport security to get as many details as you can about the check-in and boarding process. They are probably your best source of information on what is acceptable to go through the airport security checks and what you can take with you on the plane. One consumer recommends going to the airport security office a few days before your trip, and having a manager inspect the carry-on, packed as you intend to pack it, and a written list of all items in the bag. Ask the manager to sign your contents list including the date and their position. If you’ve determined that your pump should not be exposed to x-rays (see "pump" section below) talk to security now about how to get a waiver for your pump.

3. Go to the airport early in case you have trouble. Most airlines ask passengers with special needs to arrive 1/2 to 1 hour before the usual check-in time. Note, they are now recommending regular passengers arrive two hours prior to their flight time. Check-in lines are reportedly long, and random searches are common.

4. Carry at least one night or 24 hours worth of everything you will need on board with you: pump, solution/formula, supplies and medications. (If it is not possible for your home care provider to overnight critical supplies to your destination should your baggage be lost, you should carry on more.) All medications, especially narcotics, should be clearly labeled and in their original containers. If you are carrying syringes, the airlines will ask you to carry the shortest needle that will do the job.

5. Bring your Travel/Hospitalization packet with you, which includes your medical history and contacting information for your physician and home care company. (Copies are available by calling (800)776-OLEY or visiting the Oley website.)

6. Bring a letter from your physician (and home care company, if necessary, for an updated supply list). The letter should list each and every supply you have with you, including your medications, additives, etc. The letter should explain why you need these supplies, especially detailing the need for syringes (IV medications or vitamins) and narcotics, if you use these. Be sure the letter states that it is safe for you to fly with your condition, and with the therapy if you plan to infuse on board. A copy of this letter should be in your carry-on luggage, and in every piece of checked luggage that contains supplies.

Special Needs Travel - Airlines

Most airlines have a program for travelers with special needs. If you are internet savvy, start by checking their website usually under "Traveler’s Services" or "Products & Services". For example, several airlines will arrange for a "walk around" the detector and can arrange for a private security check, if needed. Almost all the airlines mentioned that special needs items, such as an oxygen tank or medical pump, were not counted as part of your carry on luggage.

Follow-up with a phone call, usually to reservations, to make arrangements for services, verify details or ask questions about your specific needs. Note that all airlines ask special needs passengers to make arrangements for any special services they are requesting at least 48 hours in advance. Also, when making reservations, be sure to ask whether the airline you are booking with is the same airline that will service you during the whole trip. Services may vary from one airline to another, and you should verify that each airline you will be traveling with can accommodate your needs.

Keep in mind, everyone’s experience is going to be different, but the one sure fact, is that planning ahead and behaving in a non-confrontational manner, will often make the process a lot smoother at the airport. If necessary, all airlines have complaint resolution offices, and in Canada and the United States, there are government complaint resolution offices as well.

Reprinted with permission of the Oley Foundation. For more information on home tube or IV feeding visit