Q: What are the TSA Airport Security procedures for wheelchair users and travelers with disabilities?

Passengers need not get out of their wheelchair when passing through a TSA security checkpoint. If you pass through security in a wheelchair and cannot walk through the metal detector, you will receive screening by way of a pat-down. The following are a list of tips from the TSA regarding the pat-down procedure:

  • The patdown should be conducted by an officer of the same gender. Sometimes, passengers must wait for an officer of the same gender to become available.
  • The passenger can request a private screening at any time and a private screening should be offered when the officer must pat down sensitive areas. During a private screening, another officer will also be present and the passenger may be accompanied by a companion of his or her choosing.
  • A passenger should inform an officer before the patdown begins of any difficulty raising his or her arms, remaining in the position required for a pat-down, or any areas of the body that are painful when touched.
  • A passenger should not be asked to remove or lift any article of clothing to reveal a sensitive body area.
  • In addition to the patdown, TSA may use technology to test for traces of explosive material. If explosive material is detected, the passenger will have to undergo additional screening.

Regardless of how you are screened (metal detector or pat-down), your personal wheelchair or scooter will be inspected, including the seat cushions and any non-removable pouches or fanny packs. It will also be tested for traces of explosives, and any removable pouches will be required to undergo X-ray screening. For more information on getting through airport security with a wheelchair, visit the TSA website or call the TSA Cares Help Line at +1 (855) 787-2227.

Wheelchair user receiving patdown at TSA airport security

If you are traveling with a child who has a disability, TSA will allow parents to carry children under 12 through the metal detector. Doing so can allow the child to forego what could be a stressful or confusing patdown procedure.

Travelers may also sign-up for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry – these trusted traveler programs require an extensive FBI background check, but provide expedited security screenings at the airport. I am a member of Global Entry, and the expedited screening consists only of an examination of my power wheelchair and a swab of the hands to test for explosives. With Global Entry, I no longer have to go through a full-body patdown and am often through security in under two minutes.