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If you need additional advice after reading the guidance on this page please contact your doctor
Your doctor can contact our Aviation Health Unit for more
Most people understand the need for high levels of security at airports and on board aircraft. Methods used to screen passengers and their baggage range from visual inspections and a hand-search to the use of several types of screening equipment. Some people worry that their health may be affected by the equipment used in security checks.
Most people will be used to walking through an archway after having taken all metal items - coins, mobile phones and so on - out of their pockets. These arches are walk through metal detectors and will also detect metal inside the body, such as artificial joints and heart pacemakers.
If the equipment alarm goes off, a security guard will usually carry out a hand-search. It may be helpful to carry a letter from your doctor if you have had a joint replacement or pacemaker which can set off the alarm. You may also be asked to be screened by a security scanner.
Security scanners are used to show items that may be hidden under clothing and have been approved for use at airports in the UK and many other countries.
You may have read articles in the press about being exposed to radiation in the security scanners and be particularly concerned if you fly frequently. All security scanners must use millimeter wave technology, as it poses no known health and safety risks. Millimetre wave scanners utilise a very low power, non-ionising form of electromagnetic technology. Non-ionising radiation refers to electromagnetic waves which do not alter atoms in molecules by removing electrons. The amount of electromagnetic radiation emitted by millimetre wave security scanners is many times lower than that emitted by a mobile phone.
Before this technology was introduced, its safety was checked by the Health Protection Agency (HPA).
At airports where security scanners are used, you can ask for an alternative method of screening if you are unwilling to be scanned. This may be an enhanced hand- search in private to ensure equivalence with a security scanner. Security staff can exercise discretion as to the extent of the search, subject to the security officer being able to reasonably satisfy themselves that no prohibited article is present. This could be more intrusive than a hand-search you may have previously experienced or seen when a passenger has alarmed the walk through metal detector - for example, you may be taken to a private room or cubicle and be asked to remove or loosen items of clothing. Should an enhanced hand-search in private be required, you may have a companion with you if you wish and the search will be carried out by a security staff member of the same sex as you, along with a witness to the search.
A wide range of medical devices worn on or in the body are now available for many healthcare needs. Some are for monitoring purposes, some administer medication and others take the place of bodily functions. Some examples are these are Continuous Glucose Monitoring systems (CGMs), insulin pumps, stoma bags, cochlear implants and feeding tubes.
Prosthetic devices are replacement body parts widely used in modern medical treatment. They may be fitted internally or externally and include replacement lenses in the eye following cataract surgery, artificial heart valves, hip replacements and breast implants. External prostheses include those used in cosmetic surgery or following breast cancer treatment, and artificial limbs.
Both internal and external devices that are partly or completely made of metal are likely to be detected by walk through metal detectors or security scanners. Other external devices, such as external breast prostheses, insulin pumps and stomas, may also be detected by security scanners. Security staff may carry out an additional hand-search if you are wearing an external prosthesis or medical device. This may be carried out in a private room by a security staff member of the same sex as you. You can also ask for a friend or family member travelling with you to be in the room while the search is carried out if you wish.
It is helpful to carry a letter from your doctor confirming that you have been fitted with a medical device or prosthesis, and whether this is fitted internally or is an external device. This should be shown to the security staff, if possible before you go through screening.
Additional useful information for diabetic passengers wearing insulin pumps or CGMs is available from Diabetes.Org.uk, and for those who have had breast implants or wear an external breast prosthesis from the breast cancer charity at: Breast Cancer Care
The manufacturers of medical equipment usually have patient support services available online via the internet or by telephone and they should be able to give advice on any potential problems that can be caused by airport security screening.
It is also helpful to carry a letter from your doctor confirming that you have been fitted with medical equipment, whether this is fitted internally or carried on the outside of the body, and whether you are carrying spare medical equipment in cabin baggage. This should be shown to the security staff, if possible, before you go through screening.
Devices made of or containing metal, such as hip replacements may set off an alarm on walk through metal detectors but will not be affected or damaged by them. They may also be seen on security scanners, but again will not be affected or damaged.
As there have been some concerns about possible effects of airport security screening equipment on insulin pumps and Continuous Glucose Monitoring systems (CGMs), updated guidance from the Department for Transport is that both insulin pumps and CGMs must not be either screened by x-ray or pass through the security scanner, so will be screened by alternative methods.
If you do not wish to be screened by security scanner you can ask for a hand-search. This may be an enhanced hand-search in private to ensure equivalence with a security scanner. Security staff can exercise discretion as to the extent of the search, subject to the security officer being able to reasonably satisfy themselves that no prohibited article is present.
The security officer must explain to the individual to be screened how they are required to present themselves for screening by security scanner. Any alarms will be subject to, at least, a 'targeted search' of the area of the body that has alarmed; it may be necessary for a hand-search in private to be carried out.
You should not be asked to remove your medical device for screening.
If you are carrying a spare medical device remove it from your cabin bag before the X-ray and let the Security Officer know. If you have any concerns or queries before you travel contact the airport and do note that screening equipment and processes may differ from airport to airport.
The CAA and the Airport Operators Association (AOA) have produced a Medical Device Awareness Card for passengers with an insulin pump or CGM that can act as a reminder to passengers to prepare for their journey, and provide the correct documentation at the search area. The card also acts as a reminder to security officers that alternative processes to screening by security scanner and spare devices by x-ray are available.
The Awareness card can be downloaded here.
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