I always feel a sense of relief when I finally slide into my seat and click my seatbelt into place. Airline travel is usually not a relaxing experience under the best of circumstances, and getting through an airport when you have special needs can be downright stressful. However, a little extra planning and preparation can help make sure your next trip is as safe, enjoyable, and stress-free as possible.
Here are a few things to think about before you head to the airport if you or someone you are traveling with has cancer.
1. You may need medical clearance.
If cancer or cancer treatment is causing symptoms or side effects, is making you look ill, or requires you to use oxygen, the airline crew can refuse to let you on the plane. Airlines are responsible for the safety of their passengers, so they have the right to stop passengers from boarding if they feel that a person’s medical conditions may get worse or cause a serious issue during the flight.
Be prepared ahead of time. Contact your airline before making travel plans to find out if you will need medical clearance to fly and how to get it. This is also true if you carry medical equipment, like portable oxygen.
2. Be sure to ask for help if you need it.
Depending on your condition, you or your travel companion may need extra help getting through the airport or onto the plane. If so, talk with airline staff about the type of assistance they can provide. This may include:
Being able to check‐in or board the plane early
Help carrying luggage or special equipment
Use of a wheelchair or cart
Assistance boarding the plane
If needed, you should also make arrangements for supplementary oxygen within the airport terminal, including all layovers.
3. Pack medications and medical equipment in your carry-on bag.
You can never guarantee that your checked baggage will always make the journey with you. So, it’s important to put all of your medications in your carry-on bag. Don’t worry about taking liquid medications through security. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) allows people to bring more than 3.4 ounces of liquid medications through security. However, you must tell the TSA agent beforehand and take it out of your bag. Anything you need to keep medications cold, such as freezer packs or frozen gel packs, are also allowed, as are medical supplies like IV bags, pumps, and syringes. You may need to wait for your medications to go through extra screening, though.
4. Know the security screening rules.
You don’t have to carry any sort of medical documents when you go through security. However, some people with cancer find it helpful to use a TSA Notification Card to discreetly communicate with TSA agents about their condition. These cards may be especially useful if you:
Are going through chemotherapy and wear a head covering. Anyone is allowed to wear a scarf or other head covering through a security checkpoint. However, you might have to go through additional security screening, such as a pat-down search of the head covering. If you are asked to remove your head covering, you can do so in a private screening area.
Wear a breast prosthesis. You do not have to remove your breast prosthesis before you go through security. Tell the TSA agent about it before going through screening. During screening, you may be asked to lift or remove your top to show your breast prosthesis. You may ask for a drape or private screening if this happens. If you decide to put your prosthesis in your carry-on bag instead of wearing it, it does not have to fit in a quart-sized, clear zip-top bag, even if it contains a gel or liquid. If you do remove your prosthesis, it will need to go through x-ray screening.
Have a port or catheter. You will need to tell the TSA agent about your port or catheter before screening begins and let them know where it is located. You may have to go through additional screening, but imaging technology has made this less likely. If screening involves a pat-down, be sure to tell the TSA agent if touching the port or catheter could cause pain or a medical problem.
Have an ostomy. People with an ostomy do not have to empty or show the ostomy before going through airport security. However, you should tell the TSA agent about the ostomy before the screening process begins.
If you have any questions about screening policies, procedures, and what to expect at the security checkpoint, you can call the free TSA Cares hotline at 1-855-787-2227.
Revised September 27, 2017.