When one of my friends came to visit my college campus, they asked if I had any advice for getting through airport security with a blindness cane, as they were worried that their cane would be confiscated or that they would end up losing items while going through the TSA line. I’ve been through airport security and TSA lines multiple times both as a traveler with low vision and as an airport escort for friends who are blind or that have low vision, so today I will be sharing my favorite tips for navigating airport security lines with vision loss.
The best tool for getting through airport security- TSA PreCheck
TSA PreCheck is a trusted traveler program for US citizens that allows members to receive expedited security checks at participating airports. With a TSA PreCheck, travelers do not have to remove their belt, shoes, light jacket, toiletries, laptops, or other small items from their person or from their bags, and many people can get through airport security in a minute or less. TSA PreCheck costs $85 for five years, and has been a game changer for me as a traveler with low vision.
Determine if an item is safe to pack by direct messaging the TSA
A few years ago, I watched with frustration as a tube of toothpaste I thought met TSA regulations for toiletries was thrown away, and I started wondering if there was a way to ask in advance if an item was safe to travel with. Since then, I’ve learned that travelers can direct message the TSA on Twitter, Facebook Messenger, or Apple Messages, as well as send a text, to determine if an item is safe for travel or how it should be packed. This was especially helpful when I was trying to pack allergy safe food for a trip and wasn’t entirely sure how to pack it in my backpack.
- Customer Service | Transportation Security Administration (tsa.gov)
- How I Use Google Assistant While Traveling
Getting an airport escort/gate pass for assistance
When my friends who are blind or that have no usable vision travel, they often request a family member or friend to serve as an airport escort or get a gate pass to accompany them through airport security and to help them find their gate. An airport escort does not have to have a plane ticket but still has to go through TSA and present a government issued ID card and can accompany a traveler up until they board the plane. The escort pass can be requested at the airline service desk located at the entrance.
In most cases, one airport escort/gate pass is issued per traveler, though some agents may make exceptions and issue two- for example, my brother and I both got airport escort passes to accompany a friend with no usable vision to their gate.
Requesting assistance at the airport
For travelers who will need assistance at the airport with getting through airport security or getting to their gate, many airlines have an option when purchasing tickets for travelers to indicate that they are blind or visually impaired and may need a gate escort. This can also be requested by calling the airline in advance or by going to the customer service desk, though I recommend doing this as far in advance as possible to ensure that assistance is available.
- Smartphone Apps For Orientation and Mobility
- Blindness Canes and GPS Applications: Navigating College Campuses
Can I use a blindness cane in the TSA screening line?
Blindness canes have to travel through the metal detector along with luggage and other items, so people with vision loss will not be able to use their canes in the airport security line. However, TSA agents may be able to serve as a human guide or provide a temporary cane that can be used for balance or alerting to obstacles when walking through the metal detector. Another option is to hand the blindness cane to a TSA agent through the metal detector, and have the TSA agent check it for explosive residue before handing it back to the traveler.
Before putting the blindness cane on the conveyor belt, I recommend alerting an agent that the traveler is blind or has low vision, so that they can retrieve their cane as soon as possible or get additional assistance in the meantime.
Removing shoes for TSA, or asking for alternative screening
A popular tip for getting through TSA lines and airport security quickly is to wear shoes without laces or that can easily be slipped on/off so that travelers can quickly get their shoes back on before leaving for their gate. For people that can’t remove their shoes due to balance issues, TSA agents can perform an alternative screening by request, though this will likely take more time.
Some TSA agents may allow travelers with a blindness cane or other mobility aids to keep their shoes on, but will require them to go to a different screening line.
Pack toiletries and any items that may need to be removed in a personal item, when possible
I find it a lot easier to remove my laptop and other items from my backpack compared to my suitcase, so when I am packing for a trip I will typically put these items in my personal item instead of my suitcase so that I don’t have to worry about unzipping my entire suitcase for one small bag.
Keep track of how many bins are used in the screening process
Items that go through airport security are often corraled in plastic bins, and it’s helpful to keep a mental count of how many bins a traveler uses so they can ensure they have all their items accounted for. I try to put at least one brightly colored item in each of my bins so it is easier for me to spot items as they are coming off of the conveyor belt.
Other tips for going through airport security with low vision
- Some travelers may use a blindness cane for identity purposes when traveling through the airport- this does not mean that they rely on the cane for navigation, rather it signals to others that they are visually impaired
- Colorful backpacks, tags, and suitcases are often easier to identify and spot on TSA conveyor belts and in airport security and can be helpful for travelers with low vision who want to locate items quickly
- When checking identification, TSA agents may require travelers to remove glasses, even if their identification photo includes a photo of them wearing glasses.