Monday, February 11, 2008

Why We Do What We Do: Additional Screening for People with Hip Replacements

We've received many comments and questions from people who have had hip replacements and other metal implanted in their bodies for medical reasons. Many want to be able to present a letter from their doctor, some type of medical card, or even an x-ray to confirm that it's for an authentic medical reason that they're alarming the metal detector.

We understand that this is an inconvenience to travelers who repeatedly have to go through additional security measures because of a medical condition, but we just can't accept a letter, a card or an x-ray. I’ll explain some of the reasons.

This is a true story: a passenger told a security officer that he knew he was going to set the metal detector off because he had a pin in his hip. He hoped the officer would give him a pass on additional screening. Instead, the security officer followed TSA guidelines patted down the passenger. Guess what? He found a gun strapped to the passenger’s leg. So, if the security officer had just taken his word for it, a gun would have gotten on the plane—and maybe even been in the seat next to you. Things like this happen all the time, more than you would think.

We know those of you with genuine medical conditions are not the problem. And we realize the additional screening makes your checkpoint experience a frustrating one. But if a passenger alarms the metal detector, our security officers must resolve the alarm or the passenger can't get on the plane. We want to be thorough and protect the safety of everyone. No officer wants to be the one to let a gun, knife or bomb get through to an airplane.

If terrorists (or people who just HAVE to take their gun or knife with them on the flight) thought they could get by with a letter from a doctor or medical ID card, they'd quickly find out a way to make fake ones. How can we tell the difference in just a few seconds in a busy checkpoint line? It may make it a bit easier for you—but it makes it way too easy for them. Unfortunately, the pat down is currently the only way to resolve the situation.

Like you, we’re not satisfied with this result either. So, we’ve been busy exploring less invasive technology solutions that will allow officers to distinguish passengers with metallic medical implants from those trying to sneak weapons through the checkpoint. Last year, we began field testing several different types of whole body imagers in Phoenix, Arizona. Some passengers who were required to undergo additional screening were given the option of going through a portal instead of a pat-down. We've gotten great feedback from passengers on the technology, so we plan to continue testing the technology in other airports like JFK in New York, LAX in California, and others later this Spring. If you happen to go through portal in Phoenix or other airports, write back and let us know what you think.