Airport security and your prosthesis – always an adventure!

One of the amusing/frustrating (but moreso amusing, you have to find things in life amusing, helps keep you sane) parts of being an amputee is dealing with airport security. Now, this wasn’t too bad pre 9/11, but since then when global airport security ramped up, things have gotten… interesting 🙂

Obviously, being an amputee, it’s generally very likely that you have a cocktail of titanium, metal plates, springs, carbon fiber, and so forth, complementing your stump. Most of these things, obviously, are metallic and set off metal detectors. Thus, whenever travelling via an airport (or just seeing people off and having to go through the security checks), you’ll set off the metal detectors. Every time.

Over the years, I’ve learned a thing or two about making this easier for you and the security guards:

Step 1, let them know in advance you’ll set it off as you are an amputee (normally when handing over stuff to go in the x-ray machine or to the attendant standing next to the metal detectors). Providing they have a grasp of your native tongue (or you a basic grasp of theirs), you’ve at least pre-warned them to make the process a bit easier.

Step 2, as soon as you go through the gates and set it off, let the guards know and cooperate in a friendly manner. At the end of the the day, they’re just doing their jobs, and it’s nothing personal. It also means you’re less likely to antagonise them 😉

Step 3, let them do the pat-down, and if they ask you to take your shoes off, ask politely for a chair, and generally all should be fine. I’ve never been asked to remove the leg for inspection, so I don’t have any advice there. I certainly wouldn’t want to though, I reckon that’s taking it a bit too far; but hey, that’s just me.

All through this, it of course helps if you have a partner/parent/friend to grab your gear that has gone through the x-ray machine so it doesn’t get pinched whilst you’re complying with security.

Oh, and remember to factor in that you’ll need extra time to go through security – in Australia, 5-10 minutes is more than ample, and I imagine something similar would apply overseas depending on the level of anal retentivity (I’ve heard from people travelling to the US that security is more thorough there for example, so just keep it in mind that I’m writing with a decidedly Australian perspective!).

Now, all this being said, I do have a few experiences to share!

I’ve travelled between the main airports in Brisbane, Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne in Australia:

  • Brisbane is a bit on the shonky side, but wasn’t too bad – staff were a bit weirded out, but reasonably polite (they gave me a chair when they asked for my shoes, though some of the staff on the day were a bit rude; the guy called over for the final security check was cool though, very relaxed and chirpy, so gold star for him)
  • Adelaide’s generally very good (since the upgrade a few years ago anyway)
  • Sydney is the most thorough, and we’ve had some issues in the past with language issues and staff not understanding my condition
  • Melbourne is average — we had a really delayed flight that day so we were probably a bit grumpy, but I can’t remember any issues

Haven’t travelled anywhere else in Aus in a while via plane, so I don’t have any extra nuggets of info to share. Wifey and I holidayed in NZ a few years ago, and we found the security staff there very relaxed and easy to deal with, so big thanks to NZ for making it an extremely smooth ride, both in the international and domestic terminals.

We’re keen to travel to Japan some time next year, and I’m paranoid that there will be problems when we head home and having to get through security, since my Japanese is a bit on the shonky side by default 😛 Still, we’ll see how we go!

Oh, and the other point to consider when travelling is whether or not you’re taking a walking stick – I generally do to make getting around on foot easier (Wifey and I tend to do a lot of walking around when we go away, [a] because we don’t hire a car, and [b] you get to see more of the place your visiting), but that’s only been in recent years. When travelling domestically I don’t think there’s any problem with what type of walking stick you take (mine’s a cool old wooden cane that was my Great-Grandfather’s), but internationally you’ll need to watch out depending on quarantine rules. Whenever Wifey and I have the opportunity to do some international travel again, I think I’ll go and grab a metal walking stick to make the transition through security/quarantine easier.

So yeah, there’s some travel tips for amputees out there – granted, it’s focused primarily on travelling in Australia, but hopefully it’ll help somewhat 🙂 If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment!


3 Responses to “Airport security and your prosthesis – always an adventure!”

  1. Sean – would you like your full name included with your advice in my ebook? drop me a line at

  2. Check your mail 🙂

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June 2009