Carrying important (and often pricey) medications through airport security wracks the nerves of chronically ill air travelers, but trying to transport liquid medications and supplements offers a special challenge. Crohn’s Disease makes liquid nutrition supplements a must for me when strange airplane food looms over the horizon. Plainly put, without the supplements, I may not eat on my travel day.
Unfortunately, about a dozen stressed Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents stand between me and my food for the day each time I travel. This Christmas season, a cancelled flight graced me with the joy of American airport security two days in a row. Oddly, the process for bringing liquids through the exact same checkpoint differed greatly across the 24-hour period.
On the first day of my trip, groggy fliers shuffled toward the metal detectors at 4:30am, I pulled three supplements out of my bag and walked to the TSA agent in front. “The trash can’s over there,” he grunted immediately. I replied, “Actually, can you please check these so I can bring them through?” His repeated, “The trash can’s over there.” Annoyed, I repeated myself as well. Rolling his eyes, he boomed, “For what purpose?” My mouth dropped open at the rather public intrusion, but I replied loudly over the hum of fellow travelers, “Crohn’s Disease.” This, of course, elicited raised eyebrows from about twenty fliers.
After a quick ride through the x-ray, my supplements were flagged as liquids and a second annoyed TSA agent pulled them aside. Thus ensued some back-and-forth about my having Crohn’s Disease and, yes, needing the supplements even though I am not a baby. I asked him to please check them so I could bring them through, to which he sneered, “Oh, I’m going to do more than check them,” and instructed me to open all three. Pointing out that airport security never demanded that before, I explained how supplements need to be refrigerated after opening. Nevertheless, he made me open all three, and dabbed some little test strips in each one. I threw them out a few hours later, scared to drink them unrefrigerated.
The next day, we headed back to the airport for take two. New supplements arrived in the hands of a new, kinder TSA agent. This time, however, she never asked to open them. Instead, she said I would have to be patted down, which I happily agreed to. Next came the most intrusive pat down I have ever experienced. She must have run her hands between my legs and under my waistband five times. I know pat downs are meant to keep us safe, but I certainly did not feel safe in that moment. Since when does a chronic illness equate to a security threat?
I usually fly once annually over Christmas. My old status quo was to throw back a supplement before security, then go hungry the rest of the day. One year, a kind-hearted TSA officer saw me doing this and mentioned that I could carry them through if I had a medical reason. I now carry my liquid supplements with me, but this process has proven far from simple. The following tips may be beneficial to those traveling with liquid supplements or medications, but remember that every airport is different. Follow Official TSA Regulations
The TSA website simply says to inform an officer and that medication may be opened or tested for explosive residues. It also mentions that one can ask to not have it opened in exchange for a pat down and extra carry-on screening. In my experience, unfortunately, adherence to this protocol varies considerably by agent. Keep a Positive Attitude
A positive attitude can go a long way. The TSA agents are obviously already stressed, so I understand their reservations when someone requires extra attention. I try to approach them with the patience and kindness I wish to receive in return. I keep in mind that TSA agents are people too and that this is only a fifteen-minute interaction. Bring a Doctor’s Note
Though I have never bothered to try a doctor’s note, travelers holding more expensive and essential liquid medications may wish to try this (read others’ experiences here).
Air travel is taxing and stressful for everyone, but throwing a chronic illness into the mix can make security alone feel like an impossible task. Though getting necessary liquids through security is daunting, a little patience and planning may help smooth the process.