What is the low-down on joint replacements and airport security? Some of the questions that I get frequently asked are – Is my hip/knee replacement going to set off metal detectors at the airport? Will I be detained or searched? Do I need a letter or card stating I have a hip/knee replacement?
Following the World Trade Centre terrorist attacks in 2001, airport security checks have significantly increased. Amongst a number of measures, travellers and their travel-on luggage and are now generally screened by metal detectors. People with joint replacement implants will often activate metal detectors. If you are in this position, what should you do?
Well the first thing is don’t panic and just be prepared for some increased scrutiny. It may take a little more time (usually not more than a minute or so) to clear security. Cards or letters indicating that you have a joint replacement can be helpful but won’t allow you to bypass the usual security measures. Indicating to the security staff that you have a joint replacement before entering the scanners is helpful and may save having multiple attempts at going through the detectors. Almost certainly a body sweep with a hand held detector wand will indicate to staff the presence of a hip or knee replacement. Some countries now have total body scanners that use either a microwave type or back scatter technology that allows for direct visualization of any internal implant. Occasionally if security staff are not satisfied a manual “pat down” search may be required.
Interestingly a number of patients have told me that their implants were not detected at certain airports, but identified at others. The sensitivity of various metal detectors clearly varies and implants made of predominantly non ferrous metals like titanium are not always picked up.
The key thing at airport security is to stay calm and be polite. A confrontational approach with security staff generally doesn’t end well – bear in mind that they are doing their best to ensure the safety of all travellers. Being helpful and co-operative will generally see you on your way without undue delay.