Before the tragic events of September 11th, airport security allowed passengers to pass through with bags containing everything one might need for a holiday, including knives, liquids, and other devices. But since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, several changes to airport security regulations have attempted to prevent passengers from creating or using weapons and explosives.

Liquids are currently permitted in carry-on baggage, providing they are at most 100 milliliters. However, with the implementation of new technologically advanced security scanners, this rule is starting to be relaxed at major airports and across some regions.

Screening measures were also made stricter to stop further strikes, including the implementation of metal detectors, both archways and handheld detectors. But what about passengers who have metal medical implants in their bodies?

Often detected

Airport metal detectors are susceptible to metals, including orthopedic metal implants inside the body. As a result, people with metal implants, such as those used to save limbs and patients' lives, often face more significant and frequent inconveniences, with more invasive security checks becoming commonplace. According to the London Upper Limb Surgery, the detection rate for knee replacement is around 70%; for total hip replacement, it is 30%; for intramedullary rods, plates, and screws, it is about 40%. With that said, depending on how deep the metal implant is in a passenger's body, the alarm may not even go off.

Behind the screen of an Airport X-Ray Machine.
Photo: Diy13 via Shutterstock

Passengers traveling with an internal medical device such as a pacemaker, ICD, or another device should always tell security personnel. According to procedures by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), travelers with such devices should not be screened by a walk-through metal detector.

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Procedure for security screening

In the United States, the TSA will have to give the passenger a secondary screening if the alarm goes off. This is when an officer pats you down and uses a handheld detector. A secondary screening should only take a couple of minutes at most.

Although metal implants can inconvenience these travelers by triggering the alarm and increasing time spent in security, this will not cause any additional harm to the person's body, according to the London Upper Limbs Surgery website. Metal detectors use an electromagnetic field that does not include any damaging radiation. On the other hand, if someone does trigger the alarm, they may need to have an X-ray taken using machines regularly featured in airports across the globe. Nevertheless, these machines still use very low levels of ionizing radiation.

A security officer uses a detection wand on a passenger.
Photo: Frame Stock Footage/Shutterstock

In an article on VeryWellHealth, orthopedic surgeon Jonathan Cluett stated:

"People with pacemakers and ICDs have little or nothing to worry about with current airport screening procedures. If you are directed to go through a metal detector, let the security personnel agent know you have an implanted medical device that might set off the alarm. If you are directed to the full body scanner, there are no special precautions you need to take."

Medical ID cards

One way to prevent setting off the alarm is to carry an ID card, a copy of your x-ray on your phone, or a clinic letter. For many years, healthcare has given medical ID cards to patients so that they can notify security personnel about their medical implants. Albeit very helpful, these cards are not necessary. According to the TSA website, it will accept a medical ID card and other documentation. However, if a passenger does not bring any documentation and instead attempts to describe their medical implants, they will still have to undergo screening. It may also be helpful to wear loose-fitting clothing to show the surgical scar to security personnel.

Sources: TSA, Verywell Health, London Upper Limb Surgery