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Security screening with a knee replacement.

Just got back from Europe and was scanned, completely patted down, and had everything wiped down each time I flew from country to country and on my connecting flight through Munich to Washington. Each time I told security I had an artificial knee in advance but it didn’t help. I am in my seventies and wonder if this will always happen with my titanium knee. I worry that I will loose track of my carry on and purse while they do this and someone will steal some of my stuff. This became annoying since it happened each time. Is there anything I can do.

Posted by
1955 posts

Two things (to do in combination):

1) Carry a current letter from your doctor to present to security stating that you have a titanium knee replacement
(that letter alone may suffice), but (just in case not):
2) Request a manual pat-down. I have no idea if this is available in all countries, but it is (at least) in the US. With the manual pat-down, you are typically escorted to a private room (with your belongings) and it can be quicker than going thru a similar scanning out in the open by the scanners

Goes without saying, be very polite when presenting your letter (and good to request a few original signed copies from your doctor, if you fly A LOT).

When my husband had a chemo implant device (also titanium), the letter took care of the issue, and often we found we actually received very kind treatment (seat upgrades or a nicer location within our ticket class).....but while he was traveling with the chemo implant device, we had JUST been cleared for travel after some tough treatments............so if you are just now a routine traveler with a knee replacement, special treatment may not be forthcoming.

If you fly frequently:
3) Apply for global entry (which will do you no real good in other countries, but will ease the process for you here)

But regardless, if you are concerned you are separated from your belongings, very kindly and in a concerned way, state that you want to make sure your belongings are right with you, so you can keep an eye on them. I NEVER let my purse out of my sight, and I tell the screeners that it must stay safe while I am going thru the scanner (if my spouse is not right behind me or right in front of me to watch it). That is a very, very reasonable request, if asked in a very polite way.

Posted by
2575 posts

The TSA website is quite clear about doctors letters-they don’t accept them. I would bet that would be the same overseas. I’m surprised the previous poster had acknowledgement of a letter. I would ask for a private pat down. If there are other than metal detector screening devices, ask for those. Be sure you have no other metal that could alarm. I think the fear of theft when you lose visual contact with your belongings is real and I don’t have an answer other than have someone watch them for you. We faced that in the UK when a screening turned up my prescription eye drops that were not in my 3-1-1 bag. Got the total search of the offending bag while the other went it’s merry way down the belt and out of sight. Luckily my wife followed it and watched it but if I was solo...well who knows.

Posted by
6950 posts

The surgeons get a card with the implant device that they give you certifying what the implant is and all the identifying information regarding it. My wife presents the card to security.

Posted by
920 posts

Sorry you went thru that. Good yo know for me since I am on on 6 week knee replacement rehab. I asked my dr and he told me that TSA is not recognizing those letters anymore. You just have to let the agents know. Something to look forward to in May when we travel. At least I will have my husband. We only do carry ons

Good luck!

Posted by
3 posts

Thank you all for your info and advise. First I did ask for a card that said I had a metal knee replacement but the practice said that most airports have the newer body scanners that show the knee but after traveling since the surgery I realize not all airports have this scanner. Will reengage this with the doctor.

Yes, being polite is the best practice with security at all times but asking for a private screening with my belongings is a good suggestion.

I just found it very interesting that it happened every time except leaving this country and yes I have Global Entry but that is only good for America. I hope this doesn’t happen every time!

Posted by
2927 posts

I used to always get the full works whenever I went through Heathrow. As I was getting the patdown, explosive check, etc. they would tell me to watch my bags on the security belt. Because of this, I always have a bright PI or have it brightened with fabric...so I can easily spot my belonging(s) and see if anyone is fiddling with it or walking away with it. If it is black...well good luck with that. And yes, this was often when traveling solo. So a little thought ahead of time helps alleviate this issue.

Addendum: Also, many times they take and wipe down my personal item for explosives as well, but I still keep my eye on it.

Posted by
106 posts

Thank you for asking this question. I have a surgically implanted heart monitor that comes with a gizmo that looks sort of like a cell phone. I have a card from the vendor with all the info about the device. I have not traveled since the surgery. Great information in all these answers.

Posted by
3349 posts

Letters from a Dr, or the cards with the make/model number of the implant carry no weight with security agents, since anyone with a color printer can forge one. The cards are intended for medical use- for other physicians or Radiology departments who need to know the specs of the implant.

I've had my knee replacement for several years, and ALWAYS, without fail, set off the metal detectors. I simply warn the agent before I step thru the detector that I have a knee implant. After it alarms, a female agent will hand wand me and give me a quick pat down. I've never been taken to a private room, nor would I waste my time asking for one. Oh, and ladies, your underwire bra will set off the hand wand, too. I've only been asked to go through the full body scanner twice, but even then they did a quick pat down of my leg. It only takes 2 minutes at the most, and I'm done. It's not that big of a deal. Get used to it. I always have DH go thru first so he can keep an eye on our bags as they are scanned.

Posted by
13211 posts

It is not just knee replacements that set it off. I have three titanium markers in my chest subsequent to breast cancer surgery, so they can follow the area on mammograms. I am fine in the US but in Europe, especially Heathrow or in Switzerland, I always get pulled over for a full pat down by a female agent. I have given up explaining about the titanium markers as it does not matter; anyone could make up that excuse.

My main concern is my purse going through the scanner and then left on the other side, but my husband and I have a plan. He goes through first and takes care of the important things while I am delayed with the intrusive search. But this would not work for a solo traveler. Hopefully one can ask to remain in sight of a purse and other important things and the agents will honor that.

Posted by
6793 posts

With all due sympathy, they still have to check you out. Neither age nor infirmity nor knowing in advance mean that you can't have something else on your person that would be a problem.

I agree that the system is bad for keeping an eye on your belongings.

Posted by
1845 posts

I only have an anecdote to add. Back in the '60s my mother had one of the very first hip joint replacement surgeries. Security checking at airports was in its infancy, they just had a simple metal detector.

My mother was flying out of Atlanta. Just as she stepped forward to go through the detector, a voice from behind her announced: "She will set of the detector. She has an artificial hip. I know, I'm the surgeon who did the replacement." She turned around and there was her dear friend and orthopedic surgeon! She did set off the alarm, but they let her through with no pat down.

Posted by
855 posts

I was surprised that titanium was a problem. I have 4 titanium screws in my knee (ACL replacement) and a titanium plate and 4 screws in my neck. They have never set off the metal detector or been a problem with the newer scans. Got to the point that I don't even warn them about it any more, because that just slows things down. I don't even think about them much either because it's been so long, and both knee and neck have fully recovered. My surgeons had told me that titanium wasn't going to be a problem and for me it hasn't. But I fully understand what you are saying about not wanting to lose track of your items going through the scanner. If you travel alone that could be a problem.

Happy travels,
Mimi

Posted by
763 posts

I'm flying tomorrow for the first time since knee replacement. When I started a thread about this shortly before my surgery, most responses indicated it wouldn't be a big deal with TSA and to just tell the screener before going through that I have an implant. I guess I'll find out about 5:30 tomorrow morning. ;-)

Our first flight is out of Peoria and we have pre-check, as usual, so security is generally a breeze. The return trip will be from Seattle, so that may be a different experience. I'll report back after our trip home.

Next spring, we'll be flying in Europe after I've had my second knee replacement, so I definitely have an interest in the OP's experience.

Posted by
210 posts

I have two titanium hips and a titanium shoulder. My doctors gave me ID cards for the metal detectors after each surgery.

Here is what I do......I make sure those cards are in my hand as I approach the scanner. I secure my bags as best I can before I ever get there....tuck everything deep in my bag. It is a "clunky" time. Yes, there is that theft risk. More than once I know I have acted very nervous....not because of the pat down/questions, but because of losing sight of my bag(s) at the X-ray machine. Many times security will pull my bags to the side for me.

I ALWAYS, ALWAYS thank the security for their extra time. I appreciate their wanting to keep everyone safe. I always arrive EXTRA early if at all possible so as to create less of a "bottle-neck" at security checks.

I also try to be sensitive to those behind me. I'm sure I get the "eye roll" when the "alarm sounds and the lights start flashing". I do all I think I can to make it as easy as possible for everyone. Sometimes I have moved to the back of a line so as not to "break-up" a family traveling with young kids.

FYI....Global Entry has helped some (as mentioned above), but I am still taking the same measures before I got Global Entry.

I encourage you to have a good attitude about it. Plan ahead for yourself and security. There is not much you can do except stay at home and watch politics on the TV.

Hope this helps.

Posted by
109 posts

I travel alone a lot.
I always always pack my purse inside my suitcase prior to going through security. One less thing to keep my eye on. There is always plenty of opportunity to fish it out on the other side.

Posted by
1888 posts

Well, that's weird, as I have travelled and flown a lot , to Europe, the UK, and in Canada since my knee replacement in 2009; and not once has it ever alarmed in a scanner or at the airports.
Perhaps Canadian replacement parts are different to American parts?!
I do have a card with the part number and Registration number on it; but I leave it at home now as it's never a problem.
BTW: I stopped flying through or to the US about four years ago; so perhaps the scanners are more sensitive there?

Posted by
2349 posts

In the US, I prefer the body scanners over the metal detectors, mostly because I've had to wait a bit while a female is brought over to pat me down. I went through security 2 or 3 times in France this last week, and each time was patted down. But they had a woman right there, so no waiting. It doesn't bother me to be patted down.

It's less likely that a thief will take your luggage. A loose phone, wallet, tablet or purse is more likely to go missing. So don't let them be loose. This is hard because sometimes security screeners want phones or e-readers out and sometimes they don't. Plan ahead to either tie your things together or put them inside something else. Hook or tie your purse strap to your suitcase. Or put your purse into a large tote bag with your jacket. I use this tote just to keep my crap together for the plane ride. https://www.myrume.com/collections/reusable-totes/products/macro-tote-soleste

I'm wondering if a large clear envelope with holes could be used to put your phone/tablet in, and then you could tether it to your suitcase. Like this https://www.officedepot.com/a/products/243132/Advantus-Binder-Pencil-Pouch-3-x/ and attach with a lanyard. No thief wants to pull a bunch of attached stuff off the rack, and taking it apart takes too much time.

I think I'm on to something. I'll work on it and get back to you. Because I like to buy office supplies.

Posted by
154 posts

I can sympathize with your frustration due to having had a knee replacement in 2014, but I have come to accept the pat downs and wanding as part of my new traveling process. It is never a problem when leaving MSP - those passengers with replacements are told to go the lines with the full body scanners. My experiences in European airports, however, are much like yours. I have had the full pat down in Amsterdam, Munich and Rome and I fully expect to have the same in Rome and Catania this February. I tell security before I go through that I have a titanium knee, not only to alert them but to remind myself to remain pleasant and calm. I do what they tell me to do, no more and no less, and thank them after. It helps that I travel with my husband, who can watch my things, but I imagine if you requested to keep your things with you that they would accommodate a reasonable request. I also base my "flying clothes" around this repeated newer experience - leggings, mid/lower thigh length tunic and a shirt dress with boots. Outer layer and boots go on the belt - what is left is form-fitting with no place to hide anything. I think it speeds up the process a bit. Hope this helps.

Posted by
4740 posts

No metallic parts here. When I do get pulled for wanding, I always politely ask if I can face the baggage scanner so that I can keep my belongings in view. The agents have always obliged.

One of my work colleagues had her wallet (with her drivers license) stolen out of the bin while she was being wanded. This was shortly after 9/11; I don’t know if things have changed, but at that time there were no security cameras in that area of the airport.

Posted by
1888 posts

If you are going through security with a friend or spouse: leave a couple of strangers between you as you go through.
That way, one of you is either already through or still behind, and can watch all the belongings of the other more closely.
Does that make sense?!

Posted by
6793 posts

S Jackson, that's a great, common sense suggestion.

Posted by
763 posts

Since I posted on this thread before our recent Seattle trip, I thought I'd relate my experiences with security. We flew out of Peoria and our return flight was from SeaTac. We had precheck for all flights, which has been the norm for us lately. Guess TSA just thinks we're trustworthy.

In Peoria, I told the TSA agent I had a knee implant before going through the metal detector. She waved me over to the scanner, which for some reason showed something in my neck area and groin area besides my knee. So was patted down somewhat thoroughly in all three areas, but nothing too intrusive. The agent also swabbed my hands, no explanation. We'd had a delay at the check-in desk (we were checking bags) and were cutting things closer than usual, so the TSA process felt like it was taking a while, but in fact was just a couple of minutes. Feeling rushed was partly our own fault. Flying out of Peoria is generally a breeze and we end up with plenty of time to kill. This time was unusual for us, having arrived at the airport a little later than normal.

Leaving Seattle, I again told the agent about the knee, was waved to the scanner, then received the briefest of patdowns under my arms (nothing around the knee) and was sent on my way. We were through security in maybe 10 minutes total. The lines for regular security were immense, so we were again thrilled to randomly receive precheck.