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I had an operation some time ago and now I have small screws in my shoulder which will not be removed anymore. When I decided to fly for vacation, I supposed that these will may bring me into trouble at the airport when going through the metal detector.

So I asked my doctor and at the hospital if there is any kind of "passport" or something similar which confirms the screws in my shoulder so that I do not get into many problems. Unfortunately, they told me such things do only exist if you get a new knee or something, not if you just have a few screws in your body.

When I flew from Vienna to Amsterdam and back, my fears were confirmed: The security staff inspected me very precise, and I had to explain them my story. Thank god I have some scars left so they believed me!

However this is not a permanent solution for the future. Is there any international "passport" which my doctor and hospital do not know about? If not, what else are my possibilities?

I am not that afraid when travelling within the EU, however I fear that this situation might get quite dangerous somewhen in other countries...

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Why can't you get them replaced with some plastic ones? Just kidding :) –  Liam William Apr 19 '13 at 1:39
    
@LiamWilliam: With any operation there's the risk of something going wrong. Don't do surgery unless there is a good reason. I have some metal bits which are useless now, and they stay for that reason. –  gnasher729 9 hours ago

7 Answers 7

up vote 67 down vote accepted

When I flew from Vienna to Amsterdam and back, my fears were confirmed: The security staff inspected me very precise, and I had to explain them my story. Thank god I have some scars left so they believed me!

It is not a problem. There are many, many people with metal implants and the standard procedure is simply explaining your condition after an alert is raised. You are singled out and checked with a hand induction device. You need not to be afraid, this is standard practice.

However this is not a permanent solution for the future. Is there any international "passport" which my doctor and hospital do not know about? If not, what else are my possibilities?

You are wrong on this account, it is the permanent solution. The idea of checking you is to rule out the possibility that you smuggle something on board.

Think about it: If there were "passports" from a doctor, the very first thing people who want to smuggle something into the plane is to falsify such documents to avoid detection. Or even nastier, coerce people with a real "passport" to smuggle something involuntarily on board.

It also does not help that the personnel will not be able to check the given "passport" in a reasonable time because your condition is part of medical confidentiality and your personal privacy.

So simply explain your condition and wear comfortable clothes which makes it easy to check your shoulder.

EDIT: Another problem with the idea of "passports": Even if you have a passport, the personnel still needs to check you because you can still try to smuggle another thing on board. So a "passport" makes absolutely no difference. I suppose the "passport" for bigger implants informs the personnel that their detector is functioning normally when it detects copious amounts of metal on your body.

EDIT II: If you have several metal implants on different body parts, I consider it a good idea to have X-rays with the implants available so that the personnel can easily cross-check their detector findings with the implant locations.

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Where do you know from that this is "standard practice"? –  Uooo Apr 18 '13 at 9:50
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My brother uses a wheelchair and has a steel plate near his spine, so they have to check him manually every time. And I myself forgot my pocket knife and was singled out, too. –  Thorsten S. Apr 18 '13 at 9:53
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@w4rumy I've heard the same from other sources, including my mother who work in airport security. Every day many passengers pass through with metal implants. It's nothing new. No big deal, they just use their hand scanners and verify it's an implant. –  Nix Apr 18 '13 at 12:18
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I do exactly what is suggested on the second edit. I carry around on my wallet a small (credit card sized) print of my x-rays, with a very brief (one sentence) description of the implant (e.g. the number and kind of screws) written on the back. As I travel frequently I even have this written in a few different languages. I also think it is useful to always have a card like this with you anyway, in case you find yourself unconscious in some unexpected accident, it will be useful to doctors caring for you to know this information in advance! –  Juan A. Navarro May 3 '13 at 10:48

This is becoming more and more common with more modern surgery, and things being done that couldn't be done in the past. Naturally with increased security these days, it's also more common that you'll get picked up as having metal on/in you.

There are a few things you can do (and I have personal experience with this, with quite a bit of metal in my chest):

  • a letter from your doctor. This is actually almost never looked at, but if they start getting curious and seem to challenge your surgery claims, an official letterhead on a letter from your doctor will go a long way towards helping.
  • if the metal is visible, show them, or explain. This is harder as it's usually internal, but if not, it's an easy way to ease their concerns.
  • I never get picked up unless I get a secondary scan. I guess their detectors aren't sensitive enough, but if I forget to take off my belt, they always then bring out the hand-held scanner, and when that's waved over my chest it picks it up. My response is usually just to explain the surgery I've had, and even dip my shirt slightly to show the scar. That's always been enough to satisfy them.

If you have an implanted device, such as a pace-maker or ICD (internal defibrillator), you can get an internationally-recognised card indicating you have this device and should NOT be going through a metal detector. At that point, you'll be hand-searched instead. However I've not got these, and have often wondered how successful those cards are in third-world countries with foreign languages.

Above all, be honest and clear. Be prepared, with letters if need be. And make sure you've removed all your keys and all the other metal so that you're not already annoying them with extra miscellaneous stuff. It's easier to deal with / talk to someone who's not already frustrated with you :)

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tl;dr: "I have a medical implant in my X" appears to be the magic phrase in the USA.

Since 1999, I have a 12-inch titanium rod in my right femur that extends up from a full knee replacement. Contrary to previous posters, I always set off a metal detector. I fly predominantly in the USA, although my security strategy outlined below has worked everywhere I've traveled around the world (except Israel). I do not have any extra documents from doctors or government authorities.

I have two strategies:

  1. Always use the millimeter wave scanner. Even if the security agent waves me toward a metal detector, I say "I have a medical implant" and stay in line for the scanner. They have always understood what that means wrt the metal detector.

  2. If there is only a metal detector, I walk through the detector, set it off, look the security agent in the eye and say "I have a medical implant in my right leg". Then during the extended screening, I demonstrate to the screener the area that will set off the wand.

Using this procedure, I have never had to do any further screening or drop trou to show scars (except in Israel).

P.S. Israel is a beautiful place, filled with beautiful and brilliant people. But they take their security VERY seriously. :)

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What happened in Israel? –  Uooo Apr 19 '13 at 5:29
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They were much more direct and efficient: They took me to a private room and told me to drop trou. Once they saw the scar, they apologized and sent me on my way. All in all it took much less time. –  Rich Sutton Apr 19 '13 at 20:28

Keep in mind that security doesn't care about your screws. What they care about is that the rest of you is clear. When they do the scan, pointing out your belt buckle, or the metal button on your jeans isn't helpful. They need to clear the rest of you. Tell them you have screws in the shoulder. But, what this does is essentially render the walk through scanner useless. You'll still need to go through the hand scan to make sure you don't have anything else stashed away in your underwear.

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I have a friend with implants in each knee. He showed me a card from his orthopedic surgeon that he keeps in his wallet when the securities scanners go berserk.

It looks about as official as a Cub Scout card (which is to say, not very official).

Best to explain the implants before you walk through the metal detector.

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I have a titanium rod in my femur, 2 plates and 16 screws in my right forearm and 1 plate and 6 screws on my left clavicle. I have never set off the metal detector at an airport when going through security. The only time a metal detector was able to pick up the implants was when I asked a security guard at a place I used to work at to see if his wand could detect the implants. Only when he rested the wand on the area did he find anything. I think you're safe especially since you have scars that are more then healed.

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that depends on the amount and type of metals and the sensitivity of the detectors –  ratchet freak Apr 18 '13 at 19:59
    
I agree with @ratchetfreak. Someone I know with a titanium rod in his femur does not set off most airport or building metal detectors, but does set off some. –  msh210 Apr 19 '13 at 16:34

Your Doctor / Hospital / Surgeon should be able to provide you with a letter confirming the fact they have undergone the relevant operation and that you have these pins/screws in your body. If they don't them you should go to another Doctor.

P.s. I know this because I and numerous members of my family have worked in Airports and Airport security in the UK. A Doctor should be giving you the letter without any fuss provided you have the medical records to back up your story.

P.p.s. Even if you have to take a lot of medication with you on holiday, you require a Doctors letter to confirm that you need that much. So, there really is no reason why your Dr wont provide the equivalent for yourself.

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P.s. Surgical steel / Titanium really shouldnt be going off in a security scanner unless you have a lot of it in a concentrated area. The reason both these metals are used is because of their minimal impact on the body. –  Phill Healey Apr 18 '13 at 18:40

protected by mindcorrosive Apr 19 '13 at 4:39

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