Tips for Flying Through Airport Security with Asthma
Last updated: April 2023
Okay terrible pun in the title there, sorry. :D
While I write this, I’m cruising at 37,325 feet per the in-flight entertainment screen on my WestJet flight (I wish, like AirCanada, I could leave it on the map screen, and I wish that, like Delta, it had games, because novelty). I’ll have done airport security a dozen and a half times this year.
I’m also a NEXUS member, which means a) that I have security screening done, and b) I usually get to go in the fast lane where it is sort of important to know what you are doing—it comes with the “trusted traveler” territory. While I wrote about broader tips for smooth flying experiences with asthma, here’s how I get through airport security with a minimum of hassle (and hopefully keep the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority and/or US Transportation Security Administration [TSA] and the people behind me in line a bit happier, too).
Organize your asthma supplies
Your medications should always go in your carry-on bag. (I carry a second set in my checked bag if I’m going away more than a few days, or if I have extras on hand.) Note that while you are not required to remove prescription medicines that are liquids, gels or aerosols from your bag (including inhalers, which are aerosols), and while they do not have to comply to the 3-1-1 rule, I recommend taking them out anyways to keep things quick. I often keep my meds in a pencil case big enough for my 4 inhalers and an AeroChamber (and whatever other nonsense gets in there), I usually switch into a large clear Ziploc bag to travel.
I stow this bag at the top of my carry-on backpack and just toss it on a second tray as I would any other liquids/gels/aerosols (that must adhere to the 3-1-1 rule) when I’m removing my laptop from my backpack. My small, PARI Trek S nebulizer also goes at the top of my carry on, so I can unzip the case and put it, still inside its bag, onto a tray. It simply saves me from having to dismantle my bag and gives easy access to screening staff if they decide to swab the device.
If you use a nebulizer with a carrying bag, once again while not required, it may speed things up to check that you haven’t left any nebules/vials of medicine inside the bag or its pockets—if you have, like I did this morning, toss ‘em in the bin beside your machine.
I end up with one tray for my backpack, one tray for my laptop, and a third tray for my small hip pack I keep my wallet/passport/NEXUS card etc. in while traveling (the stuff that is usually in my pockets).
Know where your inhaler is
I am the person who has set the metal detector off because of an inhaler in my pocket. My dad did it with foil candy wrappers. Just empty your pockets unless it’s just a Kleenex or whatever in there. I double-check my pockets and slip anything in them (like my inhaler) into my hip pack.
I simply unbuckle the pack, throw it in a tray, and proceed through the metal detector or body scanner. Instead of having to refill my pockets, I just throw the pack back around my waist and can focus on, you know, getting my meds and neb back into my backpack.
Also, keep track of your boarding pass and ID. If you’re digging for it, step aside and let the person behind you proceed, please! Keep your boarding pass on you when proceeding through security, as it will make additional required scans quicker.
If you, like me, are traveling with several medical items, technology like a laptop, etc., you may be selected for extra screening—or you may be selected at random. This is super not a big deal, so don’t worry. Be alert for security personnel waving you over. Today I got selected for extra screening, the dude with his wand thing swabbed my palms and my belt area of my jeans (a new one for me), and the swab was back clear before the tray of the guy ahead of me even was through the scanner.
Today, my bag got dismantled because of some chewy Lemonheads candy I had in there and because they wanted to swab my iPad, which I had left in my bag as only laptops need to be removed. Super not a big deal, and they will tell you what they are doing, but again… Be alert, pay attention! Remember how I said to keep your boarding pass with you? This is one time that this practice sped me up. If my pass was in my tray with my stuff, I’d have had to wait for the explosives swab test since they had to scan my pass again.
They didn’t swab my nebulizer compressor this time, but they have in the past. Sometimes they will have you pull out items from your bag yourself, but more often they will do it for you with gloves on—if you’ve followed security regulations, you should not have a problem.
Above all: be calm, be alert, and if you have questions—ask! The Agents will be more than happy to answer them if it speeds up their job.
Reorganize and prep for the plane
Hooray, you’ve been returned your stuff and junk (I had a plastic snake in my backpack for my last two flights, no word of a lie…) and are able to proceed to the airplane! Unless you have slip-on shoes, please pick them up with your stuff and proceed to a clear area to put them back on—ditto your belt. Cram your stuff back in your bag or scoop it up the best you can, and then re-organize once you get out of the flow of traffic.
Today I had slid my NEXUS card into a weird spot and couldn’t find it briefly, but the best way to remedy that? Pick up my stuff, go tot he nearby chairs, and reorganize—you’ll find what you’re looking for quicker without the chaos of the checkpoint surrounding you. If you’ve forgotten something, someone will flag you down.
My NEXUS card was clearly not in the tray so I knew I had to have put it somewhere… But I chose a reorganize spot close enough to the checkpoint that I could flag down someone there if it was indeed missing. Turns out, of course, it was in my wallet, just not in its fancy sleeve. Of course.
Do you have specific ways to prepare your asthma medicine and supplies before traveling by plane? Share your tips in the comments!
Has laughter ever triggered your asthma?