How to Carry Prescribed Medication on a Plane
Despite what some grumbling passengers say while waiting for flights, the TSA is not out to get you. The agency's strict policies include allowances designed to help travelers with medical conditions and disabilities. And while TSA agents will thoroughly screen all baggage, including medical supplies, they should never try to separate a passenger from his prescribed medications. The only exception? Legally-obtained medical marijuana, which is illegal under federal law and therefore not allowed on planes.
Flying with Prescribed Pills
Tablets or other solid pills aren't subject to any TSA limitations. They don't have to be removed from carry-on bags during screening the way liquids, gels and aerosols do, and it's not necessary to tell an agent that you're traveling with pills. The TSA doesn't even require that pills be packed in labeled prescription bottles – but pack them that way anyway. Every state has its own laws governing prescription medications, and in many states, it's illegal to carry medications outside their labeled containers.
Flying with Liquid, Gels and Aerosols
The TSA's 3-1-1 rule, which limits the quantity of liquids, gels and aerosols that travelers may pack in carry-on luggage, doesn't apply to medications. Pack any medicine that takes one of these forms, including gel capsules, in whatever quantity you require. These medications must still be screened and may be screened even more carefully than other belongings, including solid pills. If you don't want them to be X-rayed, request that the TSA screen them by hand instead.
Carry liquid, gels and aerosol medications in whatever manner your doctor advises. They don't have to be packed in a 1-quart plastic bag the way non-exempt liquids do, so place them in a zippered case, soft-sided cooler bag or any other sturdy, protective container. Pack the container into a carry-on bag in a way that makes it easy to reach and remove for screening. At the security checkpoint, tell the agent posted by the conveyor belt that you're traveling with medically-necessary liquids.
For travelers who need to carry just a few small containers of liquid, gel or aerosol medications (smaller than 3.4 ounces), pack them into a 1-quart bag with your shampoo, toothpaste or other restricted substances. If your medications already comply with the 3-1-1 rule, there's no need to talk to the TSA about them because they won't require any special screening.
Flying with Needles and Other Medical Supplies
When it comes to syringes, other injectables, pumps, testing kits with lancets and whatever other supplies are medically necessary for you, the TSA should allow them through security once they've been screened. For everyone's safety, let an agent know if your medical supplies include needles or any other sharp objects. If any medications need to be kept cool, put them in a cooler bag with ice or gel packs. Typically the TSA considers ice packs to be liquids or gels unless they're frozen solid. (Once these packs start thawing, they must comply with the 3-1-1 rule.) But when ice packs are being used to cool medications, the TSA shouldn't have an issue with them being only partially frozen.
Devices that are worn on the body are subject to strict scrutiny because of the possibility that someone could try to conceal a weapon or explosive in those devices. Travelers who wear insulin pumps may be asked to touch their pumps and then have their hands tested for explosive residue. Nebulizers, CPAP machines and other devices will be X-rayed and also tested for residue. Alert a TSA agent if you're traveling with any of these devices in carry-on bags.