Will I Set Off Metal Detectors At the Airport After A Hip or Knee Replacement?


As a hip and knee surgeon, this is one of the most common questions asked prior to proceeding with joint replacement. This is generally followed with: Do I need a card to identify myself as a patient with a prosthetic hip or knee?

The short answer to the question is, maybe. A 2012 study found that eighy-four percent of patients with hip replacements who flew triggered the metal detector. They required wanding with a handheld detector. Twenty-five per cent of these patients then had to undergo further inspection, including additional wanding, being patted down, and in two cases having to undress in a private room to show the incision.

More recent data from 2017 evaluating patients with total knee replacements showed that only 38% reported that their prosthesis triggered a metal detector. Thirty-four percent believed having a TKA was inconvenient for airplane travel.

Currently, the TSA does not require patients to carry a card to identify hip or knee replacements. However, they do state on their webpage that travelers may be subject to pat down if they refuse advanced imaging which should not interfere with hip or knee replacements but may disturb more sensitive devices like a pacemaker or implanted defibrillator.

While newer screening technology has made false positive triggers of the metal detectors less common, it is still likely that a hip or knee prosthesis will increase the amount of time it takes to pass through security. It is encouraged to allow for extra time for screening. The TSA also has a medical disclosure card that can be presented at the time of screening to allow for increased transparency and allow travelers to maintain some privacy.

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