Many people end up with orthopedic implants after accidents or artificial joints such as knees and hips after joint replacement surgery. Most of these are made from Titanium and other metals.
It is not surprising that they may then wonder if they will set off the alarms when they walk through metal detectors at airport security. I know I did after my arm surgery.
The Quick Answer: Generally, you can go through airport security if you have metal implants in your body without a problem. But you should be aware that there is a small chance that you may set off the alarm when you pass through particularly sensitive metal detectors. If that happens then you may require a further screening check by TSA officers.
Generally metal jewelry, particularly gold, does not set off the metal detector alarms and neither do underwired bras but it is not unusual for metal belt buckles, coins or some other types of metal object in pockets to set them off.
However, metal implants are another matter.
- 1 My experience of flying with a metal implant
- 2 What does the TSA say about metal implants?
- 3 Surgical implants and metal detector studies
- 4 FAQs
My experience of flying with a metal implant
I have first-hand experience of going through airport metal detectors with metal implants. I have lots of metal parts, including a plate, screws and wire, in my right arm due to surgery after a serious injury to my elbow when I was in the police force.
The first time I flew after that I was actually quite disappointed that I didn’t set off the alarm when I went through the airport metal detector.
I have flown many times since then and have never set off any metal detector alarms in any of the numerous countries of the world I have visited since then – so far anyway.
What does the TSA say about metal implants?
Surprisingly, there is very little on the Transportation Security Administration website about passing through the airport security checkpoint with medical orthopedic implants but they do state that you should “Inform the TSA officer that you have an artificial knee, hip, other metal implant or a pacemaker, defibrillator or other internal medical devices.”
So before you walk through one of the metal detectors attract the attention of a security agent and inform him/her what type of implant you have and where it is located.
If you do go through and set off an alarm and you have a scar that is easy to show the security agent (perhaps on your arm like I have) then that will probably suffice.
You may be asked to pass through one of the body scanners (advanced imaging technology scanners), also known as millimeter wave scanners (see Wikipedia) or they may just carry out additional screening by manual security checks using a metal detecting wand (hand held metal detectors).
You can choose not to use one of these machines as the TSA state “If you choose to not be screened through the advanced imaging technology or you alarm the walk-through metal detector, you will undergo a pat-down screening instead.”
@AskTSA advice about flying with implants
This passenger is asking the TSA, using their Twitter service, on behalf of her mother who was going to be flying with various orthopedic implants including a titanium knee, a metal plate and screws in her arm (just like mine) as well as surgical clips.
What if you have a pacemaker?
The TSA states on its website that “You should not be screened by a walk-through metal detector if you have an internal medical device such as a pacemaker. Consult with your physician prior to flying.” Obviously, you should also inform the security agent.
You can also use the TSA Cares service, as stated in the TSA’s reply below, by calling 855-787-2227 to ask any specific questions and get advice when flying with a medical implant.
Surgical implants and metal detector studies
There have been a number of studies carried out on people with implants made of commonly implanted orthopedic materials to see if they set off the alarm on most metal detectors or with a metal detecting wand.
Most studies concluded that, with a few exceptions, orthopedic implants did not set off an alarm when passing through a metal detector.
A few studies (see Detection of orthopaedic implants by airport metal detectors) noted that invariably those with “Richards cannulated screws” set off the alarm.
Does titanium set off metal detectors?
Titanium is used in many orthopedic implants but fortunately, as it is non-magnetic, titanium is very unlikely to set off the alarm on an airport metal detector so security staff will not need to make further checks.
Does surgical steel set off metal detectors?
Surgical steel (stainless steel) can potentially set off metal detector alarms but as it is an inert metal with poor electrical/magnetic conductivity (which is why it is used surgically) the probability of that happening is low.
Does stainless steel set off metal detectors at the airport?
If you have stainless steel implants in your body after surgery then it is very unlikely that you will set off the buzzer when you pass through the metal detector at the airport so further screening will not be necessary.
Do dental implants set off metal detectors?
If you have dental implants then it is very unlikely that you will ever have a problem going through airport security metal detectors and require further security checks by security staff. The main reason is that most dental implants are made of titanium, which is non-magnetic.
What metals will not set off a metal detector?
Generally, metals that are not magnetic will not set off the buzzer on airport metal detectors which includes titanium, stainless steel and surgical steel.
I have been traveling around the world by air since the early 70s and living overseas too. I worked for British Airways for a number of years and I am also a private pilot.