Hearing aids on a Plane
June 8, 2021 9:26 AM   Subscribe

I'm flying in July and I am brining a couple experimental hearing aid devices with me. They look like this. Is this going to cause me any issues?

I've heard stories of other people bringing uncommon looking electronic devices on planes and having them confiscated or having to go through a lot of hassle about them. I want to avoid that. These are expensive and unique.

-Do you think I will get any grief from TSA about these?
-Is there anything I can do ahead of time to prevent any issues?

This is a research device. I would like to not have to check a bag. An option would be to mail them ahead of time, which I also don't really want to do, but certainly would if people think I may face issues in security.

Maybe I'm overthinking this.
posted by Lutoslawski to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I bring a ton of unusual electronics that look vaguely similar to that for photography on planes and have never had them flagged for individual inspection or questioning. I do periodically get the 'swab down everything for explosives' treatment but they've never focused on the less common things, just the fact that I've got 30lbs of electronics in a flight case.
posted by Candleman at 9:31 AM on June 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've carried very weird looking electronics that can't be opened through international borders including the US after 9/11. A letter on institutional letter head, accompanied by a photograph of the thing, has always worked wonders. "I know this looks weird. Here's a one sentence description of what it is" has been my approach. It often leads to a fun chat with the security people that makes everyone else in line annoyed.

If you can get a letter from someone with a fancy title, it couldn't hurt. (I have no opinion on making a fake one. Nobody ever called up my department chair at 6am to verify that she actually signed it.)
posted by eotvos at 9:32 AM on June 8, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: When we traveled with electronic equipment, we had it in a corporate branded Pelican case, then inside an EMC bag (to protect the equipment), with a letter on institutional letterhead (IIRC in one case since it was technically government equipment loaned to our company, we had our government contact write the letter).

No one ever asked to see the letter, just swabbed down the inside and outside of the case.

If the case was too big to fit under the seat, we would buy it a seat. But that may have been a condition of the government loan, your equipment may be safe in the overhead.
posted by muddgirl at 9:36 AM on June 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My friend the audiologist flies to conferences with sample hearing aids on a regular basis. He’s never mentioned having any trouble.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:04 AM on June 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My husband used to use a very suspicious-looking medical device and the company that provided it gave us a card and a letter to show the TSA for air travel, but no one ever asked about it. I think some of it will come down to whether you will raise any other flags with the TSA or airline people - if you're a boring-looking white guy your experience will probably be very different than if you set off any "terrorist" alarm bells.

You will probably be fine but if you can get literally anyone with an MD or PhD to write you a letter on letterhead you will be extra-fine.
posted by mskyle at 10:06 AM on June 8, 2021

"Maybe I'm overthinking this"

As someone who used to travel for work and consequently spent a lot of time in TSA lines, I appreciate this. It's better to overthink beforehand than to underthink and show up at TSA 20 minutes before your flight wearing five different wristwatches, only to express surprise that wristwatches couldn't go through metal detectors, which is something that happened to me once. So thank you for being considerate. I'm pretty sure you'll be OK, though.

In regard to your first question, I think it will largely depend on what airport(s) you're flying through. In my experience, big East Coast airports (cough, Boston Logan) have the worst TSA agents, and smaller airports in the Midwest have the best. This seems to be largely a function of how many people they deal with. At smaller airports, and even some midsize ones at certain times of day, you might be the only person going through security. In that case, it's easy to have a normal conversation with your TSA agent, where you can tell them what you've got in your bag. When you're one of 600 screaming people in a 200 square foot space, it's harder to have that direct interaction. In my experience, TSA agents generally reflect the mood of the people they're talking to - there are exceptions of course, but they're probably not going to be a dick if you're nice to them. So that's one key.

Note that TSA does not prohibit most electronics. You can bring a lot of unexpected stuff through a TSA checkpoint - microwaves, drones, radio-controlled cars, etc. External medical devices are explicitly permitted, so if you're the user of the device, you're good to go. There's a notification card you can print off to show to the agent.

If you're not using the device, just transporting it, TSA generally recommends bringing electronics in your carry-on rather than checking them. I think the advice to have a letter of explanation on official letterhead is good advice (maybe even affix it to the case?), and like I said, letting TSA know before they see it on the x-ray would probably lower the tension level.

If you're really worried, there are companies that operate "mailboxes" near the security line. If you've got items that can't go through TSA, you can drop them in and the company will ship them to your destination. I don't remember what they're called, so I can't look up any information about fees or procedures, but I know I've seen them at Logan, and I'm pretty sure at Love Field in Dallas. If it's something you absolutely can't not have, it might be helpful to bring some tape to seal the box and a mailing label with your contact information.
posted by kevinbelt at 10:18 AM on June 8, 2021 [3 favorites]

OMG I just reread my comment and I meant that we put sensitive equipment in an ESD bag (prevents electrostatic discharge) meaning we could not allow TSA to remove anything from the bag, just swab the outside. It was never a problem.

No idea where EMC bag came from.
posted by muddgirl at 3:11 PM on June 8, 2021

I send things that look super suss for work sometimes, and an official looking letter on official letterhead is generally the solution.

If you can't be bothered doing that, then I'd print of the first few pages of this, (in colour) and put it in whatever packing you're transporting it in. The more "commercially available" something looks (manuals, commercial packaging, professionally made), the safer something seems.
posted by kjs4 at 8:33 PM on June 8, 2021

Even if you get questioned, it might not be a big deal I've had to go through the "I know this looks really odd" special TSA area and it didn't add much time at all to my check-in process. (Someone ahead of me had a live tiger. It's an interesting way to start your trip.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:03 PM on June 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

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