TSA Baggage and Safety
The following article originally appeared in The ALERT, Vol.9, No. 1
Anyone who has flown has heard these questions: “Did you pack your bags yourself?” “Have your bags been out of your sight?” “Could anything have been put in your luggage without your knowledge?”
We all know these questions are meant to protect us and our fellow travelers from dangerous items being transported on board. However, the most recent changes in airport security may cause travelers with a natural rubber latex (NRL) allergy to ask themselves the same questions for an entirely different reason.
On November 19, 2001, President George W. Bush signed the Aviation and Transportation Security Act into law. Part of this law established the Transpor-
tation Security Administration (TSA), which is designed to promote passenger security while ensuring freedom of movement.
As of January 1, 2003, the TSA began screening ALL checked baggage at all commercial airports in the U.S. Often, this screening happens behind the scenes, out of sight of travelers. As an organization that advocates for consumer safety, we were concerned that baggage screeners might wear NRL gloves while manually searching luggage contents.
Specifically, we had a concern that if powdered NRL gloves were being worn, the powder could contaminate the clothing and personal items in the suitcase. If a traveler happened to have an NRL allergy, this was a setup for allergic reactions, potentially without the traveler’s knowledge of where the exposure was coming from.
Diane Flanagan, the President of the American Latex Allergy Association, contacted the TSA to inquire about their policy on NRL gloves. The TSA spokesperson stated that the TSA uses nitrile and vinyl gloves, and does not utilize NRL gloves. Because all baggage screeners are now federal employees overseen by the TSA, there should not be any NRL gloves in use for baggage screening.
The TSA spokesperson stated that latex-related information will be added to the TSA website because of the amount of concern they have encountered on this issue.
The TSA also has other information available on their website for passengers who have health-related concerns. It is suggested that travelers present medical documentation from a physician to screeners for any condition that should be considered during screening. However, this is not mandatory, and even if presented, will not exempt the traveler from screening.
Injectable medications, such as an EpiPen, are allowed on board, as long as they are professionally labeled with a manufacturer or pharmaceutical label. The Food Allergy Network also has an example of a letter that can be signed by your physician which names the medications you’re carrying and their purpose (http:// www.foodallergy.org;  click on “Featured Topic.”)
The TSA does acknowledge that travelers will have circumstances that require understanding and preservation of individual dignity.
We are living in a time of heightened security, and most travelers are willing to comply, as long as their legitimate concerns are respected.
According to the TSA website, the five principles of TSA service include:
1. Security that is Professional.
Service that delivers positive lasting impressions with proper image and effective communications.
2. Security with Customer Service. Service is efficient while maintaining
the dignity of all passengers.
3. Security that is Attentive. Service that acknowledges the passenger, strives to minimize passenger anxiety and put them at ease.
4. Security supported through Team-work. Service of the highest quality resulting from combined individual efforts.
5. Security that ensures passengers’ civil rights. Service that is delivered with respect and equity.
Another consideration to keep in mind is whether individual airlines use powdered latex gloves for cleaning airplane cabins or for food preparation. Call the airline you intend to utilize to obtain this information.
There is good news to report for those who utilize Midwest Express Airlines. This airline does not use latex gloves either for cleaning or for food preparation.
Ultimately, it is up to each of us to be aware of our surroundings, and to check out the facts before traveling. There are many resources available to help us maintain our safety - we just have speak up.