What families with wheelchairs need before flying
As with anything in life, airport security works a little differently for families with disabilities. Eventually, most frequent travelers end up looking at the benefits of Global Entry Vs. TSA PreCheck, so I wanted to share our experiences traveling with a wheelchair and medical needs.
Why you should have something in place
Security takes longer for people traveling with extra equipment, liquid medications, or supplies. Your wheelchair, your hands, and the hands of anyone pushing the wheelchair have to be wiped down to check for explosives. Any liquids need to be scanned. We’ve even had one security officer go so far as to require us to drink medication to prove it was real. Add to all of this the fact that the world is short staffed, and know that you’re going to spend some time waiting.
It makes sense to be able to skip the line, since you know you’re going to have to spend so much time being checked on the other side! The information online can be confusing, and people often think it’s harder than it is, so let’s look at our options for TSA PreCheck and Global Entry as families with disabilities or medical needs.
Both Global Entry and TSA PreCheck
- Expedited TSA lines departing within the U.S. – shoes stay on, liquids following the 3-1-1 rule remain in bag, laptops remain in bag, light jackets can be worn.
- Require online application and in-person interview.
- Are good for five years.
- Typically reimbursed through a travel rewards credit card.
Global Entry Only:
- Allows this same expedited experience when re-entering the U.S. from an international destination (while still covering domestic departures).
- Costs $100
- Covers only the applicant.
- Has limited interview locations and availability.
- Longer processing time. Currently, as long as 6-18 months.
**Worth noting to a wheelchair user: most entry ports have separate wheelchair accessible lanes. If you’re flying into a major airport, you will most likely not have to wait in the standard line. Unfortunately, the signage is usually by the customs desks, so you may need to wheel around long lines to find your (usually empty) line.**
You can apply for Global Entry, here.
TSA PreCheck Only:
- Costs $78.
- Covers applicant and any children under the age of 12.
- 2-3 weeks processing time from start to finish.
You can apply for PreCheck, here.
Mobile Passport Control
Wait, what? There’s a third option? Not exactly. This can’t replace TSA PreCheck because it only works for re-entry into the U.S., but it’s an equal (if not better) time-saver.
Mobile Passport Control is an app for U.S. citizens and Canadian visitors, that can be downloaded for free from your app store, and used to pass your entire family through passport control. I know this sounds too good to be true, but here are the details for Mobile Passport Control:
- Skips the line upon returning to the USA from abroad
- Completely free
- Completed via app on your phone upon arrival into the U.S.
- Takes about two minutes to complete and process.
We did this for our last trip, and there were NO other people in the Mobile Passport line. That said, we still ended up in the wheelchair lane because there were also no people in that line and someone called us over.
You can find the app, here.
We have TSA PreCheck and the Mobile Passport Control app. Because my children are all under the age of 12, and it’s typically just myself and the kids traveling, we’re all covered under one traveler number. That means it’s a total of $78 and we’re covered for four years! The ease of getting three kids through security on my own has skyrocketed without needing to remove shoes and jackets and take things out of bags and put them back in. We skip the line, put our bags up, go through the metal detector, and then go through our more thorough screening for my son’s wheelchair and medications.
I like having Mobile Passport just for ease of mind (especially with current staffing needs), but I haven’t truly used it. Based on my experiences so far, we don’t need anything additional for re-entry. Global Entry would cost $400 for myself and the kids, but as long as we fly into major airports, we may never see the benefits.
I hope this is helpful in your travel planning!