Question: I had a knee replacement a few years ago. Now, when I go through security, the metal in my knee sets off the alarm, and I am spirited away for the inevitable frisking. I am required to leave my purse and hand luggage unattended near the conveyor belt while this is going on and worry that my belongings will be stolen. Is there some way I can take my stuff with me?
— Shirley Kline, Rolling Hills Estates, Calif.Answer: Yes. If you have an artificial joint or a pacemaker, you're among the lucky ones, at least, when it comes to security.
Those medical devices almost always set off the airport metal detectors, which means you'll consistently get yanked out of line. So, speak up before you get into the whirling dervish that's security and explain that you are a special-needs traveler. (Having a card from your doctor describing your condition also may help.)
Special-needs travelers are entitled to a "pat-down" search, which means you and your stuff will get individual attention. Nico Melendez, a representative for the Transportation Security Administration, described the process this way: "The passenger is moved to another area. They are not allowed to touch the bags, but they will be in view at all times."
The TSA website, www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/specialneeds/editorial_1374.shtm#1, also suggests that special-needs travelers ask screeners to "be discreet" when assisting them through the screening process.
Assuming you aren't entitled to a special pat down, should you be worried about losing track of your stuff?
Melendez offers these statistics: Since May 2003, 173 TSA officers — out of a workforce of nearly 100,000 nationwide — have been terminated for theft. Since TSA began screening passengers and their carry-ons about five years ago, 650 million passengers have flown domestically. In that same period, 94,000 claims have been filed. About half of those have been approved, averaging $156 per claim. So, statistically, your chances of getting ripped off seem minuscule.
Still, things happen.
For instance, Aerial Gilbert's laptop went missing after a trip through LAX security on March 22. No one is quite sure why it didn't make it back into her suitcase; neither she nor her traveling companion noticed anything amiss. At home in the Bay Area, Gilbert said she filed a claim with TSA (www.tsa.gov or  289-9673).
Just last week, the computer turned up in TSA's lost and found, where many items separated from their owners go when items don't carry identification. (Gilbert said her laptop did; the TSA said it did not.)
At any rate, it's probably just coincidental that Gilbert's computer was found about the same time media were inquiring about the fate of this extraordinary laptop.
Extraordinary? "My computer," Gilbert wrote to me, "has special software that makes [it] speak to me so I can access the Internet, documents and e-mail."
She depends on it, just as she depends on the integrity and compassion of the screeners. All travelers do, of course, but most of us, unlike Gilbert, aren't blind.
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