Travelling with a Cochlear Implant
Air Safety and Airport Security issues

IMPORTANT NOTE: None of the following should be taken as "advice". You must make up your own mind based on the facts, and I have put this together to capture as much factual data as possible. You may feel more comfortable taking more conservative measures than those suggested here: eg ask for all your CI devices to be examined by hand rather than passing them through any type of scanning system. ​

I had no trouble using my CI on a recent trip involving multiple flights between and within Canada, USA, Australia and New Zealand. I dont recall mentioning it to any of the personnel I dealt with.

As security measures change and Cochlear Implant technology matures, the answers have differed over the last 20 or so years, and much misinformation pervades the internet. ​​

I have gone to reliable and credible sources including the manufacturers, CI programs in Canada, Europe and the United States, and Government Agencies - and have avoided much anecdotal information which is often outdated! At the end of the article I have included links to a selection of these sources. ​​

Much of the advice can be applied world-wide, but there are some caveats. ​​

This article does not cover everything, but concentrates on two main aspects: ​​

Remember to take your Patient ID card, (and probably an appropriate translation if you are going somewhere that language will be an issue). ​​

The Take-Away Messages ​​

Airport Security ​

No special precautions are necessary regarding the metal detector or the x-ray scanner for your hand baggage. Modern full-body scanners use a type of non-ionising radiation (Millimeter-wave systems) that is harmless at the levels they produce and are unlikely to damage you, or your equipment! http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1687850714000168 ​​

You may prefer to request that any spare processor and other auxilliary components be examined manually rather than pass through the x-ray equipment, but most authorities say it is not necessary. ​​

You may also request a "pat-down" in private if you are uncomfortable with full-body scanners for any reason. ​​

In-flight ​

You should wear your cochlear implant and have it switched on in flight, including during take-off and landing. Important information is given about airline safety and you need to know what to do, particularly in any emergency. You should also inform the cabin crew so they can make any necessary accommodations. ​​

It should be noted that similar security scanning systems unrelated to travel do exist, eg at the Houses of Parliament in Ottawa, at at the Canadian Tire Centre (Palladium, Kanata), and these systems may not be CI friendly! ​​

Sources of information ​

There follows a series of abstracts with their references. ​​

Aviation authorities: ​

Many countries take their lead from the United States, so I will just quote their Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regarding these topics. ​

Airport Security

"You are not required to remove any hearing aids or cochlear implants. Additional screening, including a pat-down or inspection of a device, may be required if it alarms a walk-through metal detector or appears as an anomaly when screened by advanced imaging technology."

See: https://www.tsa.gov/travel/special-procedures?field_disability_type_value=2%20

Usage in flight ​

" The FAA has determined that a cochlear implant is a hearing aid as defined by the Federal Food and Drug Administration and is therefore exempt from restrictions on [the in-flight use of] portable electronic devices.

See: https://www.faa.gov/other_visit/aviation_industry/airline_operators/airline_safety/info/all_infos/media/2007/inFO07022.pdf ​​

Cochlear Ltd

See: http://www.cochlear.com/wps/wcm/connect/us/recipients/nucleus-freedom/nucleus-freedom-lifestyle/how-to/travel

Airport Security ​

"It is okay to walk through the metal detectors and full body scanners with your sound processor turned on. To avoid any potential buzzing sounds as you pass through, you may wish to turn off your telecoil. If you activate the metal detectors, airport security may screen you with a handheld wand. This will not harm your implant or sound processor. Simply explain you have an implanted medical hearing device, and show your Patient ID card. If you have a spare sound processor, it should be turned off (to protect the MAP), but it can go through the x-ray machine. Do not place your sound processor directly on the conveyor belt as static electricity may build up that can corrupt the MAP." ​

Usage in flight ​

"Your implant can not interfere with the plane's navigation or communication systems. Although your implant transmits radio frequency (RF) signals, these are very short range and limited to a distance of less than five feet from the external coil. Therefore, there is no need to turn your device off during takeoff or landing." ​​​

MED-EL

See: https://blog.medel.com/traveling-with-a-cochlear-implant/

Airport Security

"You can walk through the metal detector with one, or even two, audio processors. Make sure to let the security staff know that you have cochlear implants, however, because they might set off the detector."

Usage in flight ​

"You can wear your cochlear implants during the entire duration of the flight. You do not need to turn off your audio processors during take-off or landing." ​​

Advanced Bionics

See: https://www.advancedbionics.com/content/advancedbionics/us/en/home/support/faqs.html.

Airport Security

"Metal detectors and security scanners should not damage the implant or sound processor. However, cochlear implant recipients passing through security metal detectors and scanners may activate the alarm. It is advised that patients carry their "Patient Emergency Identification Card" with them at all times. Cochlear implant recipients also might hear a distorted sound caused by the magnetic field around the security scanner door or hand-held scanning wand. Turning off the sound processor before passing through security screening will ensure that those sounds, if they occur, are not too loud or uncomfortable. Cochlear implant recipients may request a full-body pat-down and visual and physical inspection of the sound processor in place of the standard metal detector and scanners and x-ray procedure."

Usage in flight

"The Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) has confirmed that Advanced Bionics cochlear implant recipients are EXEMPT from powering off their sound processors when instructions are given to turn off cell phones, music players or any electrical/digital device with an on/off switch. The FAA regards the cochlear implant in the Hearing Aid category and hence is exempt from the requirement to be switched off."

​​

And just for good measure this is what Paediatric CI programmes have to say:

Sick Kids Toronto

See http://www.sickkids.ca/CochlearImplant/Information-for-Parents/Airport-Security/Index.html

Airport Security

"Please note that it is not necessary for Cochlear Implant recipients to remove their cochlear implant sound processors prior to going through airport metal detectors or full body scanners. Cochlear Implant recipients may pass through all of these security devices in the same way as everyone else. It is, however, recommended that recipients carry their Cochlear Implant Identification Card with them at all times"0

Usage in flight

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​​ St. Louis Children's Hospital

See: http://www.stlouischildrens.org/our-services/cochlear-implant-program/cochlear-implants/precautions#travel

Airport Security

"If your child leaves the external speech processor on his or her head while walking through metal detectors, it will not damage the internal or external device, but the cochlear implant user may hear odd noises such as static or popping sounds. This will not physically harm the user, but many children are scared by these sounds. Therefore, we recommend taking the external speech processor off, or wearing it turned off when passing through metal detectors."

Usage in flight

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