Flying With My Robot Ear

Last week  brought a new first for me; the first time I have flown with my implant!!

I was a bit nervous about this, but was pleased that we had a short-haul flight before our rather hectic honeymoon travelling. I researched A LOT and found quite a fair bit of conflicting advice. Some sources stated that a CI user should not go through the metal detectors at the airport as there is risk of the processor being scrambled so you should opt for a full body pat down whereas some sources said it was absolutely fine to go through the detectors but that you may hear a buzzing noise and you will set off the detector.

There was also conflicting advice about wearing your CI whilst in flight – some said that the processors should be switched off during takeoff and landing similar to other electronic devices, whilst some said medical equipment is exempt from this rule so you are safe to wear it – confused!!

I had asked for advice from my audiologist at the three-month review and she advised to go for the pat down if possible and to do whatever I felt comfortable with on the flight. She did warn me that some airlines may request I turn it off.

I had more issues with security at Luton airport than I did in Copenhagen on our return! Luton seemed to be completely unaware of what a Cochlear Implant is, despite me showing them my medical card and the lady dealing with me had to ask several people what to do as “she doesn’t have a pacemaker but she can’t go through the metal detectors”. I was eventually told to go through the body scanner instead as this does not emit any radiation that may interfere with the implant, after this it was plain sailing really.

After hearing the announcements on board (get me!!) regarding phones being allowed to be on, on flight mode I decided to keep my processor on for the duration of the flight. My initial thoughts about it being on during the flight was that it was SO loud on takeoff and landing, but it was nice to be able to hear the stewardess ask me if I wanted anything from the trolley instead of having to pretend to be asleep or ask my partner what they said.

The security in Copenhagen on the way back to London was much easier, I simply stated I had an implant and they immediately waved me through to the area for a pat down (which was a bit TOO thorough for my liking!). I still remain apprehensive about security issues whilst flying, especially as we will be boarding no less than 8 planes on our honeymoon but this has gone some way to make me feel a bit more confident and happy about travelling by plane.

I also discovered that all three Cochlear Implant companies offer a ‘Holiday Loaner Scheme’ where for a fee, they will loan you a processor which will be mapped according to your requirements for the duration of your holiday. Not only will this bring peace of mind knowing you have a backup but it also means for those travelling to far-flung places, you needn’t worry too much about being somewhere a bit more remote.

To apply for the Holiday loaner scheme, I believe (this will apply more to Med-El users, I am not sure on the process for the other companies) you need to email them with your details, such as your processor and implant device model make & number, colour, the hospital you are under the care of and the duration of your holiday. You will be charged a fee, which for Med-El I believe is in the region of £30. They will contact your hospital and ask them to electronically send a copy of your maps which they will transfer onto a processor and send out to you – as the meerkat says, “Simples.

Here a few things I picked up on my little journey and through my extensive research that may help you.

  1. If you are unsure on ANYTHING, ask your audiologists advice before flying.
  2. If in doubt, err on the side of caution.
  3. Explain to the security officers that you are unable to go through the metal detectors and show them your medical card.
  4. Carry your user guide and travel case with you in your hand luggage so you can show the security officer if they are unaware of what a CI is.
  5.  Make sure you bring back ups for everything – disposable and rechargeable batteries, spare coil, magnets, dry beaker and dry bricks.
  6. If possible, keep a card explaining your implant in multiple languages – English, French, German and Spanish should do the trick and this may even come with your Cochlear Implant pack. If not, try to google translate the phrases needed.
  7. Do not go through the metal detectors, this can scramble your current map and cause you to hear buzzing – chose the body scanner if possible or a pat down.
  8. If you are unsure of going through the body scanner or other detectors, then change the programme on your CI to a different map so that if it does become scrambled, the one you were used to will not be affected.
  9. If you are travelling long haul, look into the Holiday Loaner Scheme.
  10. Also, if you are going to an exotic and far-flung place, try to obtain a copy of your current map from your hospital and look up the nearest Cochlear Implant centre in case of any emergencies.
  11. If you are unsure of whether you can have your processor on during the flight, do speak to the cabin crew, if they are unsure, treat it like you would with your mobile phone – turn it off for take off and landing and turn it on once the seat belt sign has been turned off.

Above all – Relax and enjoy your holiday!

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