Well here I am, loyal readers, back and freshly tanned from a week in the mountains (which means this post got to Adrian for approval/posting pretty late on Wednesday, so apologies if it’s not as timely as you’re used to!).

As that trip involved an airplane or two, I thought this would be a good week for a natural follow-up to last week’s post about diapers and camping: diapers and air travel, which is often necessary to get to the really good camping spots!

First, the Good News

It’s legal.

That’s actually about it, these days, but it is good news — you can wear diapers onto the flight. That’s important for incontinent people of all varieties, since even a minor urinary leakage can become problematic when you’re being bounced around at high altitude with limited bathroom access and a good chance at long lines even when the toilets are available.

Diapers can also just be a comfortable and convenient option for non-incontinent users who don’t want to hassle with airplane bathrooms. A good thick overnight can last you even through a transcontinental flight as long as you’re careful about your wetting.

Now, the Bad News

Flying with diapers is comfortable and convenient. Navigating an airport with them, on the other hand, is not.

Your biggest problem is the security checkpoint. If you’re shy about wearing diapers, this is going to be hell, because it’s very challenging to get through modern TSA security in a diaper without it being noticed, mentioned out loud, and quite probably groped by blue-gloved hands.

Metal Detectors

A traditional walk-through metal detector won’t have any problems with a diaper. Empty out all your metal items and walk through carefully so you don’t trigger any beeping, and you should get through without even a pat-down or a wanding.

This is your best bet for getting through security quietly and without delay. Unfortunately, it’s also rapidly becoming obsolete. Most major airports have gone to whole-body imaging scanners, and you can only get into a metal detector line by “opting out” of the scanner — which will probably automatically qualify you for a pat-down and bag search.

Whole-body Scanners (Backscatter, Millimeter Wave, Etc.)

There are a number of terms for machines that are all basically the same for your purposes: an imaging machine that scans through your clothing for foreign items. You enter a chamber, stand with your hands above your heads, and let the machine scan you for about three seconds.

I don’t know of any confirmed images of what, exactly, a diaper looks like on these. The scanner should largely go through it, just like the rest of your clothing. However, there will be visible distortion around your crotch — there are ample testimonies out there of women whose sanitary pads triggered a closer inspection, so assume that your diaper can do the same.

If the person operating the scanner notices something odd about your crotch, you can assume that he or she is going to point it out, probably verbally, to another agent, who will then pat you down. In layman’s terms: everyone around you is going to know that you’re wearing a diaper, and at least one person is going to be grabbing it from the outside.

This sucks. This sucks a lot if you try to be private about your diapers. But there’s no way around it if you go through the whole-body imaging machines. You might get through unnoticed, but there’s always going to be a decent chance that you’ll be stopped, publicly singled out, and patted down.

Opt-outs, Patdowns, and Strip Searches

These days it’s harder to get through a TSA security checkpoint without triggering a pat-down than it is to trigger one. Pretty much everyone gets at least a quick once-over up and down the legs. And if you “opt out” of the millimeter wave/backscatter style of scanner, you’re often automatically accepting a pat-down (check the signs in the security line, but these days those are usually your two choices — whole-body imaging or pat-down).

Unless it’s done by an absolute incompetent or someone who really doesn’t care (not that the TSA is short on either category), even a brief pat-down is going to notice that your crotch is padded and crinkles.

At that point you’re going to be asked directly about your diapers. In most cases you can get through by simply stating “I wear diapers for a medical condition.” The TSA agent will probably be just as embarrassed as you, and will want things done with as quickly as possible. If you’re lucky you’ll simply be sped on your way.

But you’re not always lucky, and if a TSA agent wants to give you a hard time there’s nothing you can do about it, short of refusing to fly and insisting that you be released from the airport (you’ll be told repeatedly that you can’t do that, as well — once you’re in the security checkpoint, getting out of it involves either doing what the TSA demands or pushing it to the point that lawyers get called).

This is where the horror stories start. Technically, a wet diaper could be considered liquids being brought on board in a non-approved manner. If you’re really unlucky, you may end up in a room all of your own, taking your diaper off for the enlightenment and edification of the TSA.

Bring a change (beyond what you’d already planned on). Budget lots of extra time. And maybe have a stiff drink beforehand, or whatever your preferred technique is for keeping your rage down as your privacy is systematically and humiliatingly violated.

Strategies for Flying with Diapers

Sound lousy yet?

It can be. There are a few strategies that can help, though:

1. Go Through Security Undiapered

If you’re confident that you can visit a bathroom directly beforehand, make it through a potentially long wait (sometimes upwards of an hour), and get to a bathroom on the other side without any sort of leakage, congratulations. That’s the easiest way to deal with security — just put a diaper in your carryon, and go through undiapered.

This is the optimal choice for ABs and DLs, and may work for some incontinent diaper-wearers as well.

2. Inform the TSA at the Time of Your Screening

If you have to go through security diapered, pre-empt concerns that you’re hiding something by simply telling the TSA. The person on the far side of the scanner is the one you need to tell; you can easily do this as you step into the machine.

At this point you’re at least a little bit distant from the rest of the line, so if you speak quietly but firmly, it should be possible to say “Excuse me, I am wearing a diaper for a medical condition, and that may show up on your scan” so that the TSA agents hear you but no one else does.

That said, you’re still reliant on having someone who’s listening and who understands English fairly fluently — if they’re a non-native speaker and there’s lots of background noise, it may not get through on the first try, since it’s a very unusual situation.

3. Maintain Your Dignity

In the worst-case scenario, trying to fly with diapers can be a personal humiliation straight out of a POW novel. You may end up with your diapers being displayed or mentioned to hundreds of strangers, and you may end up in a tiny, windowless room stripping naked.

If it comes to that, don’t squirm. Make them squirm.

Be polite, do not raise your voice, but make it clear that you have already told them everything they need to know, and that they are personally choosing to inflict further suffering on you. Without defying anyone, follow directions — and voice your objections.

If you are asked to do something you simply aren’t comfortable doing, do the hard thing and walk away. Insist that you be allowed to leave, eat the lost ticket cost, and find alternative transportation. Everyone has their limits, and you shouldn’t have to push past yours just to get from Point A to Point B.

All of the above, of course, assumes a flight that is at least originating from the United States. It’s been the better part of a decade since I flew transcontinental, and I never did that in diapers, so I am not a reliable resource there — if you’ve had experiences going diapered at non-US airports, please let us know about them in the comments section!